Summer Volunteering at SMC

021Summer is a beautiful and exciting time at Shambala Mountain Center. Wildflowers are in bloom, the aspens are bursting with golden green leaves, and the land is thriving with a wide variety of programs.  It is also the season when people come from around world to volunteer their skills and enjoy the enriching experience of being in contemplative community.

Living in furnished, canvas tents nestled in the mountainside, you are immersed in the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Each morning is a verdant walk among the fragrant pines to a hardy breakfast and then group meditation, where the community comes together to practice their commitment to mindfulness. From this nourishing foundation, the work day begins and volunteers assist in one of the SMC’s numerous departments—from marketing and programs, to cooking in the kitchen and working with the land—to name but a few.

At noon, there is another opportunity to meditate before a delicious lunch and then again before dinner. Evenings can be spent enjoying a dharma talk, sitting around a campfire, or watching the sun

set in the beautiful Colorado sky. On free days, volunteers can enjoy participating in retreats at no charge, hiking on over eight miles of scenic trails, doing yoga with the community, or throwing a get-together with new found friends.

Interested in learning more? Read what last year’s volunteers had to say below and visit our website for upcoming opportunities by clicking here.

“I learned a lot about myself, met a bunch of interesting people, and made some lasting friendships. That plus the opportunity to attend some advanced contemplative study programs made 2013 one of the most memorable and positive summers I’ve ever had.” –Paul from Denver

Jill

“While volunteering at Shambhala Mountain Center, it was clear to me that I was working for the benefit of all beings, and that something beyond my control, and profoundly good, was occurring. Over the summer, magic unfolded. I connected with amazing people, personal inspiration, insight. I believe that the overall consequences have been more positive than I can yet fathom.” –Travis from Florida

“Spending time at the Shambhala Mountain Center is like coming home. It gives me a chance to connect deeply with the earth, my sangha, and myself. I went for set-up and stayed for nine months! And I’ve returned year after year. Definitely one of my favorite places on earth thus far.” –Jodi from Boulder

“It was exhilarating to let go of time-consuming experiences such as grocery shopping, riding the bus, and aimlessly surfing the internet. Also, your friends live by you, work with you, cook for you, and teach you how to hula hoop!” –Heather from Seattle

“I had a pleasant stay while working at SMC last summer. I worked in the gift store as a cashier. Enjoyed the friendly conversations with everyone who visited the gift store. SMC is just a beautiful place to live and work. You are always with nature and I loved having the sun be my alarm clock warming up my tent each morning. Moments I will treasure and am grateful for.” –Dennis from Boulder

Tent photo and meditation photo by Karen O’Hern

Tori gate photo by Barb Colombo

Flowing Like Water, Strong as a Mountain

by Larry Welsh

A personal message:

I would like to invite you to join us at Shambhala Mountain Center for a special retreat, starting the evening of April 25 until 2 pm on April 27.  We live in a time when many people are lost in the pursuit of happiness purely through ideas, thoughts, and screens… like a dream.   Materialism rages in the ten directions and thus many resort to violence, thinking this to be a solution to their pain and suffering.  That violence can manifest in very subtle ways and in coarse ways causing harm to self and others.  The all-consuming drive to be productive at the expense of nourishing our deepest nature robs us of real fulfillment and true maturity.  Our spirit drifts, leaving us without a place to truly rest and our hearts have lost the understanding, the Tao of The Art of the Heart.  By learning how to flow like water and to be strong as a mountain through authentic relaxation, each of us can discover the Art of the Heart and thus know how to nourish the chi without harm.

As the sages saw clearly, knowing when to seize the right moment is right timing,

Larry Welsh

LarryWelsh1To recover intrinsic health and well being in each moment of our day, we need powerful medicine—the medicine of movement and stillness.  The wisdom traditions of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, the Buddhist teachings of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the 5 Elements from Chinese cosmology offer profound insight into movement, stillness, and health.  These traditions of practice allow each of us to contact a wellspring of sanity and health in the midst of chaos, upheaval, and stress.  They can teach us how to work compassionately with body, perception, emotions, thoughts, and others.  By understanding the five elements and the five seasons, we open ourselves to the unique power of each season: manifesting as courage through stillness; creativity through pushing upward; joy through maturity; decrease through harvest; and balance through equanimity.  The correspondences may seem strange at first, but they are real and true.

IMGP0423-larry-pinetreeThese practices are beyond philosophy and completely up-to-date. They are pure and useful teachings that each one of us can embrace and integrate into our daily lives.  They are based upon the simple truth of heaven, earth, and human being—what is actually here and now rather than basing our life upon a dream or fantasy alone.  During this retreat, we will explore the experience of heaven and virtue, earth and breaths, discovering how to cultivate our flood like chi.  We will practice and learn about the lion’s roar of fearlessness through the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.  And we will learn how to embody the 5 Elements in order to harmonize life inside and out through the five seasonal movements.

These timeless practices are based upon clear insight into finding one’s way, one’s true nature.  By restoring one’s unity with heaven and earth, synchronizing body and mind, one can finally return home by understanding through actual experience how to transform life’s challenges into peace and personal empowerment.  The key is to learn how to shift gears from reacting to responding to the myriad fluctuations of life from one’s center.

This retreat is open to all ages, beginners and advanced students.  We hope to see you there.

 

Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple

by Keith Kachtick
relationshipsIn 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 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.”

Keith Kachtick and his partner Camilla Figueroa will be teaching the retreat Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple September 13-15

More than Meditation: The Totality of Dathün

by Will Brown

“We can become extremely wise and sensitive to all of humanity and the whole universe simply by knowing ourselves, just as we are.” – Pema Chödrön, teaching on day two of a dathün

tent and rainbowWhen someone mentions “meditation retreat”, you might get an image of “on the cushion at 4am until lights out at 9pm”. The Shambhala Buddhist practice of Dathün is not just thirty days on “the cushion” but a complete system, or spiritual technology, for developing familiarity and friendliness with one’s mind, body, emotions (and patterns) and one’s own inherent power of healing and wakefulness. At my first Dathün, I discovered that sitting meditation was just a fraction of the practice.

The system of Dathün includes quite a few hours per day of sitting meditation but also walking meditation, dharma talks, contemplation, and chants. And just as integral to Dathün are the mindful “Oryoki” meals, the hours (or days) of silence, one’s interactions with other people, and the furniture, buildings, and land which support the practitioner.

At Dathün, in the kitchen, the hallway, on the cushion, all of it is meditation and all of it asked me to just try opening where I might find the dignity of compassion. For, as I “held my seat” (or bowl, or tongue), I was providing peaceful space for those on the cushion next to me who, in turn, were holding ground for me and all beings.

This “space” developed into care and appreciation for the objects, structures, and environment around me. Being mindful of the Shrine room, the Center, the animals and land, became as integral as returning to my breath rather than following thoughts. In the first few days of Dathün, I had taken personally the loud orange color of the Shrine room. By the end of four weeks I could accept that perhaps the Shrine room wasn’t about me but maybe just a mirror of my ever-shifting mind.

eatingoriyokiI know that this process of resisting and then accepting reality (suffering, impermanence) will continue for at least this lifetime if not for many more. But over the course of a month of Dathün (four weeks!), I was able to meet some patterns well, and perhaps, wear them out just a little bit. I have since seen friends who stayed only a week, or two, and they surely had significant experiences. But for me to fully unplug, be present and be able to discover, I needed that solid month – that entire page from the calendar – to allow the whole system of Dathün to enable me to make friends with myself, be merciful to others, and begin to experience meditation in everyday life.

Click here to learn more about Dathun or to register for the 2013 Summer Dathun

 

The Generosity of a Samurai

by Christopher Seelie

shooting range in snow

The snowfall began the night before, and by the time we arrived in a loose caravan of 4 cars Zenko-Iba was covered in white. Of the thirteen of us Shambhala Mountain Center staff who came to Boulder on this day to receive instruction in Kyudo—literally “the way of the bow”, a Japanese practice of meditation in action—only one had taken First Shot before. So we did not receive instruction in the snow. Instead we gathered in the free-standing garage, now converted to a shrine room and indoor practice space. The walls were decorated with photographs from Kanjuro Shibata Sensei’s life of practice, along with documents of merit and souvenirs. Three hay bales wrapped in plastic canvas were peppered with puncture holes. The distance was negligible but kyudo is not a sport like the western form of archery, where the distance between archer and target is a concern second only to where on the target one’s arrow enters.

Shibata Sensei and CarolynWe sat on gomdens and waited as Shibata Sensei—a green 91 years young and recently recovered from a bout of pneumonia—was escorted in with his wife and translator, Carolyn, and their little gray dog. He was dressed in dark wash jeans, a puffy winter jacket, pale grey slippers that had been warmed by the cast iron stove in the corner, and a black winter hat that had XX embroidered in white on the forehead—signifying his lineage identity as the 20th Kanjuro Shibata. We stood, and for a moment of solid silence Shibata Sensei stared at us, taking in our faces with direct purpose before bowing to us and we to him. Then he walked forward and looked closer before bowing again. Once seated, we waited for him to speak but he took his time in communicating. When he did, his command was to relax.

Carolyn explained that he thought we were sitting like elite monks.

Despite being twentieth in an unbroken line of imperial bowmakers and kyudo masters, Shibata Sensei does not abide dignities and honorarities that build ego. Cutting through the pretensions that could make a ragtag, baker’s dozen of curious students presume to a discipline more severe than warranted, Shibata Sensei told us to relax and then commented on how auspicious it was that the snow was falling.  Casually, he told us that from the snow he felt Trungpa Rinpoche’s presence here this morning. He spoke briefly on kyudo as a practice and then allowed for his more experienced students, Vajra, Sue, and Suzanne who had come from Berlin to visit Sensei, to lead us through the stages of the practice.

instructing kyudo

Kyudo is, as Shibata Sensei explained to us, a heart-cleansing practice. The emphasis is on the form one takes in the manner of shooting and the qualities of mind that are experienced in the process. When I asked Shibata Sensei later in the day about the obstacles a practitioner encounters in kyudo, he said that hitting the target is good and not hitting the target is good. “This Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche understood immediately.” When asked how he met Trungpa Rinpoche, Shibata Sensei says it was “very straight kyudo”.

We did not shoot our first arrows that day. The repetition of the form is our practice until such time that we are ready for taking the first shot. From that point, all of Shibata Sensei’s students are of a kind. There are no black belts, no officers, no gold medal winners or blue ribbon archers. These are the honorarities that repel Shibata Sensei’s understanding of kyudo. Becoming familiar with something inexpressible cannot fit into stages of a hierarchy.

calligraphy meaning wind tree fire mountain

“FU RIN KA ZAN” by Shibata Sensei. “Wind Tree Fire Mountain”

The friendship between the founder of Shambhala Mountain Center and Shibata Sensei is a profound example of how different cultures and disciplines find commonality in the wisdom that they share. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a meditation master, an academic and administrator displaced when Tibet was conquered by the Chinese. In his homeland, Shibata Sensei is a living national treasure and a lineage holder patronized by the Emperor of Japan. But Trungpa Rinpoche recognized the power and purpose of Shibata Sensei’s kyudo—a practice developed out of the samurai’s need for heart-training to balance out the fight-training so as to remove pride and aggression with the same tools that might engender it. And while the external differences between tonglen, shamatha, maitri, and other techniques Trungpa Rinpoche brought to the west and the kyudo of Shibata Sensei makes them truly diverse practices, the two men saw through those differences with complete clarity.

Shibata Sensei with student

The day ended with tea and cookies as Shibata Sensei answered questions. Last fall, he had made the two hour journey up to Shambhala Mountain Center to give a talk on the importance of making offerings. Since then, the staff has made it a point to offer rice, water, and salt at the Kami shrine that sits behind the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, nestled in the hills above the MPE campgrounds. Now kyudo too has returned as a regular part of life at Shambhala Mountain Center. May it be of benefit.

Kanjuro Shibata Sensei XX will meet with his students for a kyudo retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center June 30 – July 7th.

Memories of Mexico, SMC, and Writing a First Novel

by Maria Espinosa

black and white photo of Maria EspinosaA group of us walked along a narrow path to a deserted beach near Zihuatanejo, Mexico, which in 1971 was still a village of only several thousand inhabitants. The moon was brilliant and the ocean glistened with reflected light. Inspired by the moonlight, the waves and the soft sand under my bare feet, I began to dance. As I moved, I was working through problems that felt tangled. These were thoughts for which I could find no words, but which my body moved through as I danced.

Many years after that night on the beach, I began to practice Tibetan Buddhist shamatha meditation and I experienced an enormous breakthrough. For years I had been struggling to complete my novel, Longing. I had written four drafts, but they were brittle. I could not get beneath the surface. After a few weeks—or perhaps months—of focused shamatha practice, I was able to get beneath that frozen surface. Heart and insight began to expand and soften. I threw out the first four drafts and the fifth became meaty, fluid, and real. It would take four more rewrites to get Longing into its final form, but the fact that meditation practice gave such power hooked me.

Last summer as I meditated inside the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at Shambhala Mountain Center, I had a similar kind of illumination. I had been attending a weekthun, a week-long meditation intensive, sleeping at night in a cabin where I snuggled under layers of blankets, absorbing the beauty of the land, the wilderness, the mountains. All this had prepared me for the Stupa, which emanates a feeling of tremendous brilliance and purity.

As I meditated there, my mind—often cluttered, anxious, and diffuse in daily life—seemed to transform in an alchemical way. Ideas became objects I could shift and maneuver inside the luminous space of my mind. Thoughts were clear and visualizations were lucid. Words, visual art, music, life changing decisions, all could flow more easily in this state.

For me, there is a connection between that moonlit night on the beach, meditation practice, and the illuminating experience within the Stupa. While the dance and the Stupa experience were brief, they fostered creativity that came from a deeper source in which body, mind, and spirit are connected. Regular meditation practice is far more gradual in its effects, like burning a log after the fire has been lit. That dance on the beach in Mexico and meditating in the Stupa were the matches, while my regular meditation practice sustains my writing like the burning log sustains the fire.

Learn more about Maria Espinosa’s up-coming writing workshop: Finding Your Voice: A Mindful Writing Retreat.

The Shamatha Project, Part II: Collecting Data

The Rigden Lodge

The Rigden Lodge. Photo: Adeline van Waning

Researchers also measured brain activity in the EEG lab

Researchers also measured brain activity in the EEG lab. Photo: Jim Cahill

In the blood lab researchers prepared serum, plasma, and white blood cell samples for further analysis. Photo: Adeline van Waning

In the blood lab researchers prepared serum, plasma, and white blood cell samples for further analysis. Photo: Clifford Saron

By Sarah Sutherland
shamatha project eeg capEditors note: Thanks to a recent $2.3 million Templeton Prize Research Grant from the John Templeton Foundation, researchers are revisiting the results gleaned from Shamatha Project and further analyzing those results. In the first two posts of this four-part series we’re offering people unfamiliar with the project the chance to learn more about the project and its researchers. In our third post we will discuss the next stage of this project funded by the Templeton Prize Research Grant. And in our final post we’ll take a closer look at the lead researcher, Clifford Saron.

Last Friday we introduced you to the Shamatha Project, a comprehensive meditation study done on the psychological, physical, and behavioral effects of intensive meditation. The study, done in two three-month retreats by Researcher Clifford Saron and others in 2007, revealed some astounding results.

“The findings have taught us a lot about the benefits of meditation on our mental and physical health,” said Saron. So, how did researchers measure the results, and what did they discover?

To measure the outcomes, researchers used a comprehensive approach, including interviews, computer-based experiments, physiological measures, behavioral measures, questionnaires, and self-reporting from participants before, during, and after the retreats. In some experiments, participants completed difficult computer-based tasks aimed at gauging attention and perception while their brain waves, heart rate, blood pressure, and other physiological indicators were recorded. At other times, facial expressions were additionally recorded as they watched disturbing images. In a separate, on-site blood lab, participants’ blood samples were collected and processed for later testing for telomerase, an enzyme that repairs genetic material lost during cell division, as well as various hormones and proinflammatory cytokines, which are molecules that trigger inflammation when we’re stressed.

In one key finding, the research team, in work led by Katherine MacLean and Baljinder Sahdra, has detailed how the retreat participants, compared with the control group, were better able to sustain visual attention through improved perceptual sensitivity and inhibit habitual responses. Importantly, the response inhibition improvements predicted psychological improvements as measured in increases in such traits as empathy, openness, and wellbeing and in decreases of depression, anxiety, and difficulty regulating emotions. When the control group entered the retreat, these same improvements became apparent. Many improvements lasted for months after the retreats.

To examine emotional changes from intensive practice, the researchers, led by Erika Rosenberg, studied how people responded to film scenes of human suffering. When responding to painful images, retreat participants showed a decrease in emotions such as anger, disgust and, contempt compared to controls. Instead, retreatants were more likely to respond to the suffering of others with sadness.

In looking at psycho-biological markers, the researchers, led by Tonya Jacobs and Elissa Epel and including co-investigator Elizabeth Blackburn, a molecular biologist who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in medicine for her work on cellular aging, found increased levels of telomerase in retreat participants. In fact, levels of telomerase at the end of the first retreat correlated with an increased sense of purpose in life, as reported by retreat but not control participants. Also, participants who reported greater mindfulness had reduced stress hormones. Both findings point to a positive link between meditation, health, and possibly longevity, which Saron is eager to explore further.

“There is much more data to analyze and learn from,” he stated. And now, thanks to a recent $2.3 million Templeton Prize Research Grant from the John Templeton Foundation, he and his colleagues can take the Shamatha Project to the next level.

Read the third part in our series: Part III: Forging Ahead or Read the first post.