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.
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.
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.
Photo 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.
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.
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
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.
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:
This is the Quadropooper:
Bracing the old shack for a windstrom that’s been on the way since before
Before the trees were planted.
Long before lumberjack swung for pay–
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,
and said “Oh lardy!”
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. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community.
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!
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!!!!
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.
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.
“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
When 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.
I 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.
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.
We 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.
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.
“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.
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.
“Saying “yes” to more things than we can actually manage to be present for with
integrity and ease of being is in effect saying “no” to all those things and people and
places we have already said “yes” to, including, perhaps, our own well-being.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn from Coming to Our Senses
Having a manageable life is a key concern for most adult members of society. Unfortunately, it is becoming a big concern of our children as well. As Jon has often pointed out, we live in society afflicted by Attention-Deficit Over-activity Disorder. We simply have too much on our plate. We want to slow down, do less, have more time for our self, but it’s not happening.
Moving through life at high speed can be addictive. Overcommitting is fashionable. Saying “yes” when we want to say no is often a cloaked desire for approval. In our longing to know that we are lovable human beings, we look outside our self for selfworth. If we take on too much, saying yes to the many requests of friends, co-workers, supervisors, and family, we will inevitably be unfaithful. We must relearn our loveliness and practice saying “no.”
Why do I think that relearning our loveliness comes first? When we fully love our self and know that our nature is open, wise, and caring, the need to establish our identity in the outer world diminishes. We know how to be content in our own being, comfortable in our own skin. Embracing our deeper nature, we know the path of personal integrity. If saying yes to busyness means losing the capacity to truly listen to our loved ones when they have something meaningful to say, why would we do so? If that extra trip to the store to satisfy an urge to acquire something means losing a few precious moments of alone time at home for meditation, reflection, or just simply non-doing, then why would we say yes to the impulse?
When leading MBSR retreats I sense participants’ struggle with surrendering to an entire weekend of accomplishing nothing. Slowing down is like coming off a drug. There’s a withdrawal period that is uncomfortable. Practicing mindfulness asks us to move into a place of faithful yes to our innermost nature. We faithfully say yes to each moment, not compromising it for a future fantasy or the play of reminiscences.
If we want to heal the societies ADOD, feeling, as we do, that its absence would only enrich our experience of living with others, then we should take a look at the times when we offer an unfaithful yes to the world. Only we know when that is.
That’s why it comes down to knowing within our self the feeling of contentment. Living with integrity is much more interesting and satisfying than managing hyperactive over-activity. Don’t you agree?