In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.
Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union of karuna and prajna within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.
Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.
Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”
The green-red fruit-like looking structure on this willow (Salix spp.),located on the edge of Lake Sunyata, is a gall (abnormal outgrowth of plant tissue) produced in concert with the sawfly (Pontania s-pomum).
In the spring a female inserts and egg that induces galling into leaf tissue. The leaf produces a gall which is bean-shaped, smooth and emerges equally on both sides of the leaf. the gall may be green, red or yellow. A single larva feeds in the cavity of each gall. (Nyman et al 2000: 526-533)
Above the sawfly gall is a cabbage-like looking structure…yes that is also a gall…produced by the Willow Cabbage Gall Midge (Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides).
“I mean really…”
“Learning is any change in a system that produces a more or less permanent change in its capacity for adapting to its environment.” – Herbert A. Simon
Ryan Stagg is a Shambhala Mountain Center community-staff member.
Today I rose with the sun and trekked up to the Great Stupa to meditate within its silent sanctuary. As I moved along the path my nose and ears went numb in the cold air that had settled in the valley overnight. The creek was burbling and there was a hint of warmth in the freshening morning breeze. Then I listened to the crunching gravel as I circumambulated the stupa, letting my breath and heart slow from the hike and with any luck accruing a little merit for the day ahead. My eyes were teary from the cold and the pollen, and I had the sensation that the whole earth was made to spin about the stupa by my strolling feet. Then I bowed and sat before the enormous golden Buddha and after awhile sunlight began to flood forth through the eastern window, illuminating the chamber. I’ve never known a better way to begin the day.
I stayed long at work out of excitement for the things I was learning and the projects to come, and then in the late afternoon I set off to Marpa point at a torrid pace. The rocky summit stands high above the scattered lodges, tents, shrines and stupas that compose the mandala of Shambhala Mountain Center. It is a fitting acknowledgement to the great Tibetan yogi known for bringing teachings from India to Tibet. It is a wonder, and a testament, that his influence resounds so many centuries later in the mountains of North America.
As I ascended, the shadows of pine cast long upon the mountainside and I saw an elegant doe grazing peacefully between them. Robins probed for worms, nuthatches contorted on the limbs of fir trees, and a steady breeze blew scattered clouds along the ceiling of the sky. The drone of an airplane echoed, reminding me temporarily of all the bustle and commotion I had left behind for the summer. It was an unanticipated liberation to put my cellphone, car keys and wallet away in the tent. What were once my constant companions, plugging me into the networks of modern society, were suddenly superfluous objects—paperweights and an unwieldy timekeeper.
Approaching the summit of Marpa point, the pine and fir gave way to lichen covered granite and low, barbed shrubbery. Prayer flags of blue, yellow, red, green and white flapped and fluttered. In each crisp note of the whipping flags there was a whisper of my lived experience; of the precision of mind in reflecting its environment.
I softened my step and relaxed my squinting brow. Reaching the crest line behind the rocky peak I browsed the little rock piles that stood precariously here and there. I was breathing deeply and feeling satisfied by the burning in my legs. I veered south, measuring my ambition and time as I eyed the trail that wends several miles along the perimeter of the land.
But no sooner than I set out, an odd scene stopped me in my tracks. I wasn’t expecting the memorial to Allen Ginsberg—a granite slab with lion’s feet. Upon the neighboring rock was old Charlie sitting with his legs crossed and conjuring a fleeting melody from a little wooden flute. A sense of absurdity set in, my head askew as Charlie greeted me and embarked on an extended explanation of the origins of his Native American instrument somewhere in South Dakota. As he spoke my attention wandered here and there. I noticed the gilded spire of the Great Stupa in the west, the colorful flags upon Marpa point to the north, the rolling expanse of landscape to the east, and here in the southern quadrant, the inexplicable yet appropriate pairing of Allen and Charlie.
In the midst of this curious symbolism I gleaned some vague truth…some assurance; a sense of my belonging in this swirling array that both soothed and concerned me. This life I was making in the mountains and forest, in work and in play, was mine to interpret, mine to enjoy, and mine to sacralize.
Well, summer is here. Thunderstorms are rolling through the mountains and when they’re not, the immense sky is a crystal clear blue with the ever-changing play of puffy clouds. And, (finally!) it’s hot this week here at Shambhala Mountain.
But let me take this opportunity to recommend making the most of your summer, wherever you are spending the season. Although planning those big outings can make your summer memorable, I think it’s just as important to enjoy the small things—not grasping but taking full advantage of this spontaneous creative moment, ripe with possibilities. Try some summer fun swinging in the hammock with a tall one, make fresh lemonade, or spend some quality time hitting the ball around with the kids. Meet an old friend, or a new one, for a walk in the park. Making the most of this summer is an art form unto itself and although it may take a bit of doing, the potential joys are rich and manyfold.
Here’s an easy and refreshing recipe for mint lemonade:
1 3/4 cups sugar, honey, or agave
1 1/2 cups of fresh squeezed lemon juice
8 cups of pure water
Several sprigs of fresh mint
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until chilled.
Remove seeds from lemon juice, but leave pulp. In pitcher over ice, stir and shake together chilled syrup, lemon juice, and the remaining 7 cups of water.
Sound as vibration has the ability to permeate all things. Sound originates in space. We live in space, breath air, receive energy from the sun and the earth at every moment, and yet, the awareness of the essential relationship with these primal elements only happens during heightened states of consciousness, when we become sensitive to the gross and subtle dimensions of these essentials. Sound travels through us, activating our bodies and our imagination, and modulating our mood in the process. We connect and process sound as information. Everything we do, think, sense, and feel, carries a vibrational frequency that creates and can change our circumstance at every moment.
The most ancient cultures on the planet believed that material reality is the manifestation of primordial vibration. Even the Bible teaches that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1
Early and contemporary spiritual traditions, the mystical experiences of sages and shamans, and scientists alike propose that vibration (spandam, the first sound) is the beginning of all creation. Both the material and the absolute realities are nothing but pulsations and at every level there is sound component of the universe. Through the finesse of their yogic practices and meditation, the sages as well as the scientists distilled the microscopic and molecular stratus of sound in detailed scales. The ancient Bön and Dzogchen teachings, which predate Buddhism in Tibet, also state that sound is in the basis of all manifestation. In a newsletter of the International Dzogchen Community, Costantino Albini writes:
“In the most ancient Tibetan mythological cycles, sound is considered to be the original source of all existence. Sound, which from the beginning of time has vibrated in ineffable emptiness, arises through mutations of light and then differentiates into rays of various colors from which the material elements that make up the entire universe originate.”
Albini is describing how sound gives birth to light, and how light shines out in rays that become the elements—quite literally the physical matter of the universe. In many ancient traditions, sound and vibration are present as a gateway to contemplation, divination, and spiritual development. In the Vedic tradition, derived from texts originating in ancient India, the “Word,” as it is conceived of in the Western Bible, is called the Nada Brahma.
The primordial and transcendent sound is considered the seed from which all of creation evolved. This is the Nada Brahma. Nada, or vibration, is the first audible sound, the primordial roaring, the resounding flow that heralds the beginning of the evolutionary process from which energy and matter radiate. Brahma, the creator God, is the creative power that animates one’s divine consciousness with the power to move the heart.
The original, eternal Nada vibrates at the highest rate of frequency. In physics, when an object vibrates at an inconceivable speed, it appears to the eye that it’s not moving. It’s fascinating that the highest point of vibration is stillness; in the dimension of sound, this is experienced as silence. Above a certain level of high frequency, sound becomes inaudible and can only be perceived subjectively. The ears cannot perceive sounds that are vibrating at such a high rate. Thus, Nada is both the beginning of all sounds and manifestations, and, in the realm of consciousness, Nada is the vibratory rate of silence.
Whatever way you look at it, even as meditation or contemplative practice, an experience of Nada—savored in the intimate union of sound and silence—becomes the super-highway to the therapeutic process. As practitioners of sound as yoga and transpersonal music psychotherapy, we consider Nada the beginning of the boundless healing power of sound. The journey to wholeness starts with awareness, clarity, and a moment of suspension.
It is interesting to see that creation and sound have, in most religions and civilizations, enjoyed a cosmic relationship. In the Indian philosophy, sound, dhvani or nada is the basic substance from which the universe of music and expressive utterance and indeed the entire universe has emerged, the Nada-Brahman. The nada is linked to the source of creation, to space and time, to the senses, to symbols, melodies and structures in music, and to sonic design in terms if resonance and acoustics.
The Hatha-yoga-pradipika 3.64 says that the mind absorbed in nada does not crave for sense objects. The unstruck sound, anahata nada, is heard in the anahata-chakra, the psycho-energetic centre located at the heart, the seat of transcendental consciousness. In this seat of the divine can be heard the immortal sound not produced by anything. It is the divinity inherent in music that connotes this sound of the soundless, and endows the yogis with super sensuous sound, from the audible to the inaudible, transcendental sound. They stir the depth of the ocean.
The above text was excerpted from Silvia’s upcoming book Sound and the Subtle: Transforming Emotions through Mantra & Raga Yoga.
Silvia Nakkach, MA, MMT, is a musician that has cultivated a voice that transports the listeners into heart of devotion. An award-winning composer, former psychotherapist, and a leading authority in the field of sound and consciousness transformation, she is on the faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies, where she has created the world premier Certificate in Sound, Voice and Music Healing established in an academic institution. She is also the founding director of the Vox Mundi and the Mystery School of the Voice, a project devoted to preserving sacred musical traditions, combining education, performance, and spiritual service, with centers throughout the USA, Brazil, Argentina, and India. As an internationally accredited specialist in cross-cultural music therapy training, Silvia has pioneered the integration of microtonal singing and the ragas of India with integrative medicine applications, contributing an extensive body of vocal techniques that have become landmarks in the field of sound and music therapies across the world. She has released 12 CD-albums, and her last book, FREE YOUR VOICE, is making history among musicians, vocalist, healers, yogis and spiritual seekers. Her thousands of students across the world refer to Silvia as the Minister of Transportation and Transformation. Meet her here: www.voxmundiproject.com
Listen to her recent interview with Tami Simons from Sounds True: The Sacred Sound
We 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.
Mental combustion in the middle of the night, fuming while the mist hung cool over the peaks in the morning. Soft, and myself, dense — until I sang.
Last night a mime appeared at dinner. Then we held a Sukhavati ceremony for distant friend. As the ceremony was beginning, a tremendous thunderstorm rolled in. Hail came pouring down onto the shrine tent. Acharya couldn’t speak over the noise, so we paused. We sat while the storm raged. Then, continued the ceremony.
Afterwards, I realized that my shoes were soaked. I walked barefoot on little balls of hail and dirt trail beside Acharya and we enjoyed how the whole thing had unfolded.
I woke up the in middle of the night, angry, resentful of my commitment to Kasungship.
Basically: I have to devote hours of my life to helping others, rather than doing what I feel like doing, and I’m throwing a tantrum about it.
One of my storylines is that there are plenty of ways to serve, and one of them is Kasungship. And Kasungship is not the one that I feel most naturally inclined towards. I’d rather be arranging flowers, making music, nurturing the Delek System.
I think that story is valid. And, it doesn’t matter. I took an oath. So, it’s my job to do my duty without complaining. Seems like a positive thing to do. Seems like I may grow through the experience. But, man, it’s a pain in the ass.
This is the nitty gritty of the path. This is the pickle of devotion. My inspiration is low. If catastrophe were to strike, I would be singing a completely different tune. I want to not drift so far before remembering.
My heart is calling for a refresher: retreat. Re-connect. When will the window open? What will it be like on the other side? Will I look back with clarity and shake my head, with humor, for having allowed myself to drift so far, become so worked up and muddled-dumb, before taking a step back so that I may enjoy the beauty of the whole display?
— June 25, 2014
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 Center. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community.
There used to be a Timex watch commercial that said “takes a lickin and keeps on tickin.” That is what I think about when I think about my friends who have survived the ravages of cancer.
Photo by Barb Colombo
In meditation this morning as I felt my painful shoulder from carrying the weight of my oxygen tank yesterday, I thought of my friends who have had cancer. I know that is not where you are supposed to think, but somehow meditation is such fertile ground for planting and cultivating a blog post. Sometimes it just takes over and it seems impossible to return to the breath.
My friend Betsy just had a brain tumor removed a couple of days ago. On a visit to her doctor over a year ago, he said to her, “What are you doing here? You should have been dead two years ago.” I won’t comment on his insensitivity, but on her resilience. When I am with my Courageous Women friends (that I met at the Courageous Women Fearless Living Retreats over the past three years) I think of soldiers returning from war. In the movies they are happy the war is over, but battle scarred, bloody, sometimes missing a limb or more and some barely able to move. Those of us who have survived cancer are often missing a breast or two, can be missing limbs (from bone cancer), struggle to recover from the demonic trio of cut, poison and burn (surgery, chemo and radiation), and may spend the rest of our lives diminished in ways we never imagined we would have to live with.
The scars are not just external. I suspect many of us have something like post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). The financial stress of unbelievable medical bills, the sadness that you may leave your small children or can’t even lift or care for your children, the anguish of being in constant pain or coughing all the time, the hurt of the spouse who leaves because s/he can’t deal with your condition, the children you will never have because the treatments have left you infertile. The list goes on and on each woman facing her own version of the nightmare.
When Betsy wrote that she was going to the Courageous Women Fearless Living retreat again this year, I was reminded how powerful a solution that has been for many of us. I’ve met so many women there who have inspired me and become friends like Betsy. The support keeps on giving in the form of these friendships and the love that develops among the women. While it is painful that some of our friends have fallen in the battle, many more are alive and still tickin. As the Memorial Day holiday has recently past, I salute our fallen warriors but especially I salute the ones that have continued on courageously, if not always fearlessly, living day by day.
When bad news first arrives, it feels like the wind has been knocked out of you; it’s a punch to the gut. This moment is a great blessing. This is the brief and sudden moment of calm while your ego mind is stunned into silence. It’s the holy moment of grace when you can listen to and hear your own powerful intuition, your higher self. It whispers inside: “This is all going to be okay. Something better is waiting for you. This is all in divine order for your highest good.”
That’s the voice of your soul’s wisdom, your divinity, speaking up because your ego has been delivered a swift blow and is temporarily stunned. But very soon, within minutes, the ego mind fires back up and begins whispering: “How did this happen? This isn’t fair! Life is meaningless…”
Your ego mind is beginning the battle of survival that it was designed to do. This is the mind you agreed to have when you took a physical body for this incarnation. Yet it’s only half of your mind. The other half of your mind holds the doorway to your highest self, your divine intuition, and your true essence. In the brief gaps of silence from your ego mind, your higher self is always whispering the truth.
If you don’t grab hold of that inner voice, the deeper wisdom of your soul, the ego mind will quickly overpower you with fear messages — shifting into full blown fear and desperation: “You’re worthless, you’ll never feel love again, you won’t find another job, you’re all alone now, this is a tragedy….”
If you’ve learned to discipline your mind through meditation or other kinds of spiritual practice, the fear and negativity of the ego self can be diminished and contained before it pushes you into depression, illness, stress, and rage.
Every time you choose to indulge the fear voice, you allow it to grow stronger inside until it becomes your boss. It will fight to reign supreme over your soul’s wisdom. It tells you to protect yourself, defend your actions, fight for survival, trust no one, close your heart, blame everyone, and that nothing here is fair.
Everything changes the moment you ask to hear your soul’s wisdom. It’s a simple request, an act of surrender to the lesson: “Please show me my soul’s lesson and help me move through this with love and courage.”
That simple request calls divine guidance to your side, fills the room with light, opens your heart, quiets your mind, shows you another perspective on your pain; it illuminates the choices you didn’t know you had.
Your highest self created this moment of pain to allow you to step up to your wisdom, to awaken into love, to embrace your spiritual perspective and take your life to the next level of your soul’s growth.
You’re not a victim to loss, disease, heartbreak, the economy, a terrible manager, or corrupt politicians. You’re only a victim to your ego mind; it fills you with fear and keeps you from moving into the light.
YOU are a divine being who created this painful moment to shake lose your old patterns of negativity; to provide an opportunity to embrace your soul’s perspective — even while you walk in this physical world.
You came here to merge your divine self with your physical self and create a new level of consciousness for yourself and others.
You intended to be grand and fearless, bold and awake, infused with wisdom, loving and aware. Your divine lens, your spiritual self, illuminates this path and shows you your next step.
Your ego self says it isn’t possible.
You get to choose. Just a simple request for divine guidance. And it changes everything…