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Jul 15
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On Being Brave

photo by Cindy Caros

With over three hundred people in the large shrine tent at Shambhala Mountain Center at the beginning of July, there was a lot of heat. Heat of the mountain sun, heat of expectation and desire, heat of insight and the heat of longing. This heat was quenched by sudden rainstorms and resulting rainbows, by the presence of our teachers, and by the rain of blessings offered by them in the form of the teachings.

Sangha Retreat was a very short program – at just over four days – and so, by retreat standards it was a blink of an eye, but as Kalapa Acharya Adam Lobel pointed out, time is just a made-up construct, and the retreat therefore lasted for what felt like weeks. For more than half of it, we were graced by the magnificently gentle, glowing, kind and generous presence of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. This being Rinpoche’s first major public program after over a year of retreat, everyone was very eager to absorb his fresh wisdom.

One of the first things the Sakyong taught us, was how to bow. He explained that bowing is not just an oriental or occidental phenomenon – even in America we have a bow – it’s called a handshake. There are other kinds of bows too: there’s the head-bop, the ‘I-have-to-tie-my-shoe-lace-bow’, the long spiritual bow, and the eyebrow-bow. In Shambhala, we have the warrior’s Shambhala bow. Demonstrating this latter bow, he then had us repeat the three parts of the bow together, allowing us to feel this first, potent transmission in our own bodies.

The Sakyong then went on to talk about basic goodness. He asked us to feel our hearts – to actually place our right hand upon our heart and feel. Leaning into this feeling of heart was his way of bringing us to our own understanding of basic goodness. This was the beginning of the dialogue that ensued throughout the rest of the retreat on being brave. Rinpoche said to us that touching and feeling our basic goodness is bravery. He explained that the magic lies in us acknowledging and delighting in our humanness.

Bravery is a willingness to connect. When a situation is difficult and the odds seem insurmountable, the Shambhala warrior takes that as a sign to become stronger, not weaker. Bravery of body, speech and mind involves trusting who we are at an innate level. There’s a sense of cultivating our inherent intelligence and sensitivity, which increases our strength and brilliance. As we develop, we learn to till the ground of truthfulness and directness by realizing the power of our speech and discovering a willingness to be in the present moment. At a body level, we balance our energy and embody our life, thereby respecting the natural power that we have. Bravery is about cultivating our willingness to show up and be with things as they are, in a very natural and ordinary way. As you can see, it was a powerful talk, and the tent was full – full of opening hearts and minds, full of pain and love, full of curiosity and longing. In short, it was a tent full of warriors.

In the other sessions, Acharyas Adam Lobel and Arawana Hayashi guided us through both personal and inter-personal explorations of basic goodness – how we shut down to it and how we can open to it. Their gentle counsel brought the Sakyong’s thirty-thousand foot view (as one participant bravely called it) a little closer to ground, especially through the use of paired dialogues. These pairings provided an eye-witness experience of the incredible bravery of each other as we each face both pain and inspiration in our lives.

The next day (or was it a week later?), the Sakyong’s teachings were about celebration and embodiment. Rinpoche explained that there’s no point in just hearing the teachings or practicing meditation if we aren’t also embodying our experience. Being basic goodness is not about thinking basic goodness – we have to feel it and be it. With perhaps more than his usual eloquence, he expressed that it is up to us, now, to embody our understanding of things as they are – that this journey is not about him, it’s about us manifesting an understanding of awake mind – right now.

Not a small call to action.

to be continued……..

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