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.

FLOW: I Move Because I am Curious

By Katharine Kaufman

Katharaine Kaufman will be leading FLOW: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat, April 25-27

I start in stillness. Then I recognize I am breathing. The breath appears to be more clear—prominent. I recognize a sense of body—what is touching the ground, what is a little snug, what feels tired. Hello body. I relax my jaw and shoulders and along with this, discursive movement relaxes too. Breathe out. I am landed. Where does movement start? Mind? A reflex? Breath? I move not because I am uncomfortable and want to change my posture. I move because I am curious. I am looking for what my mentor, Barbara Dilley, calls, “kinesthetic delight.”

I open my peripheral view to the others in the room. Pretty soon we are moving through space, slowly, and somewhat together. I don’t have to hold this body up—by myself. I think of my yoga teacher, Richard Freeman who always said we can “ride the breath.” And there’s a sense of support from the group. When we slow our movement we can take care of ourselves as we enter and leave the poses. When we slow even more we don’t need to push at anything. The breath seems to carry us. Gravity seems friendly.

DSC_2289Photo by Barbara Colombo

The creative yoga sequences are funny— and there is some laughter, and a few groan as someone is challenged with how to unwind from a pose. When we enter a twisted posture it seems that the breath is all that moves. Our entire body works as a unit in strong poses. When we balance there is a tremor. Someone who usually toughs it out chooses to rest for a while and then joins a little later. So it goes—starting simply, we move into more complex poses and then return to the simplicity of sitting or standing, or lying. We have been around the block -–looked into our alleys and windows… With each sun-salutation, plank pose, and savasana we feel both the limits of our movement and the expansiveness—We know ourselves as moving beings. After all this moving it feels natural to sit, so we do.

This is what we do with our short time together. This is practice. The land supports us in our practice. The staff understands. They are friendly and gentle. Other programs support us in our practice and the practice itself supports our practice. Zen Master, Kobun Chino said, “practice is a fancy word.” It’s not special. It’s ordinary and visceral. We have the opportunity to go to the depths as well as shallows, and to let our recognition of each current exploding moment expand us.

Then there are meals –beautiful vegetarian meals —waiting for us. We walk in the springtime mountains. Are there flowers yet? I forgot. It has been a long time. Maybe there is a puffy spring snow that melts as it touches the ground.

After lunch I walk up to the stupa and around the perimeter a few times. I only hear the sound of my steps on the gravel so I try to walk more softly to match the silence. This allows me to really feel each step and swing of arms, legs. The wind shoots through the land. I realize I don’t know much about wind, this land, myself…I find this hysterical and burst out in a big laugh. When I enter the stupa I am surprised by a rush of energy and clarity as I sit, facing the mystery of who I am, what phase I am in. I feel the vulnerability of this human life. Here, I don’t need much to be satisfied.

Being removed from my habitual routes and places gives me the opportunity to look at my thoughts, body, relationships, and days from a bigger perspective. Questions arise as we move through our practice—in relationship with our own mind and body. They are questions that can be translated to our lives. I may ask, Where is space in this back bend? What flows? What is necessary? With what kind of energy and awareness am I stepping on the ground? How gracefully do I perform these stops and starts? Can I let go here—and here? Is my movement too swift for how my body really feels? The questions are enough. They don’t require answers.

Katharaine Kaufman will be leading FLOW: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat, April 25-27. To learn more, please CLICK HERE

Summer

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Q&A: Naropa Professors Discuss “Artistic Process as Life” and Meditation Practice

By Travis Newbill

Jane Carpenter and Sue Hammond West will lead Creative Wisdom: Maitri and Art, November 15-17

Jane Carpenter

Jane Carpenter

The idea that artistry begins when the brush hits the canvass and ends when the palette is set down is questionable. An alternative view suggests that eating a pear may be as artistic of an activity as painting a still life. And, in this view, meditation practice is linked to both.

Sue Hammond West

Sue Hammond West

In the upcoming program Creative Wisdom: Maitri and Art Naropa University professors Jane Carpenter and Sue Hammond West will present teachings and practices related to artistic discipline as well as meditation practice in order to guide participants in a process of exploring the ways in which we can be more awake as we create art and how we may live our entire lives in a more artistic way.

In their words:

“This weekend program explores the state before you lay your hand on your brush or your canvas – very basic, peaceful and relaxed. Here art refers to all the activities of our life, including any artistic discipline that we practice, referring to our whole being. This way of working with art is noticing the state before you make art. The potential of artistic creation is to directly point to what is true, the richness and limitless potential of the present moment of experience – nowness. We awaken our appreciation for the richness of this colorful and challenging world. Fear drops away as we engage with direct experience.”

Recently, SMC caught up with Carpenter and West and asked them to elaborate a bit on some of these pithy notions.

Shambhala Mountain Center: To begin with, how does meditation relate to art, and vice versa?

Jane Carpenter: The mind is always giving rise to ideas and thoughts. So there is always material, even on the cushion. When we’re engaged in an artistic discipline, we’re allowing the energetic patterns in that material to be used. So, I actually see a similarity of the mind being a blank canvass, and what arises in it actually being the paint and the color, or the flowers, or whatever it is.

And how about the idea of “artistic process as life?”

JC: I think it’s the ground of presence that is the thread through experiencing one’s life in an artistic way and the joy that one experiences in artistic discipline.

Sue Hammond West: You have to be authentic, and present to that authenticity, in everything that you do–in every part of your life. Then, when you go into the studio to create the art, your mind is clear. You’re not divided in your attention. You’re completely present, clear, and authentic.

How does the formal practice of meditation benefit the process of making art?

SHW: Because you have meditated, you have this incredibly awake nervous system, and clarity of mind. Those are excellent places to make art from.

JC: We are also able to see our emotional landscape or what’s arising in the mind. So when I think of clarity of mind or presence, I also feel that we’re present with what’s going on with us. So, if we’re feeling sorrow, jealousy, or any particular emotion, we actually can embrace that and express that clearly in what we’re painting or building.

There seems to be a sense of going beyond embarrassment in this approach.

JC: I see embarrassment as sort of an overlay to our authenticity. We are experiencing something, and we overlay it with a “should.” Then, what’s reflected in the painting is the “should” rather than the actual, authentic, direct experience. That’s where the problem comes in because the artist is actually expressing aggression towards themselves and that aggression translates into the artwork and then into the viewer.

How does one avoid that?

JC: Well, it’s something that very important to notice. It’s not so much that it won’t happen, but I think one can discriminate in the process and actually develop an appreciation for recognizing when one enters shame or embarrassment and sees that as path rather than making it into a problem. I hope that’s not too complicated. (laughs)

Jane Carpenter

Jane Carpenter

Would you say that the activity of making art is itself a meditation practice?

Sue Hammond West

Sue Hammond West

SHW: Well, making art could be meditation in action. You could actually go at it for all the wrong reasons–for all the self-loathing and neurotic tendencies–and actually come out on the other side with clarity. It could take a while, depending on the depth of the feelings that you’re working through, but there’s always that possibility.

So, it can be beneficial like sitting…

JC: Absolutely, it can. For some people, sitting is not going to be their choice to experience their life fully. Art is a method, we could say, for bringing oneself into the present moment. It can be contemplative practice, or, as Sue was saying, meditation in action.

So, making art and meditating can have similar results. I have the feeling, though, that striving for that result may not be the point.

SHW: Well, the nice thing about meditation, and art as well, is that you can do it for no result. When you surrender to the fact that there’s no right or wrong answer, and simply allow whatever is happening to happen, that’s when something shifts in your being.

What would you say are some of the most common obstacles to the artistic process being a meditation in action?

JC: One thing that comes to mind is self-consciousness, or a goal-orientated approach. If there is any expectation–of perfection, or getting a particular concept across to the audience, or any outcome at all–then one is a bit ahead of themselves.

SMC: Can you describe an alternative approach?

JC: We can be willing to look at something that looks really strange and be curious about it as opposed to labeling it “bad,” or “not as good as the other person’s.” So I think with a true artist, with this approach, we’re going beyond a dualistic, “good” and “bad,” view.

So, are all works of art equal?

JC: It isn’t some kind of naive “everything is great” attitude. Some pieces will work, and some won’t. But the process is much more alive.

Finally, how will the practices utilized in this retreat work with the obstacle of self-consciousness and goal oriented-view?

SHW: We’ll be doing some sitting practice. We’ll be exploring the five wisdom energies, or emotions, in terms of embracing life. And so, I would say that we’re going to be covering the different types of thinking processes and we’ll be talking about the dualistic tendency of those and giving some experiential training on how to become non-attached to those–how to create the clarity of mind that we’re talking about that is the quality that we want to come at making our art from.

JC: We’ll explore questions like: What if emotions do arise when we’re doing art and we don’t reject them? Could we actually feel joy or delight in expressing ourselves fully? So, I think that we’ll be inviting people to play, actually. There will be different disciplines, and when you put it all together, it allows people to be fearless because there is no judgment in the environment. So there is no need to be self-consciousness.

Seems like nourishing situation.

JC: When we work like this we actually find that people retrieve parts of themselves that they haven’t experienced for a long time. Things can actually fall away–that judgment, or even judging the judger. So, we hope that there is a sense of inviting people to really enjoy themselves.

Discipline and enjoyment seem like sort of an odd couple.

JC: There’s an expression that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used, which is “discipline and delight.” So often when we talk about discipline we think about burden and sacrifice and this heaviness. I think in the workshop we’re going to be doing, the discipline of meditation and art brings delight. That’s why we do it!

SHW: Ultimately, it’s creating an environment for people to arise completely from where they are and just to notice who they are in the moment.

 

Sue Hammond West is a painter and mixed media artist who explores consciousness, quantum physics and the phenomenology of being. Her exhibitions include Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art; Beacon Street Gallery, Chicago; and the University of Notre Dame Isis Gallery. She is director of the School of the Arts at Naropa University.

Jane Carpenter began the study of Tibetan Buddhism and Maitri Space Awareness with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1975. She has taught the practice as an Associate Professor at Naropa University and internationally for over 25 years. Jane leads workshops on Dharma Art, Ikebana, and Contemplative Psychology.

Jane Carpenter and Sue Hammond West will lead Creative Wisdom: Maitri and Art, November 15-17. To learn more, Click Here

Simplifying Meditation: Why Practice? To Wake Up!

By Thomas Roberts

Thomas Roberts leads The Path of Simply Being: A Meditation Retreat, November 15-17 

These days you hear a great deal about meditation. This kind of meditation, that kind of meditation; all sorts of books describing what it is and what it can do for you. Often meditation is associated with a particular religion or spiritual practice. Let’s clear something up right at the start.

Meditation is not a religion. Meditative/contemplative practices have been part of numerous spiritual practices throughout history. No one owns it.

Meditation is not Prozac. It does not cure or solve anything.

Meditation does not make you a better parent, a better doctor, a better student, help you be less depressed or anxious.

In fact meditation does no-thing at all!

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 Like everything else that gets exploited, meditation is now neatly packaged for your consumptive desires.

Everybody is touting and selling meditation. Step right up and get yours.

Okay let’s restore some sanity here.

A meditation practice doesn’t help you overcome anything. It just helps you face your life with greater patience, openness and compassion.

If you do meditation for some outcome you’re not doing mindfulness. I’m not sure what you’re doing and it may be beneficial but it is not meditation.

You see, the real practice of meditation has no outcome. You don’t do meditation to get anywhere or achieve anything. If you do, you run the risk of becoming attached to that particular outcome and that interferes with your meditation practice.

So why practice mindfulness?

All the great teachers (Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Toltec, Muslim, Native Peoples) have taught one thing:

The only reason to practice mindfulness is this:

to wake up!!!!

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That’s all.

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To wake up!

A regular meditation practice simply peels back the layers of self-deception to see things clearly as they truly are. The more you wake up, the more you are able to live your life from an open compassionate heart, and a balanced calm mind; from a deep place of innate wisdom. The benefits of awakening move in all directions throughout all your experiences.

Meditation is the awakening of our entire experience, not just our minds; the awakening of our entire body-mind and its sensory experience. This awakening reduces our fear-based reactions and cultivates our natural ability respond to others and ourselves with great patience, openness and compassion. Our senses become alive with wonder and curiosity for past conditionings and limiting attachments.

So let’s stop all this nonsense of trying to practice meditation for any particular outcome.

It comes down to this: Practice this enduring skill for its own sake, and everything else will take care of itself.

The simple yet profound practice of mindful meditation, whether on a cushion or in a chair, or in a grocery line, or talking with another, just keeps you in an open, balanced, and compassionate place that just makes this a better world.

The Path of Simply Being retreat will be a wonderful experience in developing a meaningful and beneficial meditation practice.

You need not have any prior meditation experience. Or you may wish to attend to deepen or re-kindle your practice.

Hope to see you here at Shambhala!

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Gassho.

Tom

www.thomasrobertsllc.com

www.innerchng.com

P. S. Here is a video I made of the practice of meditation:

Thomas Roberts leads The Path of Simply Being: A Meditation Retreat, November 15-17 . To learn more, click here

2013 Summer Dathun Photos

Here are the before and after photos of twelve courageous 2013 Summer Dathun participants.

We thank them for their generosity in allowing us to use their images to share with you the profound humanity and beauty that may arise by the virtue of a full month of sitting meditation.

 

BEFORE AFTER
Abby Pennington(a) Abby Pennington(b)
Caitlin Bargenquest(a) Caitlin Bargenquest(b)
Carol Potter(a) Carol Potter(b)
Charlie Valeska(a) Charlie Valeska(b)
D'Arcy Colby(a) D'Arcy Colby(b)
Jen Crow(a) Jen Crow(b)
Jodi Vanbezooyen(a) Jodi Vanbezooyen(b)
Kate Raddock(a) Kate Raddock(b)
Kathy Todd(a)Mariah Helfrich(a)Michael Uhila(a)William O'Connor(a) Kathy Todd(b)
Mariah Helfrich(b)Michael Uhila(b)William O'Connor(b)

 

Two Hearts are Greater Than One

Oscar Miro-Quesada and Byron MetcalfWe may have been told, or we may have the sense, that within ourselves and within the Earth, there is fathomless wisdom which is available to us at all times–all we need to do is tune in.

If this is so, we’d be hard pressed to find a better duo to guide us in that process than don Oscar Miro-Quesada–a highly empowered and well renowned shaman–and Byron Metcalf, Ph.D.–a pioneer in conscious-altering music with a background in transpersonal psychology.

In the upcoming weekend program The Shaman’s Heart: An Awakening of Compassion, Healing and Vision, these two teachers will bring together their unique and powerful medicines by “merging ancient and contemporary healing ceremonies and rhythmic techniques.”

If you feel that there are dimensions to this life, and to your very being, which you have the ability to know, but are somehow just out of reach, a weekend on the mountain with this pair of guides may very well put you in touch.

As excitedly as we invite you to join us for what is sure to be a transformative retreat, we also encourage you to first check out some of the work that don Oscar and Byron have done recently.

Byron, a percussionist, teamed up with master didgeridoo artist Rob Thomas for 2013’s “Medicine Work.” Samples from the album can be streamed on Byron’s website.

And, don Oscar has recently co-authored–along with Bonnie Glass-Coffin, Ph.D.–the highly acclaimed book titled Lessons in Courage: Peruvian Shamanic Wisdom for Everyday Life.

Among the many stellar reviews from scholars, philosophers, mystics, and well respected people in various fields for this long-awaited book, is this weighty response from Barbara Marx Hubbard of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution:

“This is a great book that can attune the worlds of indigenous peoples with the rational scientific traditions of the modern world. It guides us toward incarnation of all levels of ourselves. Oscar embodies this wholeness and reveals the processes learned in his own epic journey through fields of reality from the Earth to the Star people, from contemporary academic knowledge to the depth and power of indigenous wisdom and ritual, most especially the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition of cross-cultural shamanism. Lessons in Courage is an indispensable classic for our “generation one,” everyone on the planet, facing for the first time the evolution or devolution of Earth life by our own actions.”

Indeed, the consequences of what we may discover with the assistance of teachers such as these–or not–are profound.

Oscar Miro-Quesada and Byron Metcalf will be leading “The Shaman’s Heart: An Awakening of Compassion, Healing and Vision” at Shambhala Mountain Center on October 11-13, 2013. Click here to learn more.

 

 

Rest in Peace, Tiger

 

Tiger the cat

Tiger was a feral tom cat when he first appeared at Shambhala Mountain Center. For the first several years, he allowed himself to be fed but not touched. Then one day Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche saw him lurking about Sacred Studies Hall and told him to “trust the humans here, they will take care of you.”

Gradually, his feral ways were (for the most part) pacified and he came to embody qualities that many a guest to SMC remembers to this day. Melissa Martin Powell called Tiger, “the epitome of the present moment.” Molly McCowan says, “I so enjoyed sitting with him on my visits. He had such serene energy, and was always willing to share his food with the magpies.”

Jeff Stone remembers a more unusual and light-hearted inspiration that Tiger contributed to the practice container at SMC. “At my seminary we were goofing around and came up with a chant called ‘four-pawed mahakitty’ which sang the praises of our wrathful tabby protector. Great cat. He will be missed.”

But Tiger was still a cat and in an instant he could turn from tranquil to wrathful. Gabriel O’Hare once witnessed Tiger dismember and devour an entire rabbit, just after he had an interview with the Sakyong. “[I was] blown away twice in quick succession.”

The novelist David Mitchell once wrote, “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” And in the past few weeks our little post about Tiger’s passing has been shared far and wide around the internet. It has been humbling to see how many lives were affected by a tom cat. Olie McCafferty expressed her gratitude thusly, “Thank you Tiger for keeping me company late at night when I was sitting outside and watching the moon and the stars… You made my Cancer Camp a very special and purrrrrrrfect time.”

Kris Loerwald spent about four days up at SMC in February, 2013. He remembers that “it snowed and snowed and snowed all the time[...]I would sit down on the bench from the dining hall, seek Tiger out, make sure his water dish was full and clean and then for about 10 minutes after every meal we would just sit there, him in my lap gazing off into the gray hazy abyss of the sky and listening to the wind whisper through the trees.

I can’t really say that I knew how much those moments really meant to me until looking back on it now in the summer when the snow is melted. But I know in those moments that Tiger and I spent together in complete and utter calm and stillness and appreciation of just that moment well… Those were some of the most profound times spent there at SMC.

Thank you Tiger for your company your willingness to listen to my unspoken dialogue and for everything else I hope safe travels to [where]ever it is you go from here.”

Many of you have expressed wishes for his positive rebirth or peaceful final rest, so we want you all to know that here at SMC we had a ceremony for Tiger that was very well attended.

The poet Gregory Orr once wrote:

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

And so it was with Tiger, who sat through snow storms, rain, wind, intense summer heat, and simply practiced keeping company.

Happy birthday, Allen Ginsberg!

“I met Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa, on  a street corner in New York with my father, by accident.”

Allen Ginsberg and Trungpa Rinpoche

 

From June 3rd, 1926 to April 5th, 1997 Allen Ginsberg (AKA Lion of Dharma, AKA Heart of Peace, AKA Carlo Marx in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road) roamed the earth, taking inspiration from every facet of life and giving it right back to those who would have it. One of the most controversial public figures of his times, among the most outrageous of poets, Allen Ginsberg was also a friend, lover, photographer, peace activist, king of May, and meditation practitioner in the Vajrayana tradition. At Shambhala Mountain Center, where Ginsberg’s teacher, friend, and guru Trungpa Rinpoche is buried in the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, one third of Allen Ginsberg’s earthy remains are interned in a polished granite memorial in the shape of a lion, backlit by the Tibetan letter for “Ah”, the shortest form of the perfection of wisdom, and just a short distance from the remains of his life partner, Peter Orlovsky. Visitors may visit this site with a steep climb near the Stupa.

Shambhala Mountain Center staffer and graduate of Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics Jennifer Lane shares a memory of Allen Ginsberg in 1995 when he was being honored at Naropa and reflecting on his life’s endeavors. The video tells the whole story.