Yesterday, the Denver Shambhala Center had an open house. I attended. It was so nurturing and soothing to come back to. That neutral, awakened energy there to support whatever arises in a loving, compassionate, and oh so gentle way.
I found Shambhala for the first time in 2012. It happened because in our Yoga Teacher Training, we were instructed to spend 10 hours studying something independently. Something related to yoga, of course.
I wanted to blow up chakras – I mean really understand them. Pull them apart, analyze them, get to know the origins, and own all the knowledge I possibly could about them. That’s my aggressive nature – I dissect things, analyze the bits, and then leave it all laying there like a toddler might with a set of Legos once I’ve just begun to understand. In this case, however, I found an audio book called “Awakening Compassion” – have I already blogged about this 9 CD audio book? It was at the library. It has zero to do with chakras, so I don’t really understand how it happened.
I took the audio book home and listened; it changed my life. Not only did Pema speak in a way that clearly came across as intelligent and thought provoking, she nurtured my heart. She chipped away at the armor with each word. And so I listened. Again and again. I started sharing copies – because I knew so many people who would benefit from this goodness the way I had. Then, I wanted more. More teachings. I found myself hungering to absorb the teachings in more detail. So, I had to check out the Shambhala Center in Phoenix.
At the time, I was in a committed relationship. I had committed to someone with a very serious drinking habit. The kind of habit that kept me awake at night so I could monitor his breathing to make sure he didn’t die in a puddle of his own puke. He started travelling all over the country, and then out of the country for work and once called me at midnight, completely blacked out. He didn’t know where he was or what he was doing, and he could not communicate properly and it scared the living crap out of me that I wasn’t with him to watch out for him. I had so much anxiety that night, it was probably a nervous breakdown. I detached myself to the best of my ability from the commitment to try to preserve my sense of sanity. I recognized that I had become the babysitter, and I learned to absolutely despise the smell of metabolizing alcohol on a human. I loved the man, couldn’t live with attachment to his habits. It seemed to me that to stay was to empower his self-destruction. I left him to save us both.
The aversion that I developed to the consumption of alcohol at this time was huge. I understood that I needed to look at the situation with greater compassion and I needed help. So, I did some al-anon meetings and started attending the Shambhala recovery group meetings. I found both to be helpful but I made a friend at Shambhala who was kind enough to hike miles and miles with me and share his story of recovery. I was quite enamored with the sober dude, and after a couple months, our friendship became more involved. I broke off my commitment to the drunk dude, and clung to the sober one. The sober one had another involvement, as well, a long distance one. He often traveled to the area that his commitment was in, and I felt threatened by his departure. When I asked questions to alleviate my discomfort of the threat I perceived, he accused me of being sneaky about the way I approached the situation. His accusation got him out of answering questions. The accusation bothered me so much that I broke off the interaction, immediately. Then, I no longer felt comfortable attending meetings at Shambhala. I still would go, but not with any kind of dedication. It was hard for me to face the reality. I didn’t want to deal with it, and so I gave it much space and focused my attention on other matters. I had a graduate degree to pursue at the time. It was my primary focus.
Months went by, and I started going back to Shambhala because I needed sangha, and I knew it. Sangha (for me) is where you gather with others and truly listen to each other and share experiences, wisdom, and techniques about getting through life. In sangha, I believe we try to help each-other see through our ego-agendas and touch base with the fundamental goodness of being. We learn to sit with the heavy stuff, and to share the joy but the idea is really just learning to stay present with whatever arises. I can do that alone these days, no problem. But sharing my experience with others via blog or in person is something else. I once shared my life experience with a woman who was going to rent me an apartment in Bellingham, MA (I was 29) and she somehow managed to take the whole thing in, then wept. She wept and then held me. I wept with her, but promised myself never to share like that again because it felt horrible to share my pain with her and see her reaction. I learned to block my emotion (shut down my heart) to try to be able to talk to people like I’m just ‘normal’ rather than like a person who is managing more psychological pain than she knows how to process.
I was invited to begin a Shambhala book study at Chris and Muffie’s house. I’m not sure when that began but it went on for two years – every other Monday night. We read Book 1 of a three-book series. I loved our group, and I loved the learning, growing and understanding that it brought.
When you grow up Christian and see clearly what a sinful, wretched human you really are, you begin to get weary of crying out to God for forgiveness over and over and over and over again. My repentance level through my 20’s and into my 30’s was huge and the repentance never stopped me from sinning. It never did anything to help me address the sin. Going to church 3 times a week in my 20’s to try to purify my existence didn’t work. I mean, I purified by following the rules but then I was judging others for not being as pure as I was. That’s a sin. Putting little index cards all over my house with scriptures (honestly, I did this at age 26) to memorize verses may have helped me to remember, but it never stopped me from wanting a mate and my agenda to find a mate was a much stronger drive than was my desire to please God OR my desire to please God drove me to marry so that I could satisfy my urge to procreate in a manner that was acceptable to God. Both ideas are true though subtly different. Perhaps it represents well the difference between believing all people are evil and all people are good. With me, however, my relationship mechanisms are wired strangely. I continually choose people who are refusing to look honestly at themselves or me. Or maybe I am choosing people who when they see me clearly are overwhelmed by the magnitude of my psychological pain and the ways that I must practice and discipline myself in order to live with it. You can’t get rid of the pain, you learn to live with it.
The Shambhala lineage does not teach so much about forgiveness for sins as it does about letting go of sin. I mean, the word sin is never used. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a non-theistic tradition. It teaches you to become aware of your thinking – the thinking that gets you into places you don’t want to be. Which is really what sin is in a whole different set of jargon-istic terms. Terms used to describe the suffering of humans. What is sin? Anything that takes you out of your place of love and kindness into a place of hatred, judgment, and anger. From Heaven to Hell.
Let’s face it. If you’re feeling hatred, or if you’re steeped in judgment (whether yours for someone else or someone else’s towards you or yours for yourself), you’re suffering and it isn’t because you deserve to suffer. It’s only because you are aware that things could be better and you have no idea how to get to that ‘betterness.’ Take that a step further and think about any action that you take or create while steeped in that energy of anger / frustration / confusion. You’re perpetuating its existence. Multiplying its molecular efficacy or inefficacy, if you will. If you act from the energy of love and kindness, it may not always turn out the way you expect, but your intention is pure and you’re creating more love and kindness in the atmosphere around you. I’m tired of people creating more confusion, frustration, and anger in this world. We’ve got more than we can handle already. For this reason, I am recommitting myself to Shambhala, its teachings, the sangha, and the path. I will no longer allow people, places or things (especially my choices) to block the dharma. Dharma in my life was being blocked by my involvement in other things, by my shame in facing what didn’t work for me at the Phoenix Shambhala, and by my inability to relax enough to see clearly . The release of the blockage has occurred.
This time, the path is very clear. The Denver Shambhala Center is the perfectly imperfect place for me to absorb dharma, serve a lineage I believe in, experience a diverse sangha and grow new roots.
On a side note, I took two classes at Kindness Yoga last night. The first was fast and sweaty. I’d call it a practice of tapas. The fire that burned within me from the fast, strong movement on my mat brought much up for me to consider. That burning of impurities with physical fire is such an incredible experience. I was so about the physical practice of yoga during my teacher training – so much impurity to burn off. So much blockage that needed to be opened and cleared. But it’s not just physical. It’s so much more. On the mat, you’re not just placing your foot here and your arm there to achieve a really groovy-looking pose. You’re pushing all of your energy into the ground and also lifting it up to the sky – you are opening yourself wide to let go of what does not serve you. You are opening yourself wide to receive that which will nourish and uplift you. You are offering yourself up to be a conduit of love energy or a conduit of hateful vengeance, if that’s what you want. It depends on what you believe in. If you serve any higher power be it Allah, Jesus, that spaghetti monster in the sky, or even Satan – yoga is a tool for you to cultivate the intention of the power that you wish to create more of in this world. For me, that is love and kindness, Buddha-style. Jesus-style is cool, too, but I can do without all the talk of sin and judgment. I need to learn to be okay with what is instead of feeling like I need to cast it all into a burning pit of fire to get rid of what does not please me or my higher power. Get it? We try to push away what we find undesirable and when we do, we increase the power it has over us. By leaning in to that which we find undesirable, having an open sense of curiosity about our pain, listening, feeling, breathing… we learn to live with what honestly cannot be banished. Not act on it, but see it, acknowledge it, and practice letting it go like a cloud in the sky.
After that class, I stayed in a yin posture to transition to the next class which was restorative. Someone spoke to me while I was in that yin posture and I found myself suddenly over-sharing with a woman I’d never met before. It was as if she caught me in the middle of a vacuum where I had no filters. I just spilled what I was enduring – the stuff I was sitting with on my mat (in my posture) became verbal. The girl (or lovely woman) reacted in a way that invited more. She totally related to everything that came out of me and then she gave me her phone number and told me to call her. She wanted to help me work through what I am working through.
I probably will not call this very nice lady. I find that it is necessary for me to be able to sit with my own fears, impurities, and distress with acceptance and compassion before I share my experience and understanding with others. Had I not been completely immersed in my own self-study when she spoke to me, I never would have shared with her what I shared. It may take months for me to sit through what I’ve accumulated over the last six months (and 47 years). I only did yoga a handful of times while I was with Bryan. I rarely meditated. I hardly had a moment to catch my own breath. And I whined about all of that way too much. I see truthfully now that when I met Bryan, I was in a healthier place mentally and physically than I am now. The deterioration came from my neglecting my own welfare. All my own doing, he is blameless. I lack the relationship tools to be able to explain to a significant other what my needs are and then to stand up for the protection of those needs to be sure they get met. The result is confusion, frustration, and more pain.
Now I am undoing what I did to myself, and it’ll take time alone to heal well. I hope that he is finding the healing that he most needs, as well. Perhaps its best that the Mountain Center plans did not work, and perhaps it is absolutely appropriate that I get my own tiny little studio and commit to spending a year just loving and taking good care of me while participating at the Denver Shambhala Center and doing as much yoga as I am able. By all means, I feel that what I put myself through with Bryan was self-destructive. Most of my life has been spent self-destructing.
I’m so grateful for new beginnings and the time to heal and work through these very human issues. Super grateful for the freedom and ability to follow the path I find most healing, as well. I’m okay with people not approving of what I write, or thinking I’m crazy. No one can truly understand what it is to be me, just as I can not understand what it is to be you. I can listen, I can share. And I can slow down enough to listen to what is happening within me, to make the time to align self to the principles I hold most dear.