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

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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. 

 

 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Time and Flowers, People

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.

Fun with Rebbi — Heather’s mom — the last few days. Wondrous artist-human.  Delightful, and glad to be connecting.  Last night, the three of us in my house singing Beatles’ songs:

“Lil’ darlin’, it’s beena long, cold, lonely, winter…”

And now, the sun is bathing us all, the land.  Spring arriving.

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And, in knowing Rebbi, somehow feeling closer to Heather.  Some sense of greater reality.  Greater humanness.  The truth of the texture of her black hair, and her shoulders.

Real people.

~~~

This morning, an hour spent arranging flowers after meditation.  Just an hour, because, I have to be on the clock for a certain amount of time each week in the marketing chair, and my schedule is rather tight.

But, I’m reading this dharma about work and time and so on.  This book form Tarthang Tulku.  There’s a bit in there about having deadlines and allowing that to energize the work — like the pressure needed to produce diamonds — without it freaking you (me) out.

I was feeling that as I was arranging.  Last weekend, a bunch of us did the Ikebana workshop with Shenpen, Sensei, and, all week long, my world has been more spacious and creative.  I’ve been approaching my whole life more like a flower arrangement…

And I’ve got Tarthang Tulku in the other ear nudging me to be more productive.

So…  more productive and more spacious.  How does that work?  It seems to.  It’s what I’m working on.

– April 25, 2014

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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. 

 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Flowers and Sensei, Awake

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.

Speed like weeds.  Flowers like music.  Pulsating perfection, and busy bodies missing beats.  A million words, a million actions — exhausted bodies wanting to flop…  but far too busy.  A million deaths and missed opportunities, a smile, and one perfect ringing note — the bliss bell.  Soon-enough, tumbleweeds of thinking.  Busy bodies.  But, perhaps more and more often — bell.

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Breathe.  A weekend with Shenpen, Sensei — arranging flowers, slowing down, opening up.  Her being is her teaching.  It’s always that way.  More the wholeness than the spoken instructions.

My emotional state — worked-with through arranging.  And then the arrangement as a mirror.

Heaviness purified through art-form.  The energy, once challenging, now reflected, purified, no more grief about it, rather…  there it is.

Flowers.  Resistance to knowing flowers, revealing ever-floral me — the fragility is too much to bear.  Always so tender and never-lasting.  Afraid to say goodbye…  and, thus, afraid to say hello.

So…  dropping all of that and being simple.  I wish to be more relaxed — not in a floppy way, but in an open way.  I wish to do my work, but without all the tension and goal-orientedness.  I believe it works better that way.

What good is scatter-brained accomplishment?  What power is there in that?  Instead, one simple, perfectly timed bell.

One after another.

After the weekend program concluded, Sunday with lunch, I went to my house and napped.  Then, awoke and cleaned, and arranged, my space.  Sensei said that Ikebana is a dangerous contemplative art, because it will change your life.

I see the way environment affects mental and emotional states — and vice versa.  It felt amazing, uplifting, to be in my space after it had been cleaned and arranged.

The world is always communicating.  We are always communicating…  What is the message?  Heart, care, awake, play, not-so-serious.  We’re expressing always.  Artwork — changes the world, changes minds.

The whole way through.  Friday afternoon, I felt like I wanted to nap for three days.  I was so burnt from the work week — so much activity.  So much obligation.  So much hope and fear.  Instead of curling into a ball, I engaged in artwork.  It purified my state.  And the result was more beauty in the world.  The whole process was helpful and beautiful on many levels.

Grateful.  Grateful for the reminder.  For the immersion.  Grateful to have been in space with Sensei.  Her floral radiance.  Her heavenly wisdom and strong hands, delicate touch.  Glad to know my world to be a living arrangement.  Sensei, smile.  Oh, virtue of whimsy.  May I not become too busy.  Sensei, awake.  Pause.  Awake.

– April 21, 2014

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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. 

Ikebana: The Contemplative Art of Flowers

By Alexandra Shenpen, Sensei and Travis Newbill

Shenpen, Sensei will be guiding Ikebana/Kado: The Contemplative Art and Way of Flowers, April 18-20, 2014

Alexandra Shenpen

Alexandra Shenpen

Ikebana is more than just flower arranging. Rather, it is a practice through which we explore nature & life,  the relationship between heaven, earth, humanity and personal artistic process — whether we feel we are artistic or not!  We begin by learning traditional, harmonic forms. Engaging with Ikebana as a contemplative practice awakens the unconditional beauty of  our world,  inspiring a way of living.

Below are some words from our wonderful teacher, Alexandra Shenpen, Sensei and some images of arrangements created by introductory students.

On structure and improvisation:
“Forms tame us, helping us to wear-out our artistic ego, so that what comes through is fresh and awake, an expression of  what’s already there — both in ourselves and in nature.  This is a wonderful ground for later improvisation.   In other words, structure provides a language of flowers — and from that language, not only can the poetry of botanical materials communicate more vividly, but one can begin to play.  Ultimately, the plants speak for themselves, if we understand their presence in space.”

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“Ikebana, as a non-verbal art form, allows us to let go of  thoughts and judgments that can cloud the way we see the world.  By  really looking at a branch, a twig, a flower, we can discover how to look , that we  might truly see, and fully appreciate what’s there.  The flowers and branches find their own place harmoniously.  When we begin to taste that  experience, isness–things as they are–renews our real heart.  Ultimately, when we are experiencing the vivid inseparability of form and emptiness, we feel very alive,  in touch with ourselves and phenomena.  It quite goes beyond words.  Art  embodying that is very helpful to have in the world.”

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Flower as guest:
“Human beings have a universal soft spot for plant life, for the beauty of nature. Just holding or looking at a flower touches that soft spot. Once flower or branch has been cut, it is no longer being sustained by its own way of growing. It is in our care. Being considerate of the flower’s needs comes naturally when our soft spot is open.”

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“Every Choice is an Artistic Choice” — Ernie Porps/Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
“Ikebana can be a positively dangerous contemplative art ——     it can change your life! It becomes harder to not notice. Our natural instinct is to be awake and care for our world  –  noticing,  appreciating, and engaging aesthetically. How we get dressed, or how the dishes go in the dish rack — becomes more of an ongoing creative  process, rather than just something to put up with.”

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“Ikebana/Kado honours the sense of above, below, and in between- – -  below is not lesser than above and above is not greater than below, and in between is not “not as good as” or “better than” something else. Those are human neuroses which are rampant in the world and in ourselves. Some liberation from that takes place when we create a living piece.   We come to recognize that each element has its own place, creating a harmonious whole.    This really interrupts our conventional way of thinking about things.”

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Finally, a testimonial from David, a student of Shenpen, Sensei:

“Whether to choose this blossom, or that branch has been an absolutely safe place to be daring. The most dreadful consequence has been total collapse (of my flower arrangement) – something I have found I can live with! After a year I am beginning to bring this development of felt-sense into my larger world. I find it easier to move with confidence and trust myself. Who would have ever thought that arranging flowers could have such potential for informing my life? The fresh perky blooms are rubbing off!”

Alexandra Shenpen, Sensei will be leading Ikebana/Kado: The Contemplative Art & Way of Flowers, April 18-20, 2014. To learn more, CLICK HERE

Floral Notes and Bardo: Renunciation/Blossom

 

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.

Wet behind the ear, mind-flower shedding petals and onto my shoulder, cool
petals, living still, still connected to earth. Petals from the flower-song, becoming smaller. And not separate from fresh blossoms.

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Valentine’s Day–We handed out flowers from the previous night’s Ikebana class and the haikus that Heather, Tara and I made for all the members of the community. We invaded lunch-time with glittery wishes and cheer. People seemed to enjoy it.

Just before lunch a group of staff gathered at the Stupa to film a Shambhala Day greeting from SMC. Nice weather, cheerfulness…

A super-love day between and Heather and I and… and this is really key for me… it seemed like that situation was connected to a larger one. Like… romantic love and communal love feeding one another. That’s how we both experienced it. I hope it’s true.

Yesterday, in the sweat lodge, I prayed that I not become too addicted to pleasure and comfort.

I am here to help others.

Got that? (speaking to myself)

Every morning I say to myself in the mirror:

It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me.

I was given the Buddhist refuge name:

Ngejung Tachok

which means

Renunciation Steed

What is there to renounce? Trungpa Rinpoche says: “What the warrior renounces is anything in his experience that is a barrier between himself and others. In other words, renunciation is making yourself more available, more gentle and open to others.”

So, if I begin using a situation, a person, a drug, whatever, to hide out–that has to go. Maybe not the person or the situation, but that way of engaging…indulging.

Trungpa also says:

“You can make a distinction: you can discriminate between indulging and appreciating”

I’ve avoided intimate relationships for a while because I was scared of getting so sucked-in that I wouldn’t be able to feel or connect with the rest of the world.

That’s something I’m trying to be aware of this time around. It can’t turn into a mush-fest. Susan Piver says: “Love without mindfulness is goo.” Right.

With that said, Valentine’s Day was very sweet and romantic, and more creative and joyous than gooey. Good.

–February 17, 2014

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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. 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Earth!

 

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.

Earth, I know you’re alive. People, I know you’re alive. Plants and people equally alive. It’s a stretch for conceptual mind to accommodate that.

We’re not living in harmony with the earth, okay?

But… We are aspiring to.

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The other evening, President Reoch held another fireside gathering for the staff. In Shambhala we call these sorts of things “salons,” yet no one seems to be very clear about what a “salon” is. Seems like:

A salon is a gathering, not a party. A salon is celebratory and yet, sincere. A salon is neither business nor recreation. A salon is authentic and social.

So, Jared the Land Steward started a fire. Zane the Rusung (a protector role) attempted to do so but it went out, at which point he said:

“I don’t start fires, I put them out.” Which is true.

Folks asked the President any questions that they wanted to. The ice breaker was about the financial situation of Shambhala and Shambhala Mountain Center. It’s a hot topic. His answer was as short as possible (long) and satisfying. There seem to be skillful changes occurring.

One point: we all need to be less embarrassed about money.

Next question: Jared asked about our relationship to the earth. In Shambhala, the teachings are incredibly clear regarding how we ought to relate to the natural world:

It is sacred, and it is alive along with us.

President Reoch admitted: “We are not walking the talk.”

Yesterday, I sat with Jared for an hour and absorbed his wisdom. He’s in touch. He spends most of his time outdoors, relating to the nature. The living quality of the natural world is apparent to him–clearly apparent. A lot of the time, I feel like I am staring right at something that I am not seeing.

I wish for the boundaries between myself and the living earth to shatter, more and more as I live here. I want to be friends with the flowers and rocks and trees. I want to know them by name and love them like I love my human friends, and my cat. I want to sense their living presence at all times. I do to some extent, but I still feel sort of removed.

I think that many of us are dealing with a dualistic, Newtonian hangover. Our vision is blurry and so we’re still acting clumsily. But, I also feel like we’re coming-to. We’re shaking our heads to clear the fog and asking for help. That’s what I’m doing.

I’m saying: “Jared, I want to walk in the woods with you. I want to shake this unhelpful conceptual fog and connect emotionally to the wind and snow and trees. I want to feel the urgency.”

I feel it more now than ever before. I live with the earth here. And there are lots of opportunities coming up to deepen my connection.

This evening I’m participating in the third staff Ikebana class. Through this art-form, we contemplate and celebrate our connection with the natural world, with unseen inspiration, and with our own human ability. We join “heaven, earth, and humanity.”

This Sunday, Jim Tolstrup will be leading a sweat lodge for the community. This happens every month or so. Jim is connected to Shambhala as well as the Lakota tradition. I don’t know anyone who is more tangibly connected to our earth than he. Being around him always inspires me.

Throughout the coming months there are going to be other teachers and opportunities to explore: weekend programs in which we’ll spend time getting to know wildflowers, the stars, the seasons. Ahh… I live on this mountain, immersed in nature. I’m spending time with you, Earth!

Right now, as I write, snow is melting from the roof, it’s sunny outside, pine trees are waving at me. I say “hello” out-loud. It’s really real.

–February 13, 2014

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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. 

Floral Notes and Bardo: Go Slow and Be Gentle

 

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.

Spotlight dimmed and revealing that the dancer is just one of us, one of us everyday dancers
hit with a spotlight–soft spotlight, which makes any motion, voice or gesture art
A R T
The toweling off of my body in the morning after shower, after having walked from my bed to the
shower without thoughts.
Holding the cup of tea, gently, until it cools a bit, so my tongue does not get burned.
art.
Not yapping like a dog.

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This morning–tea with Sensei. Precious Alexendra Shenpen, who is so gentle and luminous. A master in the Way of Flowers–Kado. My breastplate vanishing, my eyes full and heavy–aglow, while she spoke. Last night she taught us, the community–the second in a series of classes that she is generously offering. We learned about harmonic forms–the interplay between heaven, earth, and humanity as expressed in flower arrangements.

A small bud is as important as a large, sweeping-line branch. The bud activates the power of the branch. Small may be grand. Grand may be small.

Some of the best advice I have ever gotten was from my friend Todd, who is a master in the Way of Todd-o:

“Go slow and be gentle, you’re exactly where you need to be.”

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AS IT IS
FLORAL; ELEGANT; SEE

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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. 

Ikebana: Conversations with a branch

By Cynthia Drake on Ikebana with Alexandra Shenpen, Senseiikebana

Do not consider taking an ikebana class if you want to keep your view of flowers simple and safe, if you do not want to be called into a conversation with a branch, a vase, or the moon peering at you through the window. If you come to this program, be ready to play, to look at the lines and curves of stems, to sit in silence, and to encounter a universe of creative expression speaking through traditional forms.

I study with Alexandra Shenpen, Sensei because she brings together decades of experience in meditation practice, the study of Japanese forms, and artistic expression. She shares her joy of color, form, and communication and gently encourages her students to step out into our own modes of creation. And then, as is true with all ikebana masters, she oh so subtly moves one branch one millimeter and brings our arrangements to life.

Every person who feels that yearning to connect heaven and earth with flowers will fall in love with this practice.