Working with Courage

By Janet Solyntjes

Janet will be leading Mindful Living: Teachings and Practices from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), July 23-27

Janet Solyntjes

Janet Solyntjes

In my early years of meditation training I was unable to sit still for long, maybe five minutes, before I would shift my body with hopes of improving my practice. My body hurt, my mind was impossible, and I was crawling out of my skin much of the time. My practice revealed glimpses of “calm abiding” and “dignity,” but it was tough going!

My teachers reminded me that practice was a breeding ground for courage. Courage, I was told, becomes the seedbed for nurturing our deepest aspiration for a meaningful life and for a sane society. It takes courage to be present to the unknown, to touch what is frightening, to let go of what is familiar, and, once again, open. Now I remember to bring my heart to the cushion ~ how else will I cultivate bravery?

Three Minute Practice: The Courage of this Moment

Ask yourself this:

  • What would it take for me to fully inhabit the experience of being human right now?
  • Can I feel the sensations of my body?
  • Am I being tugged about by my internal narrator and not realizing it?
  • What am I really feeling in this moment?

After reading through the list of questions then do nothing. Simply be. After a while, go through the list of questions again. Now once again, simply be. After three minutes drop the exercise and proceed through your day.

Whatever you did during the three minutes required some level of courage (a willing and open heart) for it took you out of the habit of dis-attention into active self-reflection.

Janet will be leading Mindful Living: Teachings and Practices from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), July 23-27.  To learn more, please click here.

Spring at 8,000 Feet

by Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille is the Land Steward of Shambhala Mountain Center.  

Photo by Greg Smith

The invigorating quality of spring is making itself evident throughout the land. Bright green grasses and many-hued wildflowers are breaking through last year’s decay, birds are calling for the rising sun, and the creeks are full with the rush476102_10150631565777304_1792262271_o (1) of snowmelt. We all feel the season brimming with possibility and renewal. I heard the first rumble of thunder a moment ago, off a ways, and listen as it reverberates across the valley– speaking a promise of rain, which is so precious in this arid climate. There is a tingling in my skin as I breathe the crisp air in the fading light.

My first few land crew volunteers have arrived, and I love experiencing our mountain valley anew through their fresh eyes. We have a lot of projects to work on, but know how precious it is to have the opportunity to really get our hands dirty– to touch the earth.

PasqualFlowersI encourage you to visit the land stewardship’s new Facebook page - Shambhala Mountain- Friends of the Land. With it, I’ll try to keep everyone up to speed on things I’m working on, share some of the beauty I come across during my days, post a daily picture of the land, and perhaps, at times, ask for support and help with particular projects. It is not possible for a single person to properly steward the land. Expanding awareness can help us all play a part in the protection of this fragile environment. We can foster a deeper sense of community through recognizing we are not separate from the spring’s emergence, from the urgency of change–and that the earth is indeed a part of us.

Some springtime inspired listening…

 

Top photo by Greg Smith

Bottom photo by Paul Bennett

Rediscovering the Place of Nature

By Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle recently lead  the weekend program”Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth” and is one of the main organizers of the Four Seasons Program.

Martin Ogle

Martin Ogle

The weekend retreat, “Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth,” was a delightful experience for me.  It not only provided the opportunity to share ideas of profound interest to me, but also to learn from the perspectives of a marvelous group of participants and from the land and history of Shambhala Mountain Center:  A long-time Shambalian and genetics professor offered insights into the synergy of science and spirituality.  Artists and poets shared moving reflections on the beauty and mystery of the land.  And, the symbolism of the Great Stupa blended seamlessly with our inquiry into how our human lives can be in synchronicity or discord with the rhythms of nature.  I believe these insights – and the retreat’s purpose of re-discovering the pace of Nature in scientific, spiritual and mindful ways – set a marvelous foundation for SMC’s Four Seasons Program.

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Photo by Greg Smith

The name,”Four Seasons Program,” itself, provides powerful links between exploring and celebrating the land of SMC and the ongoing inquiry into the nature of the human mind.  The circle and four directions motif, found in the Buddhist Mandala (and Stupa), is a universal symbol that reflects our human relationship to Earth and the Universe.  The labrynths of the British Isles, the Hopi Earth Mother symbol and Zia Sun Symbol are other examples.  There is a real need for the traditional lessons of basic goodness and mindfulness that SMC has provided for decades.  Couched in the context of our human relationship to our living planet, these lessons take on even greater significance. ​

To learn more about the Four Seasons Program and view some upcoming retreats in this series, please click here.

Deepening Our Connection: SMC’s Land Steward on the Four Seasons Program

By Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille is the Land Steward of Shambhala Mountain Center.  

Jared Leveille

Jared Leveille

2014 is an exciting year for environmentally based programming, and it got off to a great start in March with Martin Ogle‘s program “Gaia: Engaging the Rhythms of our Living Earth“.  As a participant of the weekend, I was thrilled to help engage the group in closer observation of the land as we explored storytelling, solo observation points in nature, art, symbology and journaling.  The Gaia Theory- which describes the earth as a single living system depending upon a myriad of contributory relationships, interactions and processes shares an interesting common thread with a major tenet of Buddhist philosophy- interdependence- which surmises that all phenomena, human life included, exists in mutual dependence upon one another.  Among the group were scientists, educators, environmentalists and nature lovers and each one of us had something important and relevant to share over the weekend, which seemed to support the ideas we were delving into.

Exploring Trees and Wildflowers‘, our next program in the Four Seasons series, will be held in June and will be hosted by a trio of teachers who each have a unique and profound connection to the natural world.  This program will have more of a bioregional flair, and we will be examining plant communities that flourish here on our 700 acre property, as well as learning about some of their cultural and historical uses.

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Photo by Greg Smith

In developing a series of environmental programs here at Shambhala Mountain Center, we hope to rekindle a sense of respect and reverence for the earth, as well as renew the delight and freshness we feel when we can deepen our connection and understanding.  When I am out on the land, everything I encounter, whether it be a newly emerged wildflower, a rushing creek, or a dead pine tree, is a teaching.  Before we can help our world, first we all must find ways to develop a more profound relationship, a kinship, with the natural environment.  Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche joyfully reminds us – “Look.  This is your world!  You can’t not look.  There is no other world.  This is your world; it is your feast.  You inherited this; you inherited these eyeballs; you inherited this world of color.  Look at the greatness of the whole thing.  Look!  Don’t hesitate – look!  Open your eyes.  Don’t blink, and look, look – look further.”

To learn more about the SMC land, and keep up with what the natural world is up to, follow Jared’s Friends of the Land page on Facebook. 

Embodied Listening with David Rome and Hope Martin

 

David and Hope will be leading Embodied Listening, May 23-26

David Rome

David Rome

Embodied Listening is an intensive but gentle body, mind, and heart training for releasing habitual patterns that constrict our lives and relationships. When we learn to listen deeply to ourselves, we also

Hope Martin

Hope Martin

become more open and sensitive to the feelings and needs of others. During this retreat, we will draw on several powerful modalities including: mindfulness meditation to relax mental holding patterns; Alexander Technique to release physical holding patterns; and Mindful Focusing to access deeper feelings held in the body. This workshop is highly experiential and includes periods of meditation, exploration of the felt sense, and gentle hands-on bodywork.

Instructors David Rome and Hope Martin have been teaching together for over ten years throughout North America. Both are qualified Focusing Trainers as well as Buddhist meditation teachers.

Recently the two teachers took some time to have some discussion and offer guided practices that you can do at home.

David and Hope will be leading Embodied Listening, May 23-26 .  To learn more, please click here

Comedy Improv: Humor for Health and Self-Discovery with Jacqueline Kabat

By Travis Newbill

Kabat_JacquelineCan comedy improv help you live a more awake, more joyful, and less fearful life?  Can comedy improv save the world?  YES AND… Check out our recent interview with popular Manhattan-based comedian/holistic health humorist Jacqueline Kabat to learn how.

Jacqueline will be leading a weekend retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center from May 9-11 titled: Comedy Improv: Humor for Health and Self-Discovery. To learn more about the retreat, please click here.

Jacqueline Kabat is a Manhattan-based comedian who performs stand-up at popular comedy clubs, including Gotham and Caroline’s on Broadway. She has studied with Amy Poehler, warmed up audiences at ABC Studios with Mario Cantone, and is currently in production for her documentary, Comedy Improv Can Save the World. She teaches improv in theaters, corporations, medical centers, and institutes such as Omega and Esalen.

Summer Volunteering at SMC

021Summer is a beautiful and exciting time at Shambala Mountain Center. Wildflowers are in bloom, the aspens are bursting with golden green leaves, and the land is thriving with a wide variety of programs.  It is also the season when people come from around world to volunteer their skills and enjoy the enriching experience of being in contemplative community.

Living in furnished, canvas tents nestled in the mountainside, you are immersed in the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Each morning is a verdant walk among the fragrant pines to a hardy breakfast and then group meditation, where the community comes together to practice their commitment to mindfulness. From this nourishing foundation, the work day begins and volunteers assist in one of the SMC’s numerous departments—from marketing and programs, to cooking in the kitchen and working with the land—to name but a few.

At noon, there is another opportunity to meditate before a delicious lunch and then again before dinner. Evenings can be spent enjoying a dharma talk, sitting around a campfire, or watching the sun

set in the beautiful Colorado sky. On free days, volunteers can enjoy participating in retreats at no charge, hiking on over eight miles of scenic trails, doing yoga with the community, or throwing a get-together with new found friends.

Interested in learning more? Read what last year’s volunteers had to say below and visit our website for upcoming opportunities by clicking here.

“I learned a lot about myself, met a bunch of interesting people, and made some lasting friendships. That plus the opportunity to attend some advanced contemplative study programs made 2013 one of the most memorable and positive summers I’ve ever had.” –Paul from Denver

Jill

“While volunteering at Shambhala Mountain Center, it was clear to me that I was working for the benefit of all beings, and that something beyond my control, and profoundly good, was occurring. Over the summer, magic unfolded. I connected with amazing people, personal inspiration, insight. I believe that the overall consequences have been more positive than I can yet fathom.” –Travis from Florida

“Spending time at the Shambhala Mountain Center is like coming home. It gives me a chance to connect deeply with the earth, my sangha, and myself. I went for set-up and stayed for nine months! And I’ve returned year after year. Definitely one of my favorite places on earth thus far.” –Jodi from Boulder

“It was exhilarating to let go of time-consuming experiences such as grocery shopping, riding the bus, and aimlessly surfing the internet. Also, your friends live by you, work with you, cook for you, and teach you how to hula hoop!” –Heather from Seattle

“I had a pleasant stay while working at SMC last summer. I worked in the gift store as a cashier. Enjoyed the friendly conversations with everyone who visited the gift store. SMC is just a beautiful place to live and work. You are always with nature and I loved having the sun be my alarm clock warming up my tent each morning. Moments I will treasure and am grateful for.” –Dennis from Boulder

Tent photo and meditation photo by Karen O’Hern

Tori gate photo by Barb Colombo

Befriending Small Deaths-Big Deaths: A Conversation with Dominie Cappadonna

.By Travis Newbill

Dominie Cappadonna will be leading  Befriending Small Deaths – Big Deaths, along with Joshua Mulder, May 9-11

Dominie Cappadonna

Dominie Cappadonna

There may be no more sure-fire way of waking up to the preciousness of life than facing the reality of death. But, how can we do that? Sometimes it happens in an unavoidable way–we have a near death experience, or we see someone die. Every once in a while, a big death moment happens.

Also though, as we know, impermanence marks every passing moment. It is the ever-present truth, which we seem to be quite in the habit of ignoring. Every breath is a death. Every meal, relationship, day and night, have their ends. Perhaps if we could wake up to impermanence in a more consistent and profound way, we could live and appreciate our lives more fully and go through our end-of-life “big” deaths more gracefully.

Dominie Cappadonna is a wonderful teacher who focuses on helping us do just that. In May, she’ll be leading a weekend program here at Shambhala Mountain Center called: Befriending Small Deaths, Big Deaths. And we’ve recently had the good fortune of having some discussion with her around these ever-mystifying topics.

You may listen to and/or download an audio recording of the interview by following this link (click here), or scroll down to read the transcription.

SMC: Besides having a near-death experience, which I don’t feel inclined to manufacture, how can I wake up to the reality that I am actually going to die?

Dominie Cappadonna: What a beautiful and profound question. It brings us right up to the edge of our knowledge–of our know-ledge, where we’re prompted to leap off the cliff into the unknown. Now, it seems that the question you’re asking can be asked more boldly than before–particularly within our human family, in our technological societies. Before, death was not spoken of as freely. I might just set a little ground here, in terms of the field, and begin to weave in response to your question. Is that okay?

Yes, please.

I really find that the question you’ve asked is being asked more these days because there’s a generalized resurgence in focus on death and dying . We’re living longer and yet feeling our mortality earlier. I feel that’s due to the cascade of crisis world-wide being so nakedly exposed–climate change, extinction of species, the dying off of our natural environment, wars, diseases, suicides, on and on.

So, here, now in the US, there is a movement called the Silver Tsunami, which refers to young elders and Boomers waking up to daily dying in small and big ways, of time passing and of preparation for a conscious passing at the end of life.

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Photo by Greg Smith

Our small deaths are actually practice moments for the big death at the end of life. Practice moments include taking in the breath in our meditation practice–the inhale, the abiding, and then the ceasing of our breath. Letting go into the reality that that breath may be our last one is one way to wake up to the reality of our death.

Small deaths also include so-called larger transitions–divorce, loss of work, loss of physical vigor, illnesses, menopause, a loss of ego identity through our spiritual practices and more.

Your question about how to wake up is often answered in the startle of these practice moments of larger thresholds and transformations in our life.

Can you think of one you’ve had where you’ve had this sense of waking up to the reality that you are going to die?

A really intense break-up comes to mind. There was a simultaneous experience of not wanting it to happen and also knowing that it had to happen.

Exactly, yeah. And that total resistance to it brings us right to the edge, doesn’t it? Because in a sense there is nowhere to go. That resistance absolutely stops us on that edge where we either sprout wings and learn how to fly or we don’t. We don’t face the reality of our dying until we actually are in our active death phase. Yet, if we can be sprouting wings before the end of life, so that we’re practicing lifting off, practicing coming to that edge, facing the reality through our small deaths, then we’re less fearful and less resistant.

It seems to me that every once in a while there is a situation that is impossible to ignore. But, all the time, there are smaller deaths that are quite easy for me to ignore–like having a cup of tea. The cup of tea ends. Most of the time I’m not really feeling impermanence in those moments.

Yes. And yet, with mindfulness, as Trungpa Rinpoche said, we cut speed. With presence we cut speed. With attention, we cut speed. In such a way, we can take the smallest moments as a practice moment for facing our death. So, it could be as innocuous as your favorite pen running our of ink, the market being out of our favorite chocolate, fasting from sex or sweets or something we love, being turned down for a date, giving up gossiping, uncluttering a house. And, I say, “so-called” small deaths because big and small are very subjective, as you would know. Your breakup, at the time, may have hit you as a big death.

So, for example,  uncluttering a workspace, dying to what was on their desk, may be a small death for someone else and a big death for another. It’s highly subjective in terms of our practice moments. Yet, moment to moment, with every breath, we have this opportunity to be so present to impermanence. So, it’s a practice.

Is there any short instruction you could offer that we could apply throughout this very day to help us appreciate life and impermanence?

What about your life and your being have you not fully accepted and bowed into, surrendered into, died into the reality of? As the reality itself. As being what is so. Often we appear to feel that we’re farther along on our path, or in our work, in our relationship, than we actually are and we haven’t accepted exactly what is so. We haven’t yet died into that in a profoundly lively, vivid way–landing into the direct reality of exactly what is so. So that might be one question to consider. And a subset of that might be: What needs to be accepted in our lives to live fully, love deeply, and die consciously?

Another question to consider is: In what ways might awareness of daily small deaths really help us to live our life with more presence and fearlessness, and promote living our lives more authentically.

I love inquiry questions because I feel it enhances our curiosity to be with ourselves and be present with what–in an embodied, deep way–is really coming up from our belly. To be present with that from which we cannot turn.

Like you question: How can I wake up to the reality that I am going to die? How can we turn from that question once we’ve asked it? It tends to permeate us in a profound way that helps us to learn and to be more aware.

Parts of the retreat you’ll be leading at Shambhala Mountain Center will be taking place in the Great Stupa. Would you like to say anything about your connection with the Stupa.

It’s a rare privilege to meet within the Great Stupa. It’s a world peace center, and it creates a resonant field of such profound wisdom, fearlessness, joy, and compassion. That’s our vessel for learning and being. We’re so held within the walls. And the actual walls of the Stupa are packed with millions of prayers. We’re held in a prayer field. That automatically transforms the work that we do. It automatically lifts us in to a higher degree of awareness and so to be with death and dying, and to practice within the Stupa, is actually sublime.

What else would you like to say about the retreat?

We’ll be exploring the actual stages of dying, including the subtle inner states that accompany our process. So, we’ll actually go through our dying as a way to have a dress rehearsal. We’ll go out on the land to see what nature teaches us about impermanence, and also have experience in the charnel grounds. We’ll die and come back to life and have discussion about how we want to approach the life that we have left. And then finally, we’ll go down from the Stupa into the village so that we can feel ourselves moving from the past into the conscious future, asking ourselves “How now shall we live?” And, we walk into our possible future, and begin to live forth in a way that feel more relaxed and more courageous.

Dominie Cappadonna will be leading  Befriending Small Deaths – Big Deaths, along with Joshua Mulder, May 9-11. To learn more and to register, please click here.

To listen to/download the full interview, please click here.

Embodied Listening

by David Rome & Hope Martin

Our bodies hold our lives. They hold wisdom and energy for living and growing—and they hold the things that get in the way of living and growing: fear, anxiety, stress and more. When negative holding patterns are not recognized, tensions build up and space for living constricts.EmbodiedListening1

Awareness and acceptance of the body’s holding patterns allow their release and transformation into positive energy for living.

Human beings are hard-wired with the “fight or flight” reaction, an evolutionary inheritance that served us well when the everyday environment was more physically dangerous and instant reaction could make the difference between life or death. In the safer but far more complex world of the twenty-first century, we face multiple challenges that can’t be solved either by fighting or running away. This leads to chronic stress and anxiety and what psychologists call “experiential avoidance”—disconnecting from the fight-or-flight-based signals our bodies are still trying to give us. To reverse the stress and anxiety, first we have to allow ourselves to really experience what’s going on in our bodies at a pre-conceptual, somatic level.

F.M. Alexander, a late 19th century Shakespearean actor in Australia, lost his voice and spent years in painstaking self-observation until he identified unconscious patterns of body-mind tension and developed a method to overcome them. In Embodied Listening, Hope describes Alexander’s template for deep transformational change: becoming aware of the physical pattern but suspending the impulse to correct it and instead getting to really know the pattern with friendly curiosity. Change comes by releasing constriction, having a clear intention and allowing the body to respond from its natural balance. Hope guides students to allow a naturally poised head-neck relationship that the rest of the body responds to by releasing its holding patterns.

David describes philosopher and psychologist Eugene Gendlin’s discovery of the “felt sense,” the unclear, non-conceptual, bodily-felt knowing underlying all of our thoughts and emotions.  The felt sense can be accessed using a special kind of gentle, inner-directed intention and attention called Friendly Attending. David leads a guided visualization for cultivating the attitude of Friendly Attending, followed by an exercise using Friendly Attending to begin noticing subtle inner felt senses.

As we cultivate our capacity to recognize and be friendly to our self as someone who suffers, we also learn to recognize and get some distance from the “inner critic,” the part of us that makes negative self-judgments which impair self-confidence and cause us to avoid doing the things we want to do, or feel shame or guilt about things we did do. Through self-empathy we are able to bring to light hidden fears that underlie feelings of self-doubt, frustration and stuckness, and transform them into life-enhancing new insights and behaviors. Judgmental and unfriendly as it can be, the inner critic contains its own form of intelligence and can be a great ally once we learn to make the right relationship with it.

Hope describes “chronic lockdown,” a bodily response that blunts our experience of fear and discomfort and produces a tense, frozen state that diminishes our sense of aliveness. Letting go of this tension means recognizing holding patterns in the body that keep fear, painful experience, and past trauma stuck and unable to move through. Hope guides students in letting the head-neck relationship initiate release of tension through the whole body, resulting in more integration through the torso. An exercise called Downright/Upright is presented in which feeling the support of the ground, together with awareness of the space around one, anchor a “neutral” state in which whatever arises, pleasant or unpleasant, is directly experienced. As tension is released, a sense of natural flow returns to the body and the nervous system becomes more resilient.

As we go about our lives and relationships with others, the key ingredient for not falling into reactive, constricting patterns is pausing and touching in with our present-moment, bodily-felt experience before initiating speech or action. When we spend time with ourselves in this way, our experience becomes less held, less solid and less automatic. Pausing gives us room to open up to a bigger, more spacious perspective from which we can respond rather than react. In the gap between stimulus and response, a wiser and more skillful next step can come. As F.M. Alexander observed, “The right thing does itself.”

 Join David Rome and Hope Martin for a powerful retreat at SMC from May 23-26. To read more and to register, click here.

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Flowing Like Water, Strong as a Mountain

by Larry Welsh

A personal message:

I would like to invite you to join us at Shambhala Mountain Center for a special retreat, starting the evening of April 25 until 2 pm on April 27.  We live in a time when many people are lost in the pursuit of happiness purely through ideas, thoughts, and screens… like a dream.   Materialism rages in the ten directions and thus many resort to violence, thinking this to be a solution to their pain and suffering.  That violence can manifest in very subtle ways and in coarse ways causing harm to self and others.  The all-consuming drive to be productive at the expense of nourishing our deepest nature robs us of real fulfillment and true maturity.  Our spirit drifts, leaving us without a place to truly rest and our hearts have lost the understanding, the Tao of The Art of the Heart.  By learning how to flow like water and to be strong as a mountain through authentic relaxation, each of us can discover the Art of the Heart and thus know how to nourish the chi without harm.

As the sages saw clearly, knowing when to seize the right moment is right timing,

Larry Welsh

LarryWelsh1To recover intrinsic health and well being in each moment of our day, we need powerful medicine—the medicine of movement and stillness.  The wisdom traditions of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, the Buddhist teachings of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the 5 Elements from Chinese cosmology offer profound insight into movement, stillness, and health.  These traditions of practice allow each of us to contact a wellspring of sanity and health in the midst of chaos, upheaval, and stress.  They can teach us how to work compassionately with body, perception, emotions, thoughts, and others.  By understanding the five elements and the five seasons, we open ourselves to the unique power of each season: manifesting as courage through stillness; creativity through pushing upward; joy through maturity; decrease through harvest; and balance through equanimity.  The correspondences may seem strange at first, but they are real and true.

IMGP0423-larry-pinetreeThese practices are beyond philosophy and completely up-to-date. They are pure and useful teachings that each one of us can embrace and integrate into our daily lives.  They are based upon the simple truth of heaven, earth, and human being—what is actually here and now rather than basing our life upon a dream or fantasy alone.  During this retreat, we will explore the experience of heaven and virtue, earth and breaths, discovering how to cultivate our flood like chi.  We will practice and learn about the lion’s roar of fearlessness through the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  And we will learn how to embody the 5 Elements in order to harmonize life inside and out through the five seasonal movements.

These timeless practices are based upon clear insight into finding one’s way, one’s true nature.  By restoring one’s unity with heaven and earth, synchronizing body and mind, one can finally return home by understanding through actual experience how to transform life’s challenges into peace and personal empowerment.  The key is to learn how to shift gears from reacting to responding to the myriad fluctuations of life from one’s center.

This retreat is open to all ages, beginners and advanced students.  We hope to see you there.