Thoughts Are Not the Enemy

By Jason Siff

Jason Siff will be leading Thoughts are not the Enemy: An Introduction to Recollective Awareness Meditation at Shambhala Mountain Center from August 29–September 1. 

Jason-Siff-with-waterfall-headshotWe spend much of our time with our thoughts. The thinking mind will not just turn itself off, become empty and still, once we start meditating. In fact, trying to stop thoughts, or empty the mind, may actually produce more tension and stress around thinking, while fully allowing thinking into meditation may paradoxically lead to peace and tranquillity. But this can only be known through one’s experience. If you like, you can try out these instructions:

• Sit in a comfortable posture

• Close your eyes and bring your attention to your hands touching, one on top of the other, or resting on your thighs.

•  Be aware of the external contact of your hands touching, but do not hold your attention there—just come back to it on occasion.

• Allow your thoughts and emotions into the meditation sitting. Be kind to your thinking mind. Let yourself think the thoughts, be carried by them, and if you get overwhelmed, just bring your attention back to the touch of the hands.

• If you start drifting off toward sleep, let yourself go toward sleep. If you feel restlessness, boredom, or physical pain, it is okay to adjust your posture, lie down, or stop the meditation sitting.

• Try this meditation practice for 15 to 20 minutes at first. Anything that happens in meditation is part of your experience of meditation. Nothing is wrong.

On my retreats, people share their meditation sittings in a group. Everyone in the group listens while one person talks about what went in his or her meditation sittings. A few years ago, a middle-aged man on one of my retreats reported feeling intense rage toward his ex-wife. Normally when he experienced this rage in his meditation sitting, he would try to bring his attention to his breath to calm his mind. That didn’t work this time. So he focused on the sensation of anger in his chest. That helped a little at first, but then he had memories of how his wife had treated him and his hatred surfaced again with even more force than before.

He tried to step back and observe the thoughts as passing clouds, but however much he tried to get some distance from them, he soon found himself immersed in one angry scenario after another. After all of these worthy attempts, not only did he still feel rage, but he also felt like a failure for not being able to transcend it. At this low point in his meditation sitting, he remembered that I said he could fully allow thoughts and emotions into his meditation sitting. He was ambivalent about doing that, fearing that if he allowed the thinking to go on, it would get worse, and he would never get free of it. At this point, what did he have to lose?

He let himself think about his ex-wife. He wanted to hurt her. He imagined various ways of making her life miserable. And, as he let these truly unacceptable and reprehensible thoughts into his meditation sitting, he felt more connected to himself. Though this was the honest truth, he knew he would never carry out the revenge scenarios he had so ingeniously crafted. Something else began to emerge, which couldn’t arise when he was battling his rage.

From being kind to his rage, which included understanding himself with compassion, he began to see more of his role in their relationship; for if he could be so rageful and vengeful, then what was he really like to live with? How was he pushing her away, disregarding her, not feeling any friendliness or kindness to her when they were together? As he explored this new direction in his thinking, compassion for her arose in his heart. By the end of the meditation sitting, he no longer felt like a failure, having gained trust in his own meditative process.

Thankfully, most of our experiences of thinking in meditation are not that dramatic. We mostly have issues with thoughts that distract us and needlessly repeat themselves. But even with those thoughts, when we allow them in and let them run their course, we may find that they die down on their own and we learn a bit more about ourselves in the process of being with them. When we take away the intention to stop our thoughts, we reduce our tension around thoughts, and can become more relaxed overall. Many people have reported that when they have allowed thinking to go on in meditation in this way, they have fewer thoughts, less involvement in certain thoughts, and may even experience long stretches of time where they are with their breath and bodily sensations.

This approach to meditation is called, “Recollective Awareness Meditation.” I started developing it when I was a Buddhist monk in the Sri Lanka in the 1980s. It is a form of Vipassana Meditation, as is Insight Meditation and Mindfulness Meditation, but differs from them in these basic ways:

1. Meditators learn to recollect their meditation sittings as the primary way to develop awareness of what happens in meditation. They then write about their meditation experiences in greater detail and share their meditation experiences with a teacher or a group of fellow meditators.

2. Meditators learn to become familiar with their mind in meditation and begin to trust in the meditative process to lead them further. They learn to make their own choices as to what to attend to in their meditation sittings and develop less dependence on a teacher (or tradition) and thus greater self-autonomy.

3. By allowing thoughts and emotions fully into their meditation sittings from the very beginning, they break down the artificial boundary between how their mind is in meditation and the way it is outside of meditation. The good qualities that arise in meditation then tend to be more accessible to them at other times.

4. Instead of trying to see their experiences as impermanent, they learn how to explore their experiences as being dependently arisen (coming about through causes and conditions). This way of “seeing things as they have become” is at the core of Buddhist philosophy and practice.

On this retreat, I will introduce this approach to meditation, give talks on it, and conduct group and individual interviews. This retreat is for people new to meditation as well as those who have an established meditation practice.

Please feel free to contact me prior to the retreat. I hope to see you there.

~~~

Jason Siff is the author of Unlearning Meditation: What to do when the instructions get in the way and the upcoming release, Thoughts are not the Enemy: An Innovative Approach to Meditation. Learn more about this teacher by visiting skillfulmeditation.org.

Also, check out this Tricycle online retreat form September 2013: Thoughts Are Not the Enemy: A Mindfulness of Thinking Meditation Practice

Riding the Energy of Emotions: A Conversation with Acharya Dale Asrael

By Travis Newbill

Acharya Dale Asrael

Acharya Dale Asrael

Habitually, when intense emotion arises — in our body, mind — we squirm, fidget, and ignore as best we can.  Another approach — which Acharya Dale Asrael is quite keen on and skillful in presenting — is to actually… feel it.  If we can open and fully experience our emotions, the wakeful, creative potential of the energy is unleashed.

Of course, this is a huge topic, and a great path.  Recently, Acharya Asrael took some time to have some initial discussion.  And, in May, she’ll be offering a deeper exploration as she co-leads Taming the Wild Horse: Riding the Energy of the Emotions, which is one of two consecutive “long-weekend” programs that she’ll be leading along with master artist Cynthia Moku — the other being Touching the Moment: Indelible Presence.

Please click below to hear Acharya’s profound wisdom and clarity on this ever-relevant topic.  And, if you’d like to download the audio, click here and find the “Download” button.

Connecting Tai Chi and Buddhism with Larry Welsh

By Travis Newbill

Larry Welsh will be leading Flowing Like Water, Strong as a Mountain: Tai Chi Retreat, April 25-27

Larry-20Welsh-IMGP0429cc-(1)The ancient practice of Tai Chi Chuan has often been called the “supreme ultimate exercise.” When joined with mindfulness sitting meditation, these two forms bring forth a potent way to awaken health and restore well-being in body, mind, and spirit.

Larry Welsh, MAc, MA, has trained in the Yang-style short form, listening hands and sword form of Tai Chi Ch’uan since 1977. Larry is Senior Adjunct Professor and Mindfulness-Meditation teacher in the Traditional Eastern Arts program at Naropa University. He practices Japanese Classical Acupuncture, herbal medicine and whole-food nutrition in Boulder, Colorado.

Watch our interview with Larry Welsh below, 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.

Larry Welsh will be leading Flowing Like Water, Strong as a Mountain: Tai Chi Retreat, April 25-27. 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

Freak Out! Or Not: An Interview with MBSR Teacher Janet Solyntjes

 

Janet Solyntjes

Janet Solyntjes

Janet Solyntjes will be leading Introduction to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, February 14-16

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.

Floral Notes and Bardo: Slow-down Practice (Slow Down, Practice)

 

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.

So much happening these days–all days, always
in my mind, body, office, and in the general atmosphere. So many ideas about
the path forward–business-wise, community-wise, and
personally. I am feeling more and more
one
with this organization.

My sleep has not been so restful. Maybe too much tea
too late in the day. But also, for sure,
activated imagination. So much energy to process.
It’s challenging. I’m glad for it.
There is a lot to do. There is a lot of work to do.
The is a lot of art to do. There is a lot of caring to do.

–On this planet. In this day and age.

I’m learning how to do that.
There are teachers here who are helpful.
The whole life here–

here = SMC; but also, here = HERE

but, especially SMC (for me)

is a place to practice.

Practice meditation. Practice friendship.
Practice art. Practice work.
etc.

Because there are bombs going off in my chest and
brain these days, I will spend the entire day tomorrow
meditating in the Stupa.

One of my aspirations for 2014 is to sit a nyinthun on every Saturday
which follows a New Moon.

sit a nyinthun = meditate for a full day

Sitting meditation is the opposite of propagating sickness. Here is a sign which is posted on the Quadropooper:

P1070983

 

This is the Quadropooper:

P1070984

Bracing the old shack for a windstrom that’s been on the way since before
contruction began.
Before the trees were planted.
Long before lumberjack swung for pay–
greasy sausage

An entry from an encyclopedia
belted out operatically to illustrate
the continuity of knowledge and feel,
words and intuition,
art and work,
speech, song, hearing, and growth.

Passed on from elderly–a verse about the future,
the restaurants are nervous to serve meat,
the folks who sat at the booth are concerned that their coffee may spill on their
laps because they no longer trust their bodies.
Jimmy Dean on a chipped porcelain plate is wet with grease
after the meal the original prophetic-neurotic-author saw himself
in the puddle of lardy-juice,
laughed,
and said “Oh lardy!”

~~~

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. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

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.

image005

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

SMC in the News: Denver Post Travel

sitting to look at the stupa

We had a nice little write-up as a cool, fun place to getaway this summer. Thanks to the Denver Post for the profile in their Travel section.

“What’s more relaxing than a meditation vacation? Probably one taken at a 600-acre mountain retreat, a serene and unique destination created more than 40 years ago as a place for guests from all backgrounds to visit for contemplation and relaxation.”

The article features our Getaway program, where guests can customize a retreat to their own liking.

Take it easy: This is one place where doing absolutely nothing is just fine. Shambhala offers a way to create your own getaway, where you can book a stay and just enjoy the grounds, hiking the eight miles of trails or wandering around the botanic gardens and meadows.

Read the full profile at the Denver Post

More than Meditation: The Totality of Dathün

by Will Brown

“We can become extremely wise and sensitive to all of humanity and the whole universe simply by knowing ourselves, just as we are.” – Pema Chödrön, teaching on day two of a dathün

tent and rainbowWhen someone mentions “meditation retreat”, you might get an image of “on the cushion at 4am until lights out at 9pm”. The Shambhala Buddhist practice of Dathün is not just thirty days on “the cushion” but a complete system, or spiritual technology, for developing familiarity and friendliness with one’s mind, body, emotions (and patterns) and one’s own inherent power of healing and wakefulness. At my first Dathün, I discovered that sitting meditation was just a fraction of the practice.

The system of Dathün includes quite a few hours per day of sitting meditation but also walking meditation, dharma talks, contemplation, and chants. And just as integral to Dathün are the mindful “Oryoki” meals, the hours (or days) of silence, one’s interactions with other people, and the furniture, buildings, and land which support the practitioner.

At Dathün, in the kitchen, the hallway, on the cushion, all of it is meditation and all of it asked me to just try opening where I might find the dignity of compassion. For, as I “held my seat” (or bowl, or tongue), I was providing peaceful space for those on the cushion next to me who, in turn, were holding ground for me and all beings.

This “space” developed into care and appreciation for the objects, structures, and environment around me. Being mindful of the Shrine room, the Center, the animals and land, became as integral as returning to my breath rather than following thoughts. In the first few days of Dathün, I had taken personally the loud orange color of the Shrine room. By the end of four weeks I could accept that perhaps the Shrine room wasn’t about me but maybe just a mirror of my ever-shifting mind.

eatingoriyokiI know that this process of resisting and then accepting reality (suffering, impermanence) will continue for at least this lifetime if not for many more. But over the course of a month of Dathün (four weeks!), I was able to meet some patterns well, and perhaps, wear them out just a little bit. I have since seen friends who stayed only a week, or two, and they surely had significant experiences. But for me to fully unplug, be present and be able to discover, I needed that solid month – that entire page from the calendar – to allow the whole system of Dathün to enable me to make friends with myself, be merciful to others, and begin to experience meditation in everyday life.

Click here to learn more about Dathun or to register for the 2013 Summer Dathun

 

The Generosity of a Samurai

by Christopher Seelie

shooting range in snow

The snowfall began the night before, and by the time we arrived in a loose caravan of 4 cars Zenko-Iba was covered in white. Of the thirteen of us Shambhala Mountain Center staff who came to Boulder on this day to receive instruction in Kyudo—literally “the way of the bow”, a Japanese practice of meditation in action—only one had taken First Shot before. So we did not receive instruction in the snow. Instead we gathered in the free-standing garage, now converted to a shrine room and indoor practice space. The walls were decorated with photographs from Kanjuro Shibata Sensei’s life of practice, along with documents of merit and souvenirs. Three hay bales wrapped in plastic canvas were peppered with puncture holes. The distance was negligible but kyudo is not a sport like the western form of archery, where the distance between archer and target is a concern second only to where on the target one’s arrow enters.

Shibata Sensei and CarolynWe sat on gomdens and waited as Shibata Sensei—a green 91 years young and recently recovered from a bout of pneumonia—was escorted in with his wife and translator, Carolyn, and their little gray dog. He was dressed in dark wash jeans, a puffy winter jacket, pale grey slippers that had been warmed by the cast iron stove in the corner, and a black winter hat that had XX embroidered in white on the forehead—signifying his lineage identity as the 20th Kanjuro Shibata. We stood, and for a moment of solid silence Shibata Sensei stared at us, taking in our faces with direct purpose before bowing to us and we to him. Then he walked forward and looked closer before bowing again. Once seated, we waited for him to speak but he took his time in communicating. When he did, his command was to relax.

Carolyn explained that he thought we were sitting like elite monks.

Despite being twentieth in an unbroken line of imperial bowmakers and kyudo masters, Shibata Sensei does not abide dignities and honorarities that build ego. Cutting through the pretensions that could make a ragtag, baker’s dozen of curious students presume to a discipline more severe than warranted, Shibata Sensei told us to relax and then commented on how auspicious it was that the snow was falling.  Casually, he told us that from the snow he felt Trungpa Rinpoche’s presence here this morning. He spoke briefly on kyudo as a practice and then allowed for his more experienced students, Vajra, Sue, and Suzanne who had come from Berlin to visit Sensei, to lead us through the stages of the practice.

instructing kyudo

Kyudo is, as Shibata Sensei explained to us, a heart-cleansing practice. The emphasis is on the form one takes in the manner of shooting and the qualities of mind that are experienced in the process. When I asked Shibata Sensei later in the day about the obstacles a practitioner encounters in kyudo, he said that hitting the target is good and not hitting the target is good. “This Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche understood immediately.” When asked how he met Trungpa Rinpoche, Shibata Sensei says it was “very straight kyudo”.

We did not shoot our first arrows that day. The repetition of the form is our practice until such time that we are ready for taking the first shot. From that point, all of Shibata Sensei’s students are of a kind. There are no black belts, no officers, no gold medal winners or blue ribbon archers. These are the honorarities that repel Shibata Sensei’s understanding of kyudo. Becoming familiar with something inexpressible cannot fit into stages of a hierarchy.

calligraphy meaning wind tree fire mountain

“FU RIN KA ZAN” by Shibata Sensei. “Wind Tree Fire Mountain”

The friendship between the founder of Shambhala Mountain Center and Shibata Sensei is a profound example of how different cultures and disciplines find commonality in the wisdom that they share. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a meditation master, an academic and administrator displaced when Tibet was conquered by the Chinese. In his homeland, Shibata Sensei is a living national treasure and a lineage holder patronized by the Emperor of Japan. But Trungpa Rinpoche recognized the power and purpose of Shibata Sensei’s kyudo—a practice developed out of the samurai’s need for heart-training to balance out the fight-training so as to remove pride and aggression with the same tools that might engender it. And while the external differences between tonglen, shamatha, maitri, and other techniques Trungpa Rinpoche brought to the west and the kyudo of Shibata Sensei makes them truly diverse practices, the two men saw through those differences with complete clarity.

Shibata Sensei with student

The day ended with tea and cookies as Shibata Sensei answered questions. Last fall, he had made the two hour journey up to Shambhala Mountain Center to give a talk on the importance of making offerings. Since then, the staff has made it a point to offer rice, water, and salt at the Kami shrine that sits behind the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, nestled in the hills above the MPE campgrounds. Now kyudo too has returned as a regular part of life at Shambhala Mountain Center. May it be of benefit.

Kanjuro Shibata Sensei XX will meet with his students for a kyudo retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center June 30 – July 7th.