Floral Notes and Bardo: Until I Sing

By Travis Newbill

Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

Mental combustion in the middle of the night, fuming while the mist hung cool over the peaks in the morning.  Soft, and myself, dense — until I sang.

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Last night a mime appeared at dinner.  Then we held a Sukhavati ceremony for distant friend.  As the ceremony was beginning, a tremendous thunderstorm rolled in.  Hail came pouring down onto the shrine tent.  Acharya couldn’t speak over the noise, so we paused.  We sat while the storm raged.  Then, continued the ceremony.

Afterwards, I realized that my shoes were soaked.  I walked barefoot on little balls of hail and dirt trail beside Acharya and we enjoyed how the whole thing had unfolded.

I woke up the in middle of the night, angry, resentful of my commitment to Kasungship.

Basically: I have to devote hours of my life to helping others, rather than doing what I feel like doing, and I’m throwing a tantrum about it.

One of my storylines is that there are plenty of ways to serve, and one of them is Kasungship.  And Kasungship is not the one that I feel most naturally inclined towards.  I’d rather be arranging flowers, making music, nurturing the Delek System.

I think that story is valid.  And, it doesn’t matter.  I took an oath.  So, it’s my job to do my duty without complaining.  Seems like a positive thing to do.  Seems like I may grow through the experience.  But, man, it’s a pain in the ass.

This is the nitty gritty of the path.  This is the pickle of devotion.  My inspiration is low.  If catastrophe were to strike, I would be singing a completely different tune.  I want to not drift so far before remembering.

My heart is calling for a refresher: retreat.  Re-connect.  When will the window open?  What will it be like on the other side?  Will I look back with clarity and shake my head, with humor, for having allowed myself to drift so far, become so worked up and muddled-dumb, before taking a step back so that I may enjoy the beauty of the whole display?

Methinks: yes.

– June 25, 2014

~~~

PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center.  His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

 

 

Battle Weary but Still Ticking

By Fay Octavia

Shambhala Mountain Center will host the 8th Annual Courageous Women Fearless Living Cancer Retreat, August 19–24

There used to be a Timex watch commercial that said “takes a lickin and keeps on tickin.”  That is what I think about when I think about my friends who have survived the ravages of cancer.

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Photo by Barb Colombo

In meditation this morning as I felt my painful shoulder from carrying the weight of my oxygen tank yesterday, I thought of my friends who have had cancer. I know that is not where you are supposed to think, but somehow meditation is such fertile ground for planting and cultivating a blog post.  Sometimes it just takes over and it seems impossible to return to the breath.

My friend Betsy just had a brain tumor removed a couple of days ago. On a visit to her doctor over a year ago, he said to her, “What are you doing here? You should have been dead two years ago.” I won’t comment on his insensitivity, but on her resilience. When I am with my Courageous Women friends (that I met at the Courageous Women Fearless Living Retreats over the past three years) I think of soldiers returning from war. In the movies they are happy the war is over, but battle scarred, bloody, sometimes missing a limb or more and some barely able to move. Those of us who have survived cancer are often missing a breast or two, can be missing limbs (from bone cancer), struggle to recover from the demonic trio of cut, poison and burn (surgery, chemo and radiation), and may spend the rest of our lives diminished in ways we never imagined we would have to live with.

The scars are not just external. I suspect many of us have something like post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The financial stress of unbelievable medical bills, the sadness that you may leave your small children or can’t even lift or care for your children, the anguish of being in constant pain or coughing all the time, the hurt of the spouse who leaves because s/he can’t deal with your condition, the children you will never have because the treatments have left you infertile. The list goes on and on each woman facing her own version of the nightmare.

When Betsy wrote that she was going to the Courageous Women Fearless Living retreat again this year, I was reminded how powerful a solution that has been for many of us. I’ve met so many women there who have inspired me and become friends like Betsy. The support keeps on giving in the form of these friendships and the love that develops among the women. While it is painful that some of our friends have fallen in the battle, many more are alive and still tickin. As the Memorial Day holiday has recently past, I salute our fallen warriors but especially I salute the ones that have continued on courageously, if not always fearlessly, living day by day.

Peace, Blessings and Lovingkindness,
Fay Octavia

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Shambhala Mountain Center will host the 8th Annual Courageous Women Fearless Living Cancer Retreat, August 19–24.  To learn more and to register, please click here.

You’re Being Blessed at this Very Moment

By Sue Frederick

Sue Frederick is the author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side and I See Your Dream Job.  She will be leading Bridges to Heaven: Grief Healing Workshop, July 18-20.

SueFrederickWhen bad news first arrives, it feels like the wind has been knocked out of you; it’s a punch to the gut.  This moment is a great blessing.  This is the brief and sudden moment of calm while your ego mind is stunned into silence.   It’s the holy moment of grace when you can listen to and hear your own powerful intuition, your higher self.  It whispers inside: “This is all going to be okay.  Something better is waiting for you.  This is all in divine order for your highest good.”

That’s the voice of your soul’s wisdom, your divinity, speaking up because your ego has been delivered a swift blow and is temporarily stunned.  But very soon, within minutes, the ego mind fires back up and begins whispering: “How did this happen?  This isn’t fair!  Life is meaningless…”

Your ego mind is beginning the battle of survival that it was designed to do.  This is the mind you agreed to have when you took a physical body for this incarnation.  Yet it’s only half of your mind.  The other half of your mind holds the doorway to your highest self, your divine intuition, and your true essence.  In the brief gaps of silence from your ego mind, your higher self is always whispering the truth.

1926292_673576879375566_1348167414_oPhoto by Jared Leveille of Shambhala Mountain — Friends of the Land

 

If you don’t grab hold of that inner voice, the deeper wisdom of your soul, the ego mind will quickly overpower you with fear messages — shifting into full blown fear and desperation:  “You’re worthless, you’ll never feel love again, you won’t find another job, you’re all alone now, this is a tragedy….”

If you’ve learned to discipline your mind through meditation or other kinds of spiritual practice, the fear and negativity of the ego self can be diminished and contained before it pushes you into depression, illness, stress, and rage.

Every time you choose to indulge the fear voice, you allow it to grow stronger inside until it becomes your boss.  It will fight to reign supreme over your soul’s wisdom.  It tells you to protect yourself, defend your actions, fight for survival, trust no one, close your heart, blame everyone, and that nothing here is fair.

Everything changes the moment you ask to hear your soul’s wisdom. It’s a simple request, an act of surrender to the lesson: “Please show me my soul’s lesson and help me move through this with love and courage.”

That simple request calls divine guidance to your side, fills the room with light, opens your heart, quiets your mind, shows you another perspective on your pain; it illuminates the choices you didn’t know you had.

Your highest self created this moment of pain to allow you to step up to your wisdom, to awaken into love, to embrace your spiritual perspective and take your life to the next level of your soul’s growth.

You’re not a victim to loss, disease, heartbreak, the economy, a terrible manager, or corrupt politicians.  You’re only a victim to your ego mind; it fills you with fear and keeps you from moving into the light.

YOU are a divine being who created this painful moment to shake lose your old patterns of negativity; to provide an opportunity to embrace your soul’s perspective — even while you walk in this physical world.
You came here to merge your divine self with your physical self and create a new level of consciousness for yourself and others.

You intended to be grand and fearless, bold and awake, infused with wisdom, loving and aware.  Your divine lens, your spiritual self, illuminates this path and shows you your next step.

Your ego self says it isn’t possible.

You get to choose.  Just a simple request for divine guidance.  And it changes everything…

Sue Frederick will be leading Bridges to Heaven: Grief Healing Workshop, July 18-20.  To learn more, please click here.

~~~

Please watch our recent interview with Sue Frederick: Exploring Grief, Intuition, and Healing 

Wake up to the Wild (the Wildly Good!)

By Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.

As this spring unfolds, I’m struck by the environmental and social changes happening world-wide.  It feels like each of us is being called to search deep inside and decide how we’re going to take better care of ourselves, each other, and the earth.

The combination of mindfulness-awareness practice with time in nature is the proverbial one-two punch for our health and well-being as well as for our ability to live in harmony with each other and the planet.  Nature provides valuable lessons for how we can live our lives in healthy balance if we pay attention to them.  When we synchronize our bodies and mind in nature with mindfulness practices, we develop a deeper understanding of that balance.  We can train ourselves to continue to open to a bigger perspective and that state of openness, vitality, and potential that exists within all of us.

We’re making technological advancements faster than we can imagine, yet getting through the day seems to be becoming more and more of a struggle.  As a culture, it seems that we’ve come to a phase where we’re often engaging in activity for the sake of activity.  Many of us are working most all the time and find ourselves engaged in frenetic activity like it’s somehow necessary to legitimize our existence.  In many office environments it’s a competition to see who’s the last one to leave at the end of the day.  Suddenly we’re working 12-14 hour days with little to no mandated vacation and we wonder why we’re so stressed-out.  We’ve forgotten how to simply live.

SMC The Land O'Hern - Print7Photo by Karen O’Hern

We all possess a basic goodness.  It’s not something that we have to get from outside ourselves or that is only achievable once we’ve worked a certain number of hours or demonstrated a certain skill or attribute.  It’s who we already are – basically (or unconditionally) good.  When we shift our perspective from a focus on problems to seeing the solutions that already exist, we come to trust that basic goodness in ourselves, each other, and our society.  Then we naturally know how to take the best care of ourselves and when, where, and how to best lend a helping hand.

From time to time in my busy urban life, I come to a place where I feel a general dis-ease.  I can’t quite put my finger on a particular reason why and I’m confused about what to do.  I’m in the habit of looking for problems in my environment and not noticing what’s right in my life.  I feel kind of  “off” and I know I’m not alone.  We have become what John Muir described as “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.”  The good news is that our “medicine” is waiting for us in nature.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Greg Smith

Psychological research in recent decades suggests that spending time in nature improves cognition, relieves anxiety and depression, and even boosts empathy.  It certainly helps, but it’s actually not enough to just exercise outside.  Many of us go out with an iPod or phone attached to our arm or spend most of our time there rehashing the day at work and/or strategies for the future of a budding romance or how to get our kids to clean their room.  Like me, have you ever planned a wonderful hike and spent days looking forward to it’s reality only to find yourself a mile down the trail before you finally realize where you are?  This is where mindfulness meditation helps us to strengthen our ability to fully be where we are, to actually fully inhabit our bodies, and to let our senses wake us up and our hearts soften.

We can make it part of our essential routine to disconnect from the screens and the “treadmill” of our daily lives and venture into the wild.  Even for me here in the heart of Oakland, that doesn’t take more than a 15-minute bike ride into a park in the hills to really feel the fresh air and sunshine on my face.  I can simply let myself be and in doing so remind myself that I am enough as is.  It really is that simple.  Coming together to practice “waking up in the wild” as a group is an excellent way to affirm this commitment to our basic well-being and to create positive change for our collective future.

Join me this summer for another opportunity to wake up to the wild (the wildly good!) both outside and in.  Bring a family member or friend.  Let’s slow down, step outside, look up, let go of the push to be somewhere other than where we are, and appreciate the richness that’s already here.

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson

Kay Peterson will be leading Mindful Hiking: Waking Up to the Wild, July 31–August 3; and Waking Up to the Wild: Nature Walks, September 12–14.  To learn more and to register, please click here and here.

Zen Mind, Brush Mind: Kaz Tanahashi

 

Kazuaki Tanahashi will be leading Brush Mind: Zen Calligraphy and Brushwork, August 15–17, 2014

A lot could be (and has been) said about  Kazuaki Tanahashi (who is affectionately known as “Kaz”) — a deeply precious teacher, artist, and activist.  Here, we’ll let his masterful bushwork do most of the talking.  Enjoy.

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Zen Circles

“In the Zen tradition ensos, or circle symbols, have been drawn with black ink on paper, to represent enlightenment. As the multi-colored flow of paint represents the interconnectedness of all life, each circle reflects my hopes, visions and aspirations for a world making healthier choices for the benefit of future generations.”

–Kaz

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Brush Calligraphy

“The ideography that originated in China has been a common writing system in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan for centuries, although the ideographs are pronounced differently.”

–Kaz

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One-Stroke Paintings

“Tanahashi’s one-stroke paintings … always painted in just one breath, leave a passionate swash whispered trace.”

– Kyoto Journal

To see more of Kaz’s artwork, and to learn more about this incredible master, please visit his website, and check out this documentary on Youtube: Zen Brush Mind; Life and work of Kaz Tanahashi

And to learn more about the upcoming retreat that Kaz will bea leading at Shambhala Mountain Center, please click here.

Courageous Women, Fearless Living Celebrates Its Eighth Year

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Photos by Barb Colombo

Shambhala Mountain Center will be hosting the 8th Annual Courageous Women, Fearless Living retreat from August 19-24, 2014. This innovative and contemplative program was founded in 2005 and has helped over 300 women with a current or past diagnosis of cancer. Through nutrition, Tibetan healing, integrative medicine, meditation, yoga, art and community building, women are given powerful tools to meet the totality of their experience directly and courageously.

“Our goal is for our participants to return home with a new circle of support and friendship; with the mental, emotional, and contemplative tools to support them in their journey through cancer; and with greater self-awareness, confidence, DSC_7664and appreciation for life,” says Judith Lief, one of the lead instructors of the retreat. Lief is a contemplative hospice pioneer, senior meditation instructor, former dean of Naropa University and author of Making Friends with Death.  She is joined for this retreat by a team of experts with similarly impressive credentials including Victoria Maizes, MD, Executive Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine, and Linda Sparrowe, a writer, yoga instructor, mentor and practitioner with deep roots in the Vedas, Sanskrit, and women’s health. Read more from these inspiring instructors below:

“In the same way that it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a village to heal from a serious illness like cancer. Confronting illness can be such an alien and lonely journey. At the Courageous Women retreat, I have been inspired over and over again by the village we form, if only for a few days. Within this village friendships are made, stories are shared, and deep healing occurs – for staff as well as participants.  This kind of healing continues without regard to the ups and downs of life, the remission or progression of cancer.” — Judith Lief

DSC_7701“When things go really bad, and whatever is happening seems completely solid and hopeless, the only ally I have found is a sense of humor.  By humor I don’t mean ha-ha trivialization, but a sense of lightness that punctures the heavy-handedness of my own dramas. What a relief to know that S.O.H. is always lurking around, ready to pop up just when I need it most.” —Judy Lief

“Living with cancer can indeed be a long journey, sometimes confusing, often frightening, and hardly ever predictable. People often say, take one day at a time, but I love that Tulku says sometimes even that’s too much. Do what you can, but don’t forget to “rest along the way.” Cultivating a yoga and meditation practice can help you stay in the present moment, be gentle with yourself, and give you a respite from the emotional chaos and physical challenges you may be facing.” —Linda Sparrowe

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“When you are dealing with the medical system, you are caught in the hassle of finding doctors, going to appointments, enduring procedures, and basically running from one medical consultation to another, not to mention dealing with insurance companies, worrying about finances, and all the “collateral damage” that comes with a cancer diagnosis. In the midst of this claustrophobia and fixation on disease, simple sense perceptions can collapse all this pain for an instant and give you a fresh perspective A glimpse of the new moon, a spring flower in the meadow, a hawk perched high and proud in a pine tree. The evening star. A child’s laughter.  How precious!” —Judy Lief

To read more about this retreat and its instructors–Acharya Emeritus Judith Lief, Victoria Maizes, and Linda Sparrowe–click here. This retreat is also open to caregivers and loved ones of women on the cancer journey.

The 8th Annual Courageous Women Retreat is being generously supported by the Eileen Fisher Foundation and the Beanstalk Foundation, both of whom have awarded grants to fund program scholarships. To apply for scholarships, please visit cwfl.org.

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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.