What does it feel like to FREAK OUT?! Becoming familiar with the early signs is the first step toward avoiding catastrophic fits of stress. Sound good? Learn more by checking out our recent interview with MBSR teacher Janet Solyntjes.
Watch the video or scroll down to stream/download the audio.
If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.
Love it or lump it, it’s February and Valentine’s Day is approaching. Nevermind the consumerism, let’s get to the heart of the holiday—love. In Buddhism, the word love is deeply nuanced and embraces the totality of our experience—both the joy and the tears. In the teachings on loving-kindness, it is unconditional and extended to everyone, including ourselves. We interviewed Acharya Allyn Lyon, a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, about the complex relationship between loving-kindness and romantic love.
What is loving-kindness?
Loving-kindness is fundamentally letting people be who they are and being interested in who they are. It also includes wishing others well. Wishing that all beings could be happy, that they could be free from suffering and that they realize their basic goodness. You start with a wish and an intention. Then you do what you can to be helpful.
How does romantic love tie in with loving-kindness?
Romantic love is always a challenge because it often begins with infatuation. Infatuation is not seeing others as they are. You leave out a lot. You see the part of them you really like and you can ignore very skillfully the parts that will become irritating to you in the long run. So infatuation is always dangerous and frequently short-lived because you can only ignore things for so long. This doesn’t mean you can’t be touched by people. You can really appreciate them. You can love them. But it’s important to love who’s really there, rather than your edited version of who’s really there.
How can we practice loving-kindness in our relationships?
You start with just appreciating people for being who they are. This is done primarily by learning to listen and using all of your sense perceptions. You let them tell you about themselves, rather than working with our projections on how we think they ought to be. What we think is going on, whether we are right or wrong, is still our projection. So you find out from them what’s happening. Be aware of body language. You then create a lot of space for them to be who they are.
What’s another good way to find out who someone really is?
Be together at a dharma center. (laughs)
[Note: Shambhala Mountain Center is currently accepting job applications]
How do you practice loving-kindness when a relationship ends?
What I discovered was that when every passionate relationship ended–whether it was one way or two way–we were usually still friends. It does not have to end by being angry, disappointed or hurt. You can appreciate the whole process and you can be friends. Or you may discover you really don’t like them. Then you can learn a lesson about how blinding infatuation can be, because the person you fell in love with and the person who is really there had nothing to do with each other.
How can we use relationships in our practice?
You try the romantic thing enough times and you suffer enough disappointment that you begin to appreciate that it isn’t what you think it is. Then you can certainly have a partner. It’s great for Mahayana practice, it really is. But you really have to make friends with the person that you’re with. Really be friends and not have some glowy illusion about how it’s supposed to be.
We have preconditioned attitudes about what relationships are. All of these ideas are culturally conditioned whether it’s by Hollywood, our parents, our schools, or our churches. But rarely are relationships like that. That is actually the process of getting into your conceptual mind and exposing these preconceived ideas about how things should be or how things are and discovering that they’re not. The path gives you the opportunity to do that, but you are bound to not like everything you discover. After awhile it gets funny and it’s not so bad.
What is the best way to experience love?
Be touched by the suffering of others and be touched by the happiness of others without being envious or jealous. It all has to do with allowing yourself to be touched. Joy is part of that, as well as sadness.
In the previous blog post, I briefly introduced the scientific view of Earth as a living system. In the quest to Engage the Rhythms of our Living Planet, let us expand our exploration . . .
When James Lovelock returned to England from working with NASA, a friend and neighbor was none other than William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies. Upon hearing Lovelock’s ruminations of a living planet, Golding urged his friend to name the idea “Gaia,” after the Greek Goddess of Earth. He felt this would honor the fact that Western science was rediscovering what ancient Western Culture held sensed mythically: that Earth is alive and that we are a part of her life. The mythical connection reminded us, that the human mind has, indeed, co-evolved seamlessly with a living Earth.
When, in the distant past, ancestral humans crossed a threshold of mental development to acquire self-awareness and awareness of time similar to that of modern humans, they must have been terrified! The awareness that they were going to die and the plaguing wonderment of why they were alive were surely the origin of what we now call “religion.” Our present-day religions, mythologies and stories surely echo and mirror our ancestors’ original explanations of these matters!
Since that ancestral time, the sudden breadth of our awareness has produced a tendency to mentally speed up and “get ahead of ourselves” unlike anywhere else in nature. Although our minds are natural emanations of Earth, the level and kind of our awareness of self and time are fundamentally unique. The discrepancy between the pace of nature and the pace and of the human mind is the source of much of our unhappiness and discontent. And, whereas non-human nature is purposeless, the human mind is often the hostage of purpose and meaning.
This is not to say that purpose and meaning are bad things (nor, could they be, for they are just part of our human nature). As a biological adaptation, a sense of purpose is a marvelous thing – it allows us to foresee and prepare for circumstances in the future that would otherwise harm us or even do us in. Thus, the question is not whether our awareness is inherently good or bad, but whether it goes too far. Knowing the human mind as emerging from a living, evolving planet allows us to consciously re-link with its rhythms allowing a harmony between our intellect and senses.
In his book From Eros to Gaia (1988) Princeton physicist, Freeman Dyson, intoned that “One hopeful sign of sanity in modern society is the popularity of the idea of Gaia, invented by James Lovelock to personify our living planet.” He believed that “As humanity moves into the future and takes control of its evolution, our first priority must be to preserve our emotional bond to Gaia.” In a 1994 speech The New Measure of Man, Former Czech President, Vaclav Havel cited the Gaia Hypothesis as one of the biggest reasons for this hope because it both confirmed and was anticipated by the myths, stories and religions of peoples around the world that saw human life as “anchored in the Earth and the universe.”
These words, and those of many other recognized figures from around the world, help create a reasoned premise that linking our intellect and our senses in a single “Gaian context”planet is a healthy and enjoyable way to be present in this world. I look forward to joining with you and others in March to explore this new territory through story, science, contemplation, art, and walks through the beauty of Shambhala Mountain Center.
Be sure to listen our recent interview with Martin Ogle, available to stream and download HERE
In this interview, Naturalist Martin Ogle discusses Gaia Theory, which is the idea that Earth and everything on the surface of Earth–water, air, rock, and organisms–together form a living system. The minds and bodies of human beings, he says, are a powerful component.
For more from Martin Olge, check out his two part series on our blog: Engaging the Rhythms of Our Living Earth–part 1 and part 2
We hope that you enjoy this interview. If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the interview below.
In order to clarify the confusion of all sentient beings attempting to make rice, we present another installment of Avajra John‘s pithy kitchen wisdom.
There are quite a few different approaches to making rice. Each of the different approaches works well. This can be confusing. There are some 40,000 varieties of rice from around the world. Short-grain and long-grain brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, Arborio, and Koshihikari from Japan are some commonly available varieties. In each of these different rice cultures around the world, there are recipes for making perfect rice that is considered a high art within that culture. So let’s simplify this and start at square one:
Cook the rice on the stove top or in the oven.
Use a pot or pan with a good, tight-fitting cover.
Use the proportion of one cup of rice to one and a half cups of water.
Use cold water.
Put the rice and the water together in the pot or pan and cover tightly.
Bring the rice and water to a boil.
Then turn down the heat to medium low.
The white rice varieties will take 25 to 35 minutes to cook. The brown rice varieties will take longer usually 45 or 50 minutes.
Try to keep the cover on the rice for the whole cooking duration (check it if you must, but keep this to a minimum).
After cooking, let the rice rest with the cover on.
We use the language of rhythm all the time. I feel “off-beat.” Happiness is called “up-beat.” We talk about feeling like “we got our groove back.” But dive deeper into this rhythm metaphor to the deep pulsing heartbeat that defines life itself, and you’ll discover that rhythm exists within and all around you. Playing drums and percussion can become a sacred invocation of this healing life force.
Four Rhythms of Life
We all have rhythm within us. This rhythm is so natural that we hardly notice the drum of who we are. The following are just a few examples of four rhythms we know from being alive that define the movement of life.
1. Heartbeat. The heartbeat rhythm is primal—the mother of all rhythms and the rhythm we first heard inside our mother’s womb. The groove of life ranges from a resting heart rate of seventy-two beats a minute, or adagio, which liter- ally means “at ease,” to andante, or moderate, like a walking pace. When you question your own innate rhythmical sense, just remember this inner beat pulsing within you always. If you are alive, you’ve got rhythm.
Video to practice the heartbeat:
Watch hundreds of people playing the heartbeat together at the Sounds True Wake Up Festival: CLICK HERE
2. Breathing. The beat of breathing is a natural balanced pattern of inhale and exhale. Breathing is the rhythm of life that gives the body the chance to receive and release. How we breathe creates great impact on our health, and our breath is a barometer of our state of being. Relax, and we breathe more deeply. Under stress, our breath becomes shallow. Become aware of this breathing rhythm, and you will be more present and connected to your body.
3. Walking. Walking is a two-beat pattern, a double beat, which in music is called “duple meter.” The walking beat has a masculine energy, like marching forward, feeling a sense of linear movement, straight ahead. Military chants are formed to this rhythm, but so are samba grooves in Brazilian street parades. In the walking beat, we learn the subtle contrast between downbeat and upbeat. In the downbeat, we feel a sense of grounding, like steps walking on the earth. In the upbeat, we feel lifted in the magical space between each pulse.
Learn the walking rhythm in a labyrinth practice:
4. Rocking. Rocking back and forth or swaying creates a soothing, more feminine groove.
We all know it from the motion of being rocked as babies. Rocking inspires the hips to move in the sensuality and circularity of undulating motions. Rocking is a triple meter or three-beat pattern. We hear this rhythm in many world beats, from Africa to Brazil, and in cultures that live in more connection to the feminine energy of Mother Earth.
The Groove—The Pocket of Life
The groove in music is the feeling that calls our bodies to dance easily and effortlessly. It’s the underlying essence of the rhythmical force that holds music together. Good drummers learn to establish the groove and then fall into it, maintaining a consistent energy. The groove is a pathway, a portal, a secret spot that drummers call “the pocket,” a place of rhythmic alignment where playing becomes effortless.
Being in the groove also happens in life when we create the groove that is our essence; it’s our way of moving through life, sharing our gifts, growing, and dancing. We can tell when we’re in the groove. Life lines up, and we feel a sense of being carried by the rhythm of our daily movements and interactions. Gradually we learn to trust the groove and take risks; and we do so more and more effortlessly. Life becomes a dance to the beat of our own drum, building the “mojo” upon every beat of our life as we step forward, sometimes in uncharted compositions orchestrated by our own heartbeat.
Tune in to your own life’s groove and notice the tempo changes. Be courageous and share the beat of your own heart. Notice how you create the pocket of life—the place where your gifts line up with the opportunity to serve, grow, and create.
When rhythms line up in life’s magical moments of perfect timing in an unplanned way, it is synchronicity. Synchronicity is an awareness of the rhythm of seemingly coincidental events occurring in perfect timing. Synchronicity in life’s magical moments reflects a perfect timing beyond our own planning. Chronos, the root of synchronicity, literally means “timing.” When we recognize these synchronicities, we experience an even greater groove of life. It seems that things come together beyond our own personal efforts. Perhaps you have had an intuition to call a friend just at the moment she needs your support. Or maybe you are in the right place at the right time for a new career opportunity. When this happens, you are playing your life like a drummer in the pocket, the groove—and this is your rhythm.
When we live according to our life’s purpose, synchronicity grows. The key to this is to practice recognizing synchronicity, like a drummer listening for moments when the beats align perfectly, effortlessly. Then we can receive the magic and trust the effortless unfolding of our rhythm.
Think of a time when you experienced synchronicity in your life that was an amazing moment. Be aware of this rhythm in your life and celebrate the deep pocket of this sacred groove.
After a full weekend–full heart, full of meditation, and awakening-moments, a walk around with friends up to my little house for a tea party. Then hiking back down–gazing 360 with amazement at the sunset. A lovely nap/sweet cuddle. Barely made dinner and heard about a party. Across the land again, now stars out–baffling. And giddy to be walking with this friend. Joyous gathering–sweet booze/poison from Chile, saw my dear heart-friend (had been a long time), and an amazing tarot reading–one friend to another in the middle of the party. Incredible–loving, wild, comedy. Trio hike home. Big moon. Friend showing me constellations, then goodnight. Late to bed. Laid awake–again. Laying down meditating. Opened my eyes to golden sky.
Travis 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.
What is queer dharma? There are people who are queer and there is dharma, but what is queer dharma? First of all, a person who is queer identifies as someone with a sexual orientation outside culturally established norms. In our culture, it is someone who is not heterosexual — a person who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It is someone who does not want to put a label to their sexuality, or someone who is questioning their sexual identity. Dharma in its broadest context means truth or what is, and can also mean the Buddhist teachings—which is saying the same thing. The Buddha experienced the truth of reality and then talked about it. These are the Buddhist teachings that have been written and passed down orally. The path of meditation is the way to gently make the journey from self-deception to truth.
So, queer dharma is the truth of being queer. Everyone who is queer realizes at some point in their life’s journey that they have feelings for others, or about themselves, that are outside what is easily accepted in our society. At best, it results in some serious soul searching to come to terms with who one really is, and at worst, imprisonment or death. There are probably not many queer folk planning to vacation in Uganda, Nigeria, or Russia any time soon. Even in relatively tame countries like Canada that have accepted same-sex marriage, there are still unthinkable hate crimes against sexual minorities. Even if we live in a relatively accepting world, there are privileges of heterosexuality that are taken for granted and not available to all. Here is a great web page about heterosexual privilege, homophobia and its impact, and things non-transgender people take for granted: http://www.csulb.edu/colleges/chhs/safe-zone/privilege/.
We are holding a “Shambhala Queer Dharma” retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center from March 28-30 which will add the “Shambhala” aspect to the picture. There are two key themes that define Shambhala — that the nature of all humans is basically good, and when people relate to others and the environment from their inherent goodness, a good human society manifests. There are countless examples of good human relationships between people and communities that value kindness above individual self-interest. Sadly, we often doubt our basic goodness and self-worth. This results in a constant attempt to find happiness outside of ourselves as demonstrated by the tyranny of materialism ruling our lives.
Putting it all together — what is the inspiration for having a Shambhala Queer Dharma retreat?
Queer people have to come to grips with who they are because of the obstacles they face in society. Whether one has achieved peace with that or not, it is good to be with others who respect and recognize your journey. There is comfort and deep relaxation in just knowing that. However, there is something more to these retreats than just the comfort of being with sympathetic people.
By virtue of being queer and outside the societal norm with regard to sexuality, we are required to explore the dharma of ourselves to cut through confusion about who we are and not be afraid of that—probably more than those who have heterosexual privilege. The path of meditation is a natural way to accomplish this exploration of “who we really are” and come to certainty regarding our self-worth.
My experience of doing queer dharma retreats is that people are generally well along the journey of this exploration, whether they are experienced with or new to official “dharma” and meditation. That affords the Shambhala queer dharma community a unique opportunity — to go the next step beyond the individual journey and explore what it means to be a good human community based on kindness. The courage that inspired our non-negotiable self-reflection can extend into reflecting on our relationships with others, and to be genuine about what prejudices and habitual patterns are barriers to kindness.
The aspiration is that the queer community can be an example to the greater society as humans who treat other humans well. The Shambhala Queer Dharma retreat at SMC can help us deepen both as individuals and also as a community. Chögyam Trungpa said “you bring your whole self to meditation” and that in Shambhala, your whole queer self is welcome and celebrated. In fact, this retreat is an opportunity to explore how we might share the gift of our queerness with others. The gift being that we can come to know, through meditative reflection, that we are basically good and have much to contribute to the creation of an enlightened society. At the very least, we can enjoy practicing and discussing the dharma of life, each other, and the spectacular environment of SMC.
Be sure to check out two upcoming live interactive sessions with video and audio from Eve and Eric. If you have a webcam and mic you will be able to come online with video and audio as well. If you don’t have a/v equipment, you will be able to interact using text.
The sessions will be taking place on the following dates:
Sunday, January 26, 2 pm Mountain; 4 pm Eastern.
Sunday, March 16, 2 pm Mountain; 4 pm Eastern.
To celebrate the publication and the teachings themselves, there have been “Resoundings” or “read-a-thons”–folks have been reading the books aloud all across the globe. The final “Resounding” took place yesterday, with Acharya Lief, in the Stupa.
I was moved by the words. I moved the words. The whole thing was huge and fluid.
We were resounding the vajrayana teachings, which… are utterly beautiful and shattering. I was shattered and swept into the air–crystals refracting brilliant light.
After the first session–three hours of continuous resounding–we exited the Stupa. Looking up–rainbow colors, so vivid, in the clouds around the sun, behind the Stupa. ohwow…
I went down to lunch and nearly yelled at my friend when he told me he wouldn’t be attending the afternoon session because he was going to do laundry.
Moments later another friend of mine turned a cold shoulder towards me. I don’t know why.
I felt shattered, more.
The teachings emphasise the importance of building a strong foundation in the Hinayana–cause no harm; and the Mahayana–cultivate empathy. It’s crucial to do this before entering into the Vajrayana–sacred everything, engage.
I recently took Refuge in the Three Jewels–formally entering the Hinayana stage of the path. Historically, I have often felt anxious to “get to the good stuff”–a.k.a. the Vajrayana magical stuff. I felt so glad and inspired touching into the stream of vajrayana teachings yesterday. It feels good to glimpse it. At the same time, I am becoming more and more respectful of my current spot. I’m in less of a hurry.
The teachings are brilliantly alive here, at Shambhala Mountain, where I live. I am here. I can stay here and progress along the path at a natural pace. I can afford to go deep into each stage.
It’s happening in unexpected ways.
Things don’t need mouths to speak–communication is happening all the time. There is always feedback. There is a message in each moment. That’s what the teachings say. That’s what I say.
This morning I was sitting at the table eating breakfast. I was looking around at the few other people scattered around the room–My fellows. My community. My family.
I have been feeling blown-out. I have been feeling as though I have no grip on what is happening. I have been sensing that the idea that there will ever be relief is just wishful thinking. I’ve been experiencing devastating loneliness. And I KNOW… I KNOW…
I KNOW… because I have felt this before, because I am somewhat familiar with the pattern, with how things arise and give way, how insight and growth occurs…
I know that the thing to do is:
Hang in there. Be curious about it. Don’t try too hard…
We’re all hanging in there (in here) together. That insight brought relief at the breakfast table. Being kind then felt like a very simple and effortless thing.
Sitting in space, trapped in space without a home… all of us. Seeing–the source of warmth?
Travis 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.
Award-winning composer, world music artist and peace activist Yuval Ron shares a chapter from his upcoming book, Divine Attunement: Music as a Path to Wisdom, to be published by Oracle Institute Press in 2014. Read excerpts below or click here to read the full chapter on “Sacred Ecstasy.”
You are there, standing among several indigenous men and women whom you have never met. Everyone around you is drumming and chanting. The drumbeat is tantalizing; it feels so good to be a part of such a group. The collective group’s presence slowly overwhelms your individuality. As the beat gets faster and faster, you and everyone around you stop thinking, stop being aware of time, stop being aware of who – you think – you are. And the rhythms and vocal chants drive everybody into an ecstatic trance where there is no self-consciousness or judgment.
Then gradually, the music slows down and fades. You are physically and emotionally exhausted, yet your senses are so sharp, you feel more alive and awake than ever before! You look around, and in a magical way, all your fellow drummers seem simply beautiful. There is a certain smile in their eyes and a misty light over their faces. You feel an intimacy and closeness to them, something you never could have imagined feeling just an hour ago, before the ecstatic drumming began.
In a sacred, ecstatic state of mind, we feel connected to all living things. We feel that we are within all of creation, and that allof creation is within us. Some might cry out at such moment, “God is in me!” as some Sufi saints have expressed. But the words are not important; we may call Source anything we like. A deep sense of the unity of all things is what we are seeking – not an intellectual understanding of the idea of unity. It is a gut feeling, a sensation, a perception. Yet, is this a true perception or just another illusion?
The mystics of old have been saying for centuries and in various terms that the unity of all things is the true reality. They have insisted that we do exist beyond our bodies. Isn’t it fascinating that recent research is now confirming that our brain neurons actually reach beyond our bodies, connect with, convey information to, and affect living things outside of our bodies!
The implications of such neurological studies are far reaching and support the mystic’s assertion that we are inseparable from all creation. If we truly feel that we and the “other” are one, if we truly love the “other” as we love ourselves, then peace would be the natural consequence. Having gained this comprehension, we would never dump toxic waste in our neighbor’s yard, we would be generous with a stranger, and we would never unleash violence in a distant part of the world. That is the essence of the ancient Great Commandment: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Even though the concept that “you are everything” is extremely difficult for many of us to truly internalize, there are numerous ways to experience it. Within ancient shamanic wisdom, it is told that music and ecstatic movement can move us outside of ourselves so that we may reach an altered state of mind – a state of sacred ecstasy – the same goal of ecstatic rituals and celebrations conducted by Hassidic Jews, Sufi Muslims, and Pentecostal Christians.
With music, the journey to an ecstatic experience typically starts with a dark, intimate, and introspective tone. Both the Sufi and the Hassid begin with a slow and pleading musical melody, almost a lament; but, it is actually the sensation of longing that the music evokes. The foundation for this quest is the human condition of separation. The soul is captured in a physical body in a physical world, yearning for Spirit, pleading for Union, aching to reach the Source of life – the powerful energy that is behind everything. The musical modes (i.e., the musical note combinations) that are used in the Turkish Sufi and Hassidic Jewish traditions share some striking similarities. Both paths employ modes that express pain and longing but – when sped up – evolve into powerful and joyful musical expressions.
Join Yuval Ron from March 28-30 for a weekend of healing and consciousness altering through the sacred sound, music, and dance based on the ancient teaching of Zen-Buddhism, Kabbalistic-Judaism, Gnostic-Christianity, and Sufi-Islam. For more information on this powerful retreat, click here.
Yuval Ron and friends will also be hosting a concert in Boulder on March 27. Read more here.