Why the Link Between Spirituality and Forgiveness?

By Megan Feldman Bettencourt

The following is excerpted from Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World

Why the link between spirituality and forgiveness? One argument is that if you believe you’ll be rewarded for behaving virtuously, either in the afterlife, as Christians and Muslims believe, or in subsequent lives on earth and via karma (you reap what you sow), as Buddhists believe, you may be more likely to adhere to a certain moral code. Another assertion is that when you’re conscious of mortality on a daily basis, life becomes more precious, allowing petty divisions to fall away. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche, became a runaway bestseller in the West by highlighting the importance of contemplating death: When you avoid coming to terms with your mortality, he argued, you live in a state of denial and take most things for granted. In contrast, a constant awareness of death infuses each day with a sense of the sacred, of being fully awake and alive. As Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön says, “If death is certain but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?”

Yet there’s a distinction between religious dogma and personal practices. While people like Azim and Karen use practices that are related to broader religious teachings, the practices themselves are very private. Azim didn’t forgive because of a Sufi dictate, he did it because he sensed it would bring him peace, and because his lifelong meditation habit gave him the inner strength to follow through. And while Karen’s chosen route to recovery, AA, refers to God and has origins in Christianity, it isn’t affiliated with any particular religious doctrine. This distinction is meaningful, because while forgiveness is featured in many religions, the people I met were not all religious—but most were spiritual. The difference? The Latin origin of the word “religion,” religio, refers to belief in a supernatural God and institutionalized ways of worshiping that God. The origin of “spirituality,” spiritualis, is more identified with the human spirit itself, based on the word spiritu, for breathing or wind. It’s more personal and doesn’t require belief in an external deity or public participation in institutionalized religion. This approach is becoming increasingly common in the West, where polls show that more and more people describe themselves as spiritual, not religious.

BookCover-SmallFrom TRIUMPH OF THE HEART: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World by Megan Feldman Bettencourt. To be published on August 11, 2015 by Hudson Street Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Megan Feldman.





10155032_223194611213607_6336339738905113751_nMegan Feldman Bettencourt is an award-winning writer. She began her career as a Central America-based freelancer and earned a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  Megan’s features have appeared in magazines such as Glamour, Details, and 5280: The Denver Magazine, and in newspapers including Newsday and the Dallas Observer.

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


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

From Field to Fork

By Felice Shekar

At Shambhala Mountain Center, people often talk about being “on the land.” The SMC site, the land itself, plays a central role in the experience of those who live here and those who simply visit. This is an educational center where you can immerse yourself in the realities of nature.

It is possible, however, to not only live on the land at SMC but also to let the land live in you. As the community’s garden grows and thrives, vegetables and salad greens make the short hop from fields to the dining hall. It is possible to find homegrown arugula and radishes in your lunch salad and garnishes. The taste of food this fresh is delightful and unmistakable.

According to Sophia DeMaio, Land Steward, “SMC is serious about sustainability. A generous family foundation has helped to support our garden’s development, and the support of the entire community keeps it going.”

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More than fine eating, perhaps, the garden greens in the salad bins at meal time speak to a greater shared good that is emblematic of SMC. The short journey of healthy food to the dishes of community members parallels the way various SMC departments, such as guest services and development, create an interwoven experience for guests and staff that serves the needs of many in ways that are not always visible.

As DeMaio and the community look ahead, “it would be great to host gardening and permaculture programs and bring folks together to learn about these systems. We’d also like to build a small environmental library where community members and guests can learn about the land and working with the land.” With the help of donations, the SMC garden team will expand its crops, develop sustainability further with an effective composting system, and cultivate other projects that reflect the community’s commitment to living well and thoughtfully with the land.

Kevin Korb, Master Gardener, is excited about the future. “This fall we will be constructing a 42-foot diameter geodesic dome greenhouse that will allow us to grow food throughout the winter.” Korb also envisions chickens for eggs and a raspberry path for guests to enjoy. The best part of Kevin’s job is the connection of the food he helps grow to those that he savors meals with. “Here at SMC, I know every cook that uses our produce and I sit and eat every meal with this great community of staff and guests.”


To many, the presence of garden fresh foods in the next meal is simply an occasion to enjoy tasty, healthy food. But this is also an opportunity to savor the systemic dedication of SMC to serve many needs at any one time.


FullSizeRenderWith a degree in Evolutionary Psychology, a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution, and previous immersion in Middle Eastern Studies, Felice Shekar has blended her business acumen with spiritual and peacemaking studies to promote conscious, systemic success to a number of organizations in service to a common good.  As a published author, both in academia and the mass market, coupled with her communication and public speaking skills, she brings common sense solutions to her position of Manager of Development at SMC. Felice promotes donor engagement that helps those who visit the land to understand the financial successes and challenges of an organization such as SMC.

Interview: Waking Up to the Wild with Kay Peterson


Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Waking up to the Wild: Mindful Hiking with Kay Peterson, July 24-27 — click here to learn more

Like trees in the forest or fish in the sea, we have an innate ability to live in greater harmony with our environment. While trying to navigate our busy, high-tech world, we can develop habits of mind that leave us feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. Delving deeply into the practice of mindfulness/awareness in nature, we turn our attention toward the subtle interplay of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and sense perceptions and rediscover how we can open to our fundamental interconnection to all things. Rather than always needing to change where we work, live, or who we love, we can change our relationship to these aspects of our lives in a way that brings us greater happiness and contentment.

Next month, psychotherapist, wilderness guide, and Shambhala meditation instructor Kay Peterson will be leading a wonderfully nourishing retreat here in the powerful natural environment of Shambhala Mountain Center.  Recently, Kay took some time to discuss the importance of tapping into the natural world, and how doing so can benefit our daily lives.

Enjoy this interview below, and to learn more about the upcoming retreat, please follow the links at the top of this article.


KayPetersonKay Peterson, MA, MFT Intern, is a psychotherapist, wilderness guide, and Shambhala meditation instructor. She has been facilitating nature-inspired programs focused on individual transformation, creative group processes, and mindfulness since 1996. Kay also teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and is adjunct faculty at Naropa University.

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!


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.

The Healing Possibilities of Palo Santo — Sacred Plant Essence and Friend of Humanity


Shambhala Mountain Center is glad to be hosting David Crow — author, acupuncturist, herbalist, April 3-5 as he leads Contemplative Aromatherapy: Vipassana, Ayurveda, and Plant Essences

The video below offers a taste of his wisdom and what his latest book is about — the sacredness of Palo Santo, and how we may have a beneficial relationship with this and other plants.  Just watching the short video may open up a connection with the profound possibilities of plant-human synergy.  It has for me.


SMC host’s Contemplative Aromatherapy: Vipassana, Ayurveda, and Plant Essences, April 3-5 — click here to learn more

DavidCrow_1114David Crow is an acupuncturist and herbalist with 30 years of clinical practice, and the author of numerous books including In Search of the Medicine Buddha. A student of the elder Kalu Rinpoche and the Dharma Master Hsin Tao, he teaches Vipassana meditation with an emphasis on understanding our biological relationship with nature. His work can be found at Floracopeia, (www.floracopeia.com)

Relationship as Spiritual Path: Couples Retreat Master Ben Cohen


Intimate relationships are both an opportunity and a challenge to our capacity for love and vulnerability.  Once we get past the romantic love stage, we often find ourselves surprised by these challenges.  Drawing from the work of Harville Hendrix, PhD, (Imago) Ben Cohen works with couples in exploring the essential principles and practices of conscious relationships — both in his private practice and as a leader of couples’ retreats.

Click here to learn about our upcoming weekend retreat: Relationship as a Spiritual Path: Getting the Love You Want (A Couples Workshop), April 24-26

Watch our interview 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.


Ben-CohenBen Cohen, PhD, is a psychologist in private practice in Boulder and Denver specializing in relationship counseling. He has also had an active meditation practice for over 25 years and integrates Eastern and Western traditions in his teaching and practice.

In the Company of Women: Precious Knowing

By Katherine Kaufman

Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Precious Knowing: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat for Women, February 11-15, 2015

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I have the good fortune to be at the Shambhala Mountain Center at this moment so I can tell you what it is like in the winter here — at least right now. Still & quiet. Today I walked up to the ridge — maybe to get nearer to the sun. There was some trudging through snow and also big patches with no snow. I rested on an outcropping of rocks. A group of deer were close to the Stupa. They looked up at me and leapt away as if gravity were no problem. Inside the Stupa I was struck by what feels like the thickness of many years of people practicing. The good humored gentleness and authentic way of the staff feels so warming. I am called back to this place. This is one of my homes.

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My idea for the women’s retreats began from my sense that it would be great to gather, and do practices on the coldest day of the winter and the hottest day of the summer and that the retreats would reflect the seasons they are in somehow. Women particularly need gaps in routine to pause, leave their responsibilities, and have a time to reconsider where they are in their lives, and be with other women. That this is a retreat for women with emphasis on formal practices, is a big part of the title, “precious knowing.”

The Experience

Even though I have had many years to refine these retreats it still amazes me that something happens — it feels magical. We are very simply practicing together: gentle yoga, meditation, and a little improvisational movement in the afternoons. We take our naps, bundle up and walk in the forest and up to the Stupa alone and together. The group is small enough so that we can sit around a table for meals. We discuss things that are important to us, and begin to know each other in a way that is different perhaps, from our usual knowing another. In certain ways I feel like this must be how women in small villages live. It feels so natural, for women to join and support each other this way.

This particular retreat is one where I facilitate rather than impart knowledge and I also don’t see it as a training program. Although there is instruction and we are practicing ancient forms this retreat is really about participating in practices all together, as well as sharing our combined wisdom. On some level we each know what we need already. The practices of sitting, yoga, movement, and sharing help facilitate our inner knowing. Sometimes our practice requires silence, sometimes questions, sharing, laughter or an evening by the fire. Most evenings we listen as each woman has her time to share. We acknowledge our differences and find a sense of acceptance and kindness. So we do this for a few days — simple and basic. Time slows — or we — by our practice — slow time.

And from this work, and play combined with being on the land we begin to feel more of our inner experiences — something shifts in us — a crack in the view. Something that has been propped up melts, and underneath a sense of relaxation occurs. Our desire for some rest, connection, realization is simply exchanged for actual practice. We experience something tender. When we return to our homes, our ways and days, the practice and the precious knowing continues.


Katharine_Kaufman2Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry.