Dathun: Before and After Photos

Taking time to sit with one’s heart and mind for a month is better than a facial and a lot like falling in love, as you can see in the before and after photos below. Inspired by a piece in the Shambhala Times, SMC staff put together this series of Before and After shots from participants in the winter Dathun.

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

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

You are warmly invited to experience for yourself the transformative ability of an extended retreat. Learn more about Dathun here.

 

Lama Tsultrim Allione Discusses the “Sacred Feminine” (VIDEO/AUDIO)


Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Wisdom Rising: An Exploration of the Divine Feminism in Buddhism, September 25-29, 2015 — click here to learn more

It is a widely-shared sentiment in this day and age that the world is somehow out of balance. In particular, many point to the inequality among genders — that those of the male variety seem to be more often in positions of power, and even treated better than those of other genders who occupy similar positions. All of this seems to be observably true. And yet, there may also a more subtle imbalance in regard to maculine and feminine influence in our modern world that is of equal, if not greater, importance.

Buddhist master Lama Tsultrim Allione devotes much energy to reawakening the “sacred feminine.” When asked to define this phrase though, Lama often experiences a vast gap in conceptual mind, and a verbal answer doesn’t always emerge quickly — which is part of the point. The sacred feminine is mysterious, vast, empty, and yet cognizant. It is related to nature, poetry, and sacred sexuality. It is embodied, rather than somewhere “up and out there” And, according to Lama Tsultrim, it’s influence is painfully lacking in our world today.

To help to remedy this, Lama Tsultrim Allione and a powerful crew of female Buddhist teachers will be leading Wisdom Rising — a five day conference at Shambhala Mountain Center — from September 25-29.

As we are turning our minds, hearts, and intentions towards Wisdom Rising, and this crucial movement to reawaken the sacred feminine, we had the honor of sitting down with Lama Tsultrim for some discussion related to this topic. She has much to offer in this video, including a powerful Green Tara meditation.

We hope you find this to be as inspiring and helpful as we have.

Watch our interview with Lama Tsultrim 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.

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Wisdom Rising: An Exploration of the Divine Feminism in Buddhism, with Lama Tsultrim and many others, September 25-29, 2015 — click here to learn more

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Lama Tsultrim Allione

Lama Tsultrim Allione is a former nun in the Tibetan tradition and one of the first Western Buddhist teachers. Known as a profound and lucid teacher who skillfully combines both psychological and spiritual insights, she has taught internationally since 1982. She is founder of Tara Mandala, an international Vajrayana Buddhist community based in Pagosa Springs, Colorado and the author of Women of Wisdom and Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict. In 2007, Lama Tsultrim was recognized as an emanation of Machig Labdrön at Machig’s monastery in Tibet. In 2009, she was selected as an “Outstanding Woman in Buddhism” by the Outstanding Women in Buddhism Committee’s panel of distinguished Buddhist scholars and practitioners.

PortraitTravis Newbill is a writer, musician, and aspirant on the path of meditation.  He currently resides at Shambhala Mountain Center, where he serves in the roles of Marketing Associate and Shambhala Guide — a preliminary teaching position.  Follow Travis on twitter: @travisnewbill

To Make Your Mind Comfortable, You Just Need to Discover These Two Things

By Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Finding Happiness Within: Reconnecting with Your Natural State of Mind through Meditation with Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche September 4–6, 2015 — click here to learn more

Knowing how to work with your mind and how to make your mind comfortable are the most important things you can do for yourself and others. To make your mind comfortable, you just need to discover two things—that your mind is innately pristine and healthy, and that thoughts and emotions are not who you are, but just mental events. That’s all you really need to know.

Once you understand that your mind is innately pristine, and that thoughts and emotions are merely mental events, it completely changes the picture of how you relate to your mind and how you experience life. This is the real solution. This is the source of happiness and enlightenment. With this knowledge you can solve any challenges you face.

Once you recognize that your mind is innately pristine, then with meditation you can maintain that awareness more and more. As you do so, your thoughts, emotions, and other mental events gradually become less powerful and your mind becomes more comfortable. I refer to this natural state of mind as Pristine Mind. As this experience of Pristine Mind grows and expands in your awareness, then regardless of your external circumstances, your experience is equally pleasant. Over time this evenness grows to greater and greater degrees.

IMG_6881Photo by Jamie Woodworth

When you truly experience your mind as pristine and flawless, when you know your pure awareness, your true consciousness, when you recognize and remain within that, then deep down, you are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fulfilled. You are intimately connected with who you really are and with the world.

Meditating in Pristine Mind, you experience no gaps or discomfort. As your meditation progresses, your own thoughts, emotions, and mental chatter slowly dissolve giving you contentment and satisfaction. All relationships you have with others are enhanced, and when those relationships disappear, you remain fulfilled because you are not entirely dependent on circumstances. You are not merely numbing yourself temporarily to feel content; that contentment is springing forth naturally.

Then any relationships you have, any trips you take, any parties you attend, any sensory experiences you enjoy are enhanced by this underlying contentment. You are more grounded no matter what you do. Those forms of entertainment are no longer distractions; they merge with your experience of true happiness. If your mind is pristine, then external conditions actually arise as forms of happiness, not distraction.

Click here to learn more about Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche’s upcoming retreat at SMC.

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Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche_1214Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche is a meditation master in the Nyingma lineage of the Buddhist tradition. He studied for ten years at Larung Gar in Serta, eastern Tibet, with his teacher, Jigmed Phuntsok Rinpoche, who is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest Dzogchen meditation masters of the twentieth century. Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the founder and spiritual director of Pristine Mind Foundation (www.pristinemind.org). He travels throughout the United States and around the world teaching a broad range of audiences, including those at universities, tech companies and yoga studios, how they can improve their lives through meditation. Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche is the author of Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness — forthcoming from Shambhala Publications Spring 2016.

Andrew Holecek Discusses Dream Yoga (VIDEO/AUDIO)


Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Awaken in Your Dreams: Lucid Dream Yoga, East and West with Stephen LaBerge and Andrew Holecek August 20–25, 2015 — click here to learn more

When was the last time you blacked out? Last night? Is this a regular thing for you? Do you aspire to change? Are you comfortable with missing out on 1/3 of your life? If you are disturbed by the idea of regularly blacking out — some may call it “sleep” — when you could instead be enjoying vivid perception, and even progressing spiritually, you may be interested in hearing about the practices of lucid dreaming and dream yoga.

Andrew Holecek has been exploring and teaching these practices for decades. Beholding his vibrant enthusiasm for the possibilities of what he calls “nocturnal meditations” is enough to shake one from the sleepy opinion that the dark hours in bed constitute “off time,” and that real life happens only when the eyelids are raised.

The teachings of dream yoga challenge our conventional views of both dreams and “waking life.” Our daily experience is not as solid as we may like to think it is, and our dream life does not have to be a fuzzy and random soup of memory. This shift in perspective, and experience, has great implications for how we live… and how we die.

Learning to wake up in our dreams, and to apply spiritual practices to overcome limiting habits of thought and behavior, is incredibly powerful training for living every minute of our lives more wakefully, and for moving through the transition of death in a positive way.

Recently, I had the great honor of discussing the huge topic of dream yoga with Andrew Holecek. What came of the discussion is a wonderful glimpse, taste, introduction, to what may become a “game-changing” practice for some of you.

Watch our interview with Andrew Holecek 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.

Click here to learn more about Andrew Holecek and Stephen LaBerge’s upcoming retreat at SMC — Awaken in Your Dreams: Lucid Dream Yoga, East and West 

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Andrew HolecekAndrew Holecek offers seminars internationally on meditation, dream yoga, and death. He is the author of many books, including Preparing to Die: Practical Advice and Spiritual Wisdom from the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition, and the audio learning course, “Dream Yoga: The Tibetan Path of Awakening Through Lucid Dreaming.” His forthcoming book, “Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep” will be released in 2015. His work has appeared in the Shambhala Sun, Parobla, Tricycle, Light of Consciousness, Utne Reader, and other periodicals.

 

PortraitTravis Newbill is a writer, musician, and aspirant on the path of meditation.  He currently resides at Shambhala Mountain Center, where he serves in the roles of Marketing Associate and Shambhala Guide — a preliminary teaching position.  Follow Travis on twitter: @travisnewbill

Happiness Depends On Your Mind | Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche (VIDEO)


Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Finding Happiness Within: Reconnecting with Your Natural State of Mind through Meditation with Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche September 4–6, 2015 — click here to learn more

In this excerpt from a recent teaching at Frog Lotus Yoga in North Adams, Massachusetts, Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche explains how happiness depends on our minds, not external circumstances. By working with our minds through meditation we discover happiness that we can take with us everywhere we go. Rinpoche also explains how this type of inner happiness is an attractive quality and the key to building connections and community.

Click here to learn more about Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche’s upcoming retreat at SMC.

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Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche_1214Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche is a meditation master in the Nyingma lineage of the Buddhist tradition. He studied for ten years at Larung Gar in Serta, eastern Tibet, with his teacher, Jigmed Phuntsok Rinpoche, who is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest Dzogchen meditation masters of the twentieth century. Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is the founder and spiritual director of Pristine Mind Foundation (www.pristinemind.org). He travels throughout the United States and around the world teaching a broad range of audiences, including those at universities, tech companies and yoga studios, how they can improve their lives through meditation. Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche is the author of Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness forthcoming from Shambhala Publications Spring 2016.

Thank you divine order…

By Sue Frederick

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Bridges to Heaven: A Grief Healing Workshop, led by Sue Frederick, June 5-7, 2015

My husband Gene just drove us up to Four Mile Canyon to the little Chapel of the Pines where my first husband Paul and I were married in 1979. So many memories flooded me of that happy sunny September day filled with love and hope.

As we drove back down the canyon we saw the little cabin down the road beside the creek where Paul and I first lived and had our sweet wedding reception. Both places have survived flood and fire and are impossibly still standing.

Think Paul must have watched over them…

It brought back so many powerful sensory memories to be there. I sat on the chapel steps and cried for 20 minutes. I remembered how happy my dad was that day and how much he loved Paul, our wedding, and our cabin. Dad and Paul are both watching out for me now from the other side.

Sitting on those steps I felt my dad, Paul, Crissie and Marv all with me. In the hard years following that amazing wedding day in 1979, I lost all of them to cancer – except for Marv who died of a stroke at the age of 44. Yet I’m grateful for the heartbreak I experienced then which sent me on my spiritual journey.

Today I have my incredible husband Gene Malowany and our miraculous children Sarah and Kai – and my amazing career as a grief intuitive and author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side – none of which I would have without going through my journey.

Gene sat beside me today listening to my memories and soaking up the experience. He understands everything about my life and where it’s brought me. It was his idea to drive up there. I hadn’t been up that canyon since 1980. I was grumpy on the drive up finding a million reasons not to go – some part of me realizing what I’d remember as soon as I saw that sacred place.

Yet once I released the flood of emotion that rose up in me… I saw with great clarity the gift of my life story and the gift of loving so many amazing souls along the way.

Thank you divine order…

Click here to learn more about Sue’s upcoming program at SMC

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SueFrederickSue Frederick is the author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side; I See Your Soul Mate and I See Your Dream Job. An intuitive since childhood, Sue has trained more than 200 intuitive coaches around the world. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, CNN.com and Yoga Journal, among others.  Visit her websites to learn more: SueFrederick.com | Bridgestoheaven.com

Mindfulness in Lila Yoga (VIDEO)


Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Lila Yoga Mindfulness Retreat, June 4-7, 2015 — click here to learn more and to register.

We’re thrilled to have the wonderfully skilled Yogacharya Erica Kaufman returning to SMC this June to lead Lila Yoga Mindfulness Retreat.  And, also very glad to be able to offer you a glimpse into her brilliance as a teacher and the profundity of the practices that she’ll be leading here on the land next month.

Please take a few minutes to enjoy this lovely video which explores the mindfulness aspects within the Lila Yoga practice. Erica describes and defines how mindfulness is an intricate part of our learning process and how it is woven into this style of yoga.

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Lila Yoga Mindfulness Retreat, June 4-7, 2015 — click here to learn more and to register.

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EricaKaufmanYogacharya Erica Kaufman is the founder of Lila Yoga® and the owner of Lila Yoga Studios. She began daily devoted yoga practices at age 9. Influenced by Jiddu Krishnamurti’s philosophy and Krishnamacharya’s teachings, she spends three months a year in India.

Since 1984, Erica has taught ancient wisdom as a daily practice and holds the highest level of Registry with Yoga Alliance. Her teaching expertise and sophisticated gutsy openness awarded her Yoga Journal’s Karma Credit and features in publications such as The Times of India. Erica is on faculty at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado, at Penn State University, and at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh India. As a mentor to yoga teachers, aspirants, and community members alike, Erica tours the USA, Europe, Israel and India teaching seminars on Lila Yoga® and Contact Improvisation.

What Happens When We Die

By Sue Frederick

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Bridges to Heaven: A Grief Healing Workshop, led by Sue Frederick, June 5-7, 2015

Last night I spent two hours having a “what happens when we die” conversation with a friend I’ve known since the 80s.

She’s dying from stage 4 cancer. It was diagnosed in December. She said her friends don’t talk to her about spirituality and crossing over. She’s been an atheist much of her life – although she’s done amazing work for the world in her career.

She had my book Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side – on her nightstand. She asked me to sit with her to talk about it. She said she’d spent her life not wanting to believe in that kind of “woo-woo” stuff. But now she was having experiences that she believed were some kind of inexplicable divine order and wanted to explore ideas she’d not been comfortable with before.

She cried for most of the two hours during our talk – releasing so much fear and grief she’s been holding on to. She’s devastatingly frail and in constant pain. She lives alone. Hospice visits twice a day. It was so hard to see her suffering and so afraid of death.

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I taught her to meditate – as well as some other sacred techniques for releasing fear – like my Break Your Heart Wide Open meditation. I gave her a rosewood Mala – which she loved. She was so grateful I’d visited and will try to meditate now when’s she’s alone and afraid. She wants me to come back. And I will…

But it was so hard to be there. I’m so inadequate in those situations. The visit brought back so many memories of my husband Paul, best girlfriend Crissie, and my dad who all died too young – from cancer.

Afterwards, my husband Gene and I talked about my visit. It helped so much to talk to him and feel his love and support. Our views on life and death are fully aligned and I’m so grateful for him.

But today I can’t get the images and smells of the visit out of my head. All I want to do is go shopping and buy some expensive Eileen Fisher clothes that I can’t afford. I know that’s just my grief acting up. It’s my old relentless question of why do good people often take the path of suffering before they die? That one painful question launched my spiritual exploration journey in the 80s. And it still fuels the work I do today.

And I realize that I’m so much better at helping grieving people – rather than the sick and dying. I can truly help with spiritual and emotional pain. But I can’t relieve physical pain and I can’t bear to see that kind of intense physical suffering – especially in young people who only months ago were vibrant and full of life.

I guess I’m still traumatized from taking care of my young husband Paul in my 20s as he died from colon cancer. It’s clear that I have some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome: it makes me want to run from the sight of physical suffering.

Last night I kept feeling like I might throw up when I first walked into her room and saw tubes everywhere, the oxygen tank, and the pain on her face as she struggled to sit up a little in her bed to greet me.

I had to work so hard to focus on her spirit, her beautiful radiant undamaged soul, and not on her body. A big part of me just wanted to run out crying into the night, to stand under the stars, to look at beauty instead of pain.

But instead I took a deep breath, opened my heart and sat down beside her – with love as my intention. Our heart to heart conversation helped calm her – and I hope our future conversations will help her release fear and find an inner peace about crossing over.

I shared many stories with her of the departed coming back to show me that life continues and that death is not the end of anything. I’m so deeply grateful to those spirits – Paul, Crissie, my dad and so many many others who’ve made it so abundantly clear that we are all souls who come here for a brief physical experience to evolve consciousness – and that crossing over – taking the final breath – is simply an act of love – of returning to the divine realms from which we came. I’m so grateful for every moment of this lifetime that has pushed me to recognize this truth and for all the sacred teachers I’ve had along the way.

And last night, my dying friend loved listening to those stories of departed spiritsshowing up, and she wanted to hear them again and again. She cried and cried as she listened – as her heart broke wide open.

To all the nurses, hospice workers, healers and physicians who care for the dying – I honor you so much for what you do in the world. It’s the hardest and best job there is. Nothing else compares.

I’m so inadequate in the face of other’s physical suffering. I have to fight the impulse to run and instead focus on their spirit – which is after all what my work is here.

I hope you’ll forgive me for writing this story about my friend. It is a very private thing, I know. And perhaps I shouldn’t share it. Yet the experience of seeing loved ones suffer is a shared experience amongst all of us.

Writing this has helped me process – not the visit itself – but my visceral reaction to seeing my dying friend. Writing has always helped me heal pain and step into wisdom – to see things more clearly. It’s why I write. And maybe now I can resist the pull of Eileen Fisher, of seeking superficial comfort in the face of pain, of longing for beauty instead of what is…

Thanks for listening.

~~~

SueFrederickSue Frederick is the author of Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side; I See Your Soul Mate and I See Your Dream Job. An intuitive since childhood, Sue has trained more than 200 intuitive coaches around the world. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, CNN.com and Yoga Journal, among others.  Visit her websites to learn more: SueFrederick.com | Bridgestoheaven.com

Drum Your Prayers – Creativity & Spirituality

By Christine Stevens
(Edited by Jeff Newman)

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Healing Sound Retreat with Christine Stevens, May 28-31 — click here to learn more

CS 1

“Life can become boring when the spark of creative fire is not lit in the soul of our spirit.”- Music Medicine, the science and spirit of healing yourself with sound

We all listen to music. Many of us dream of playing an instrument, yet most of us don’t. How do we move from being only consumers of music to becoming music creators?

Creativity is our birthright, an organic medicine of healing. No matter where these limiting beliefs originated, you are the one who can remove them and take action! Otherwise, you may never express the song of your soul that wants to be sung. As the old saying goes, don’t die with the music inside you.

The Science of Creativity – Mind & Body

In a study using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) to look at brain activity, surgeon and jazz pianist CJ Limb compared improvised piano playing to a rendition of a rehearsed piece of music. The results showed that when musicians used their own creativity, a very specific small area of the brain’s frontal cortex — the medial prefrontal cortex — became activated. This part of the brain functions in self-reflection, introspection, personal sharing, and self-expression; it is often thought to be the seat of consciousness. The medial prefrontal cortex area is also activated when we talk about ourselves, telling our personal story. Simultaneously, a deactivation occurred. The two larger areas of the frontal cortex — the lateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — were deactivated. These areas deal with self-monitoring, judgment, and self-criticism. It’s a paradox; the larger parts of the brain inhibit our self-expression, while the smaller part reveals the greater self. No wonder it’s a challenge to express ourselves creatively in music.

Are you ready to begin to be a creator; not just a consumer? Try these guided practices and awaken your Creative Spirit through rhythm.

This video demonstrates creativity. Done in collaboration with a friend, this shows a nice balance of masculine and feminine. This is improvisational and multi-cultural. Our prayer is for the beauty of dialogue of cultures, in this case of middle east and Native American. Music is the dancing ground in the center that unites people.

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Healing Sound Retreat with Christine Stevens, May 28-31 — click here to learn more!

Jon Crowder will join me at the Retreat this year offering tai chi, African chants, and wonderful rhythms. He is the founder of Peak Rhythms based in Boulder, Colorado.
Here are a few more ideas to enhance your creativity;

1. Dance to the Beat of your own drum

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Drumming is an immediate portal into musical expression. Everyone can be successful immediately. Whether you are more comfortable drumming or dancing; both are great tools for awakening your musical creativity.

Click here to listen to the free play along track!

Select Rhythm (Chapter 3). Scroll to the bottom and play the last two tracks: Reviving Rhythms and Beauty Groove play-along tracks. Get out a drum, rattle, or homemade percussion sound and play-a-long, improvising the beat that only you can play. Each track is more than seven minutes, giving you time to get out of your head and into your drum. Remember, there is no right or wrong here; simply the joyful feeling of self-expression.

2. Tone your note

Toning comes from “tone,” a single note that is an inner sounding. Give yourself permission to sing your note, whatever it may be, and let it resonate your whole being. Trust yourself. Don’t think about it. Just take a deep belly breath and exhale a note. Now, sing the same note only louder! Repeat. When you complete the toning of your note, allow yourself time to sit with the vibration. Feel the resonance of creativity, of musical freedom reverberating through your body, mind, and spirit.

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Healing Sound Retreat with Christine Stevens, May 28-31 — click here to learn more!

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Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC is an author, music therapy consultant to REMO drums, and founder of UpBeat Drum Circles. Her new book, Music Medicine (Sounds True, August, 2012) includes more than 40 guided practices and 50 audio tracks of healing music. www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUGTmeDh8E8

 

5 Things I Learned on a Meditation Retreat

By Ryan Stagg

Shambhala Meditation O'Hern - For Web5

At the end of a recent week-long meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center another participant remarked about how difficult it would be to explain her experience back home. “We sat a lot, walked in circles, and didn’t talk much,” she said with a laugh.

And yet somehow after a week of performing this simple routine, often in complete silence, we all had smiles on our faces and a clear appreciation for the journey we had just completed. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what, but some transformation had undoubtedly occurred. The atmosphere in the room was simply lighter and more spacious.

There is something very radical about choosing to go on a meditation retreat. In many ways it stands in contrast to the speediness and excitement of our everyday lives. It also creates a fundamental shift in our perspective—rather than seeking fulfillment externally, we resolve to sit and look inside, at our own bodies, hearts, and minds.

The effects of embracing this contemplative perspective have long been promoted by practitioners and more recently by scientists. What’s fascinating is that the benefits don’t come from outside as we are so often socialized to believe. They come from within our own being. Somewhere in the midst of sitting and walking circles people continue to discover something magical. In Shambhala we call this our “basic goodness.”

To discover basic goodness is to glimpse one’s own inherent worthiness and completeness. It’s a feeling of contentment with things as they are. Of course there are many benefits of going on retreat and everyone will have their own unique experience, but I’d like to share five things that I’ve learned about the journey:

1. I had to take a leap. Breaking out of the cycles of everyday life to come on a meditation retreat is not easy. I worried about getting behind at work. The long winter was finally breaking and warm spring days made me wonder if leisurely weekends might be a better way to spend my time. I knew from retreats before that my back would hurt…a lot. The list goes on. A definite leap had to occur out of my daily routine and all the momentum it carries. It’s really the first step of the practice—to break the attachments to habitual tendencies and comforts. It’s a challenge to put aside a week or a month, but that decision becomes the essence of the practice; it lays the foundation for letting go.

2. There is no replacing the full immersion of extended retreat. I’ve sat a number of weekend retreats recently, which are certainly a good way to spend a weekend. However, I find something happens around day 3, a kind of immersion where the practice becomes a little more embodied, a little more effortless. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to sit even 25 minutes in a day but the transition to sitting hours and days at a time is surprisingly simple. The container created by the retreat staff and the other participants becomes a powerful support and I seem to find a hidden patience and resolve.

3. Relentless kindness to one’s self is key. The Shambhala teachings have really done a number on my idealistic expectations of meditation. When you try to be a Buddha you end up being very hard on yourself, when you try to be a human you end up being kind to yourself. The Acharya of this retreat led us in a three part exercise each day where we’d feel what we were feeling—maybe pain in the body or a particular emotion—extend kindness to that feeling, and then relax into the feeling of being kind to oneself. It’s a simple and powerful practice that helped me reintegrate the more difficult parts of myself I’d rather not sit with—the parts that don’t seem “enlightened.” This technique helped alleviate a lot of the conflict and struggle of sitting meditation and replaced it with a holistic appreciation of what it means to be human.

4. I felt a lot. Sometimes more than I’d like to. I find it amazing how the world opens up from sitting. Maybe distant memories in which I could smell my childhood home and feel the warmth of a glowing fire in the hearth. Maybe a rush of emotion of the deep love I have for a close friend.

We also had a much-needed “aerobic walk” each afternoon. I live here at Shambhala Mountain Center but each time felt like the first time I’d ever seen this incredible land, my perceptions were heightened, I could vividly feel the point of the pine needle and the pleasant ruffle on the water of Lake Shunyata.

5. I found a lasting place of calm. Many of us go seeking externally for peace and quiet, awaiting our next vacation or moment to escape. But real peace and quiet comes from working with the mind. The depth of meditation I cultivated on retreat is something I can come back to over and over; it isn’t based on external conditions. It’s subtle, but that sense of my own basic goodness grows each time I make the leap to sit a retreat. I couldn’t think of a more valuable way to spend my time.

Click here to learn about Dathun / Weekthun Retreat 2015 — Your opportunity to meditate for a week or full month!

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10524698_676605145764845_4615874047729965354_nRyan Stagg received an MA in Contemplative Religious Studies from Naropa University, and currently lives and works at Shambhala Mountain Center, where he explores the dharma as a personal, social, and professional path.