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.

The Unfaithful Yes

by Janet Solyntjes

 

“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.”

meditator on cushionWhy 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.

Janet Solyntjes

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?

Janet Solyntjes will be teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at Shambhala Mountain Center on June 27 – 30.

Sit Still & Let Nature Play: An Interview With Acharya Allyn Lyon

By Brianna Socha

I first met Acharya Allyn Lyon last fall in Los Angeles when she was the senior teacher at a weekthun. A weekthun is an intensive week of group meditation with almost 12 hours spent in silent practice each day. Her morning and evening talks were welcome guidance, grounding us with wisdom and compassion. Whenever the hot boredom set in and I would start to question why I chose to spend my coveted vacation time sitting quietly on a cushion, her example would remind me of the beauty of someone who has followed the path of meditation.

Acharya Allyn LyonAcharya Lyon has a long history with Shambhala Mountain Center, starting in the 70s as a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and then serving as staff in the 80s for dathuns (month-long meditation retreats). In 1995, she became the center’s director, a position she held for five years before being appointed an acharya, a senior most teacher in the Shambhala tradition, by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. It seemed only fitting to sit down and talk with her again in the beautiful terrain of SMC, where she is now spending a good portion of the year as an acharya-in-residence. Her presence is profound and witty, dignified and outrageous, open and humble.

Why do you think it’s important to take moments to slow down?

I think the world has speeded up so fast and there’s so much electronic communication, so there’s no time between things. And you react. Push the “send” button and get a response right back. You can start a war in five minutes with unskillful emails. So it’s out of balance in a lot of ways with speed and materialism. There’s not much respect for the soft sciences—culture, the arts, compassion, empathy. Judgmental mind is very active. Generally speaking, most people are not very in touch with nature. So it leads to a lot of unhappiness, a lot of suffering and bizarre things.

How does nature factor into the retreat experience?

Being in nature has always been a huge part of the SMC experience. The seasons are not theoretical. You feel them. You’re part of it. When the wind blows, you can hear it quite a distance away through the trees. You can see the weather in advance, feel it approach and then it lands on you. It’s very dramatic much of the year because the temperatures can be extreme but always changing, just as clouds are always changing. Then we have animals and they’re changing too. When you come here for a program, a retreat or just a little R and R, you’re always in touch with what’s happening outside. I remember we were having this very intense program in the Sacred Studies Hall last summer and out the back windows you could see a mother and two new fawns wandering around the garden. It was really delightful because it was just part of the whole thing.2 deer

As the senior teacher for numerous weekthuns and dathuns, how would you describe the challenge and benefit of attending these programs?

Sometimes the discipline is challenging—silence and sitting in your posture and doing your meditation for hours and hours. It’s hard but you are doing it with other people who are going through the same thing. There’s a sense of humor that comes really quickly because some of it’s absurd. And you can do it. You discover you can do it. Furthermore, you begin to learn about yourself and what you do that is helpful for being happy and what makes you miserable. And you learn that don’t have to do that. You have to do it a little bit to discover that it makes you miserable but then you stop.

People often feel stretched thin with obligations. Stepping away and spending a week or even a month with yourself can sometimes feel awkward…

It’s the kindest thing you can do for the people around you—become a gentler person.

You’ve mentioned you like watching the news. How do you stay connected with all that’s going on these days without getting caught up in feelings of anger and darkness?

I feel the desire to punch somebody a lot. And I recognize it and yeah, that’s the environment. You don’t want to contribute more aggression to it. But it’s good to touch in so that you’re not Pollyana, thinking everything is love and light. “It’s all good.” No, it’s not! That’s not what basic goodness means.

I think if you really keep in touch with your feelings and see the cause and effect, it’s very easy not to get caught. If you are being mindful of your feelings, you can remember to let go. And maybe you actually want to turn it off because enough is enough.

What final advice do you have for getting back in balance?

Sit still and let nature play. Get out of your office and your car and go sit somewhere and watch the squirrels and clouds and slow down a little bit. We let people do that.  That’s not wasting time. That’s actually part of your job. Usually.

Acharya Allyn Lyon will be leading the dathun meditation retreat this summer at Shambhala Mountain Center.  You can do it! Attend for a week or the whole month.

Memories of Mexico, SMC, and Writing a First Novel

by Maria Espinosa

black and white photo of Maria EspinosaA group of us walked along a narrow path to a deserted beach near Zihuatanejo, Mexico, which in 1971 was still a village of only several thousand inhabitants. The moon was brilliant and the ocean glistened with reflected light. Inspired by the moonlight, the waves and the soft sand under my bare feet, I began to dance. As I moved, I was working through problems that felt tangled. These were thoughts for which I could find no words, but which my body moved through as I danced.

Many years after that night on the beach, I began to practice Tibetan Buddhist shamatha meditation and I experienced an enormous breakthrough. For years I had been struggling to complete my novel, Longing. I had written four drafts, but they were brittle. I could not get beneath the surface. After a few weeks—or perhaps months—of focused shamatha practice, I was able to get beneath that frozen surface. Heart and insight began to expand and soften. I threw out the first four drafts and the fifth became meaty, fluid, and real. It would take four more rewrites to get Longing into its final form, but the fact that meditation practice gave such power hooked me.

Last summer as I meditated inside the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at Shambhala Mountain Center, I had a similar kind of illumination. I had been attending a weekthun, a week-long meditation intensive, sleeping at night in a cabin where I snuggled under layers of blankets, absorbing the beauty of the land, the wilderness, the mountains. All this had prepared me for the Stupa, which emanates a feeling of tremendous brilliance and purity.

As I meditated there, my mind—often cluttered, anxious, and diffuse in daily life—seemed to transform in an alchemical way. Ideas became objects I could shift and maneuver inside the luminous space of my mind. Thoughts were clear and visualizations were lucid. Words, visual art, music, life changing decisions, all could flow more easily in this state.

For me, there is a connection between that moonlit night on the beach, meditation practice, and the illuminating experience within the Stupa. While the dance and the Stupa experience were brief, they fostered creativity that came from a deeper source in which body, mind, and spirit are connected. Regular meditation practice is far more gradual in its effects, like burning a log after the fire has been lit. That dance on the beach in Mexico and meditating in the Stupa were the matches, while my regular meditation practice sustains my writing like the burning log sustains the fire.

Learn more about Maria Espinosa’s up-coming writing workshop: Finding Your Voice: A Mindful Writing Retreat.

Interview with a Meditator: Learn to Meditate

 

“People realize that they can make friends with themselves and that seems to be the main point”

Greg Smith started meditating in 1976 and began teaching meditation practice in 1982. In this interview he addresses some of the questions that he regularly encounters with beginning meditators, about the purpose of meditation and the Learn to Meditate program, and his own reasons for beginning this powerful practice.

Beginning meditators rarely begin this practice without misconceptions of what it is that they are doing. For so simple an activity, meditation is often made out to be something it is not. “They kinda want to make their minds go away, which is probably not such a helpful approach” says Greg, suggesting that it’s more about leaning to make friends with yourself.

 

Dathun: Before and After Photos

 

Inspired by a piece from a few years back in the Shambhala Times, our fabulous marketing associate, Kaleigh Isaacs, and our equally fabulous development associate, Chris Seelie, put together this series of Before and After shots from participants in the winter Dathun.

Really driving home the truth that “nothing is new” the photo collage below is our tribute to the truth of the theme of this past Dathun, that Feeling and Touching and Being (i.e. Shambhala Meditation) — taking time to sit with our hearts and minds for a month is better than a facial and a lot like falling in love.

Scientifically rigorous, this is not; but regard the eyes.

BEFORE AFTER
Deborah before dathun  Deboarah after Dathun
Lasette before Dathun retreat  Lassette after Dathun Retreat
David before Dathun retreat David before Dathun retreat
Tim before dathun retreat Tim before dathun retreat
Peter after Dathun retreat Peter after Dathun retreat
Guillermo before dathun retreat Guillermo after Dathun retreat
Marin After Marin after Dathun retreat
David before dathun retreat David after dathun retreat

And lastly we have Tom the Dathün Coordinator, who would certainly call his experience transformative!

We had a lot of fun putting these together and seeing people’s responses. Let us know what you think below in the comments!

To learn more about Dathun click here.