Floral Notes and Bardo: Down the Hill, Down the Road

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.

A group of us piled in the car on Friday, headed down to Boulder.  Rolling down the hill in the sunshine, it was reminiscent of heading to music festivals in the summertime with my old friends.

Ikebana Program_Apr2014-18Photo by Paul Bennett

We were headed down for a Shambhala program with the Sakyong, Acharya Asreal, and Shastri Ethan Nichtern (my main dharma-teacher-homie from New York City — so cool to connect with him, eat falafel with him, in Colorado!).  Great line-up!

A few of us stayed at Marpa House, which is a residential Shambhala-Buddhist co-op sort of place in Boulder.  It felt amazing in there.  I felt quickly that Marpa House will be the next place that I live.  After a couple more years at SMC, after I graduate from Sacred World Assembly, I’ll move to Marpa House to do my Ngöndro and study at Naropa.

In this moment, that path ahead is clear as day.  (who knows how it may shift?)  Clear as day!

We actually slept in the Ngöndro shrine room.  Oh!  They have a room for Ngöndro!  Ngöndro is the practice you begin doing once you formally enter the vajrayana stage of the path — which I am aiming to do before leaving SMC.  A sort of graduation… Marpa House seems like a mighty fine place to do Ngöndro.

And, for a decade or so, I’ve had a dream of studying at Naropa — at the Jack Kerouac School of (Dis)embodied Poetics.  How could I not go to study at that school in this lifetime?!

Boulder is lovely.  Such a nice time strolling through the neighborhoods and enjoying the activity on Pearl Street.

Inside the Shambhala Center, the retreat was awesome.  Powerful teachings all the way through, great community of people.  Provocative contemplations, conversations.

We considered how we may practice in three areas, or levels, of our world:

The personal, interpersonal, and collective.

SMC is a pretty amazing place to practice with all three in a vivid way.

– June 16, 2014


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: Blissful Who-Knows-What (HUM HUM HUM)

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.

Greeting my smile at the bottom of the ocean, therefore unconcerned with flotation or undertow.  Wakeful waves — only the chatter of the depths.


Friday evening — Feast celebration for Trungpa Rinpoche‘s Parinirvana.  Sadhana of Mahamudra.  In the middle of the triple HUM recitation — the space of rainbow magic manifest — the Sakyong and the choir of Acharyas, appeared.  We created an isle, parted the sea.  Rinpoche came in and prostrated three times to the large Buddha, which contains his father‘s skull relic, and a picture of the Vidyadhara on the shrine along with many offerings.

He gazed at the picture, whispered blessings, and tossed a khata into the seated Buddha’s opened palm (perfect shot).

He offered amrita from a skull cup to each one of us.  Then, out front, he said some words about the preciousness of us all being gathered at the Great Stupa for this occasion.  Then, we sang the Anthem and circumambulated.

I circumambulated behind Pema.

Then, back into the Stupa and resumed the feast:


After the feast, chants, and a video of Trungpa Rinpoche giving a talk at Naropa in 1976. Then, old-timers shared stories.


Saturday, a day of catching up with Heather. Since the move it’s been so scattered. Lots of time together. Felt great, healthy.  Anyway…

Sunday morning, a talk from the Sakyong to the staff.  Beautiful.

In the evening, dinner in the shrine room, because we’re re-painting our dining hall.  Joshua and Greg (old dogs) telling us about consorts and yabyum deities (because we asked like curious children).  Mystical things in a fun tone.


Being around the Sakyong and Acharyas… Feels warm, big.  Glad to be a part of it.  Yesterday, before Rinpoche left the land, I was speaking with Acharya Lobel.  He expressed to me what a powerful retreat it was for all of them.  That they were grateful for the staff holding the space so well, and that, inside, they were blown away by the teachings.

It’s great to hear that.  I’m glad to be contributing.  And, hearing reports of what’s going on “inside” keeps me brimming with curiosity and longing.

It’s fun.  It’s an adventure.  How to get to the next point?  Clues and questions.  Magical encounters.  Synchronicity…

So much synchronicity while they were all here.  Like, whatever was going on in that shrine room was affecting everything else.  The waves extending and stirring things into blissful who-knows-what.  Music.

– April 7, 2014


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. 

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

By Travis Newbill

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

Jane Carpenter

Jane Carpenter

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

Sue Hammond West

Sue Hammond West

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

In their words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does one avoid that?

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

Jane Carpenter

Jane Carpenter

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

Sue Hammond West

Sue Hammond West

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

So, it can be beneficial like sitting…

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

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

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

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

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

SMC: Can you describe an alternative approach?

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

So, are all works of art equal?

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

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

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

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

Seems like nourishing situation.

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

Discipline and enjoyment seem like sort of an odd couple.

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

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


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

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

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