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Mar 16
Community Articles, Southern States
My Turn in the Barrel: the Weekthun Experience near Houston, Texas

Written for the Dot by Bob Williams

In Texas we say, “It’s your turn in the barrel!” when you’re center stage and under fire. Why? Because when you’re in the barrel, it’s easy for others to take aim and shoot. There’s nowhere to escape. You’re as visible as a fish in a clear tank. Maybe this is why, during the Vietnam War, bombing missions over Hanoi were known as the Barrel Roll.

At the Texas/Louisiana weekthun, this November, we built a different kind of barrel. In Shambhala lingo, it’s called a container. With the guidance of Acharya Moh Hardin, we set the container for our week-long meditation intensive at the Margaret Austin Center outside Houston. But I couldn’t help thinking of it as a barrel.

Here’s my view of the barrel we built. Barrels have three hoops. Vicki Valerga was our bottom hoop. As coordinator, she provided a foundational structure out of nothing. Kevin Finegan was the next hoop up, providing structure through conscripting all of us to rota duties. Sangyam Cynde Grieve and Acharya Moh Hardin formed the top hoop, insuring the integrity of our barrel.

Then there are the welds, which hold the hoops together and give the barrel strength. These were forged in the kitchen kilns by Sue, Ann, and John. A cooperage is where barrel making takes place. Richard, the center caretaker, provided the cooperage for us to get to work on the cushion.

But it was a funny kind of barrel we built. It had no bottom so we could touch the earth as we sat in meditation. And it had no top so we could feel and breathe the sky.

And what did our barrel contain? Nothing and everything! Our barrel stood on a little piece of Texas. Across this patch of earth, lots of creatures made their way into our barrel: deer, rabbits, an armadillo, dogs, cats, cows, and a coyote. In the sky above the barrel, we saw vultures, hawks, jays, woodpeckers, dragon flies, birds bees, and butterflies. And Paul’s clarion calls on the conch energized one and all.

But our barrel also seemed to contain much more. Embodying the feminine principle, our valley was an open space, receiving and accepting everything that came to it. Yet energies entered the space and stirred it up, embodying the masculine principle. The sun, wind, and rain brought richness to the earth and fruition to our practice.

What’s more, as the week wore on, it seems like two great rivers entered the valley. From the northwest, the great river of the Kagyu lineage entered. From the southwest, the great river of the Nyingma entered. On the mountain between them bubbled a spring whose waters had moved underground for hundreds of years. Bursting forth from the earth, its waters joined the two great rivers to form the river of Shambhala that now flows through the valley.

By the end of our modest weekthun, it seemed to me that some of the participants had become dragons, moving inscrutably in the ethereal energies of the heavens far above the valley. Some had become garudas, swooping and diving outrageously in the air above the valley. Some had become snow lions–imagine in Texas!–leaping perkily from crag to crag at the places where the valley touches the sky. And I had become a tiger cub, roaming the river lowlands. Meekly sitting through the long hours of each day, as a tiger, I felt like a guardian of the valley, protecting the space in which we practiced.

In entering the barrel as a tiger, it turned out that I didn’t get shot after all. I was welcomed, cared for and served. For the first time in my life, I was able to accept care and service. In turn, I felt honored to serve others. This give and take was a wonderful gift: the jewel of the sangha.

Thanks to all who came and shared such precious gifts! It was a pleasure to be together in the barrel.

NOTE: One of the weekthun participants, Kevin Finegan, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in San Antonio at the end of January. Her family and sangha miss her dearly. A poem dedicated to her memory was composed at the regional directors meeting in early February. Read this poem at: http://shambhalatimes.org/2009/02/07/for-kevin-finegan/

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