Waking Up to the Wild on Shambhala Mountain

by Kay Peterson

hikers stopped in the woods

While leading a mindful hiking retreat through the mountains last weekend, I was reminded of a line from the J. R. R. Tolkien poem in The Lord of the Rings —”Not all those who wander are lost.” As we paused in a meadow for an intentional “aimless wandering” practice, we gleefully explored our surroundings and noticed the details—the blue-eyed grasses beginning to bloom and the lady bugs swinging on the tall grass. How liberating it feels to stop and just look up at the sky without worrying what other people might think.

Of course, Tolkien was also referring to the powers of perception. Sometimes we forget that things are not always as they first seem and rarely remain as they first appear. For me, there is no more powerful way to remind myself of this than by wandering in nature. In the course of a summer day at Shambhala Mountain Center, I can wake up to the birdsong signaling the promise of a warm, sunny day. As that day unfolds, I watch the clouds build over the mountains in the west. I feel the weather change and I brace myself for a storm. Then by late afternoon, anticipation lets go to showers so sweet that the fresh scent of wet sage lingering in the valley reminds me that the earth’s thirst has been once again quenched.hikers approach mountain ridge

Nature gently highlights the opportunities I miss when I’m quick to judge a person or situation based on first appearances or familiar assumptions. Like that supposedly sunny day, I can unintentionally make my world very small with limited possibilities.

When I woke up that day, I immediately felt the excitement and anticipation of the hike I planned to take to the top of the mountain overlooking the continental divide. As I followed each switch back up the mountain, I marveled at the diversity of vegetation and relished the vast span of open space that I could call home, if only for a short time. As I clamored up the last section of rocks toward the vista I could feel my heart beat with eagerness. I looked up and there it was—the grandeur of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains spilling out across the horizon as far as the eye could see. It stopped my mind and a sense of stillness and calm washed over me. Suddenly, my eye caught a small patch of lighter green on the distant mountainside and my mind locked on. I could feel myself search for explanations,”Must have been a clear cut from the seventies or so. What a shame. This pristine forest marred by consumption.” I turned and looked over my shoulder toward the dark clouds building and started to plan my journey back down to shelter.

Tori gate and Hiker

Emotions are a natural part of being human, but they can also capture and blind us. In a flash, I can go from feeling a sense of awe at a spectacular vista to remembering something I need to do and worrying about the future. One moment I’m enjoying the dynamic mountain sky and the next I’m worrying that I’ll get soaked in a rainstorm. The good news is that this bigger, sacred world remains all the while just waiting for me to stop, see and appreciate that all that I need is already there.

Stupa amid clouds

The name of Tolkien’s famous poem is “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter.” In our fast-paced and high-tech world, we’ve learned to pay attention to the sound bytes, the flashy buttons, the clever speech and all too often miss the deeper message. Not that one is better than the other—I learn a lot from my urban life as well—but I can easily get swept into a virtual world that leaves me feeling like something’s missing. Then I know it’s time to refresh my connection to the natural world, slow down, rest in the simplicity of the moment and gain some perspective on my life and place in the universe by laying on my back looking up at the vast, starry sky.

As I look out over the continental divide from my favorite vista at Shambhala Mountain Center, I realize that I too can relax into the natural flow of the Rocky Mountain streams meandering toward the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. I giggle like I did the very first time I saw this view. With this kind of awareness, I can continue my journey into the unknown with confidence, curiosity and maybe even a little sense of humor.

Kay Peterson will lead two retreats at Shambhala Mountain Center this summer. Waking-up to the Wild: Hiking as Meditation June 28-30 and Waking-up to the Wild: Mindful Hiking on August 1-4

 

 Photos by Doug Hamilton

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.