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Apr 23
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Community Articles, International Programs
LGBTQ Path: Confidence and Compassion

Joe Schoech interviews Acharya Eric Spiegel, who along with Acharya Eve Rosenthal will be leading Confidence & Compassion: An LGBTQ Weekend, May 7th-9th at Karme Choling.

Your upcoming program here at Karme Choling is called Confidence and Compassion, what’s the relationship between those two qualities?

Compassion implies a mind that is open and can “hold” others. This means one that has some stability, relaxation and openness. Our minds are usually very tight — busy, and unfocused. They have trouble focusing on anything, and that leaves us mentally overextended. Just getting through the day and navigating our life in general takes so much energy.

A mind that starts to relax is one that can also hold others. And coincidentally, when we talk about confidence, it has the same quality — it has a natural relaxation so that it’s not overly concerned about itself, or what others think, or how it looks today. It is a mind that has a quality of being without self-consciousness.

What are benefits of speaking directly to the LGBTQ community? Are there particular cultural hurdles or insights there in relating to confidence and compassion?

Well, for one thing it’s nice sometimes to feel less homogeneous — to look around and feel that there are others you can relax with openly. I’m sure people of color feel the same way. It’s great that Shambhala is so open and generally accepting of diversity and variety, but it’s also nice to be around your own kind sometimes.

I think there are many people who are a little afraid to make the first step, and having something like this could be a magnet that would make it just that much easier to check out meditation, or Shambhala, or Karme Choling. When I left my Wall Street career and realized that in my teaching I didn’t have to use gender neutral pronouns anymore — “my partner” could finally just be “he” — that was incredibly liberating. Of course in New York, it might hardly matter, but one still feels a certain need to manifest the myth of “normal”. Especially if you feel somewhat un-normal.

Historically, the queer community has often had a more spiritual or intuitive side – such as the Radical Faeries, Body Electric, and various other manifestations. The Shambhala teachings, including teachings on nature and drala, are from the same stream of connection to the larger energies that we speed past. Eve and I both intend to bring this aspect out in various ways — to combine teaching with experience. And Karme Choling is such a great place to be able to “get out of our own way” and to explore our senses in nature. I think this speaks to the last part of the question.

Buddhist teachings in the West are often presented in a purely psychological context. I’m interested in hearing more about this intuitive, natural approach, as it relates to both queer and Shambhala traditions. How are we as thoroughly modern technophile, money-making, intellectuals supposed to relate to that sort of thing?

The traditional definition of this time is that it is a dark age — Kali Yuga. This literally means that there is the quality of the sun setting. It means that the light of wisdom is dimmer and we have to work harder to see it. People become harder — and we can see this throughout the globe as commerce and high speed communication have replaced the traditional relationship people had with family, community, earth, water and sky. Technology is a great thing in many ways, but from the point of view of developing insight into one’s natural awareness and dignity, it is not really the best tool.
Meditation gives us a more stable mind, so we are not continually bombarded by our thoughts and emotions. A lot of the physical disciplines such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga have a similar process of coming into the body, rather than always being in our head.

As we start to relax, we can also open to our sense perceptions, our environment, and begin to have more subtle communication with the world around us — including the people. Being in a natural environment supports this – rather than in the city, or at home where we have the TV/Radio/Internet on constantly so that our eyes and ears are always engaged in a project.

I ran a fairly large Wall Street company for many years. Genuine communication, not based on ego’s point of view, is always noticed and appreciated. It’s not the least bit antithetical; it’s just that people have forgotten their roots as humans — that we have this inheritance, that we can actually relax without fear, that we could know where we’re going, and we can open to our world. These are traits that few species posses — they are uniquely human. So whenever people see someone who is not so preoccupied with their own needs and emotions, it also wakes something up in them.

Thank you very much, Acharya Spiegel.

You are more than welcome, see you soon.

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