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Aug 23
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Living a Beautiful Life in Retirement

Douglas Fir Mushrooms, botanical watercolor by Jane Ferguson

Douglas Fir Mushrooms, botanical watercolor by Jane Ferguson

COLUMN: Living Shambhala Culture

This is the third in a series of articles brought to you by the Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum. We hope that these offerings will bring fresh perspectives on living our principles, invoking drala and enriching culture in our homes, centers and communities. If you have any suggestions or contributions, please feel free to contact Wendy Friedman, Director of the Shambhala Office of Culture and Decorum:
[email protected]

by Jane Ferguson, Phoenix, Arizona

When I decided to retire, I figured my pastimes would keep me busy. What I didn’t realize until I took the jump into alarm-clock-free living was that retirement could be so fulfilling, actually joyful.

And I’m not talking about the “golden years” of golf and cocktail parties. Today, my life is filled with painting botanical watercolors, teaching aspects of dharma art, designing gardens, feeding people, and encouraging conversation both at the Phoenix Shambhala Center and around my dining room table. These are not new facets of my life, but they only have came fully into the foreground with the freedom of time and a fundamentally changed point of view.

Like many people, my career did not engage most of my aptitudes. As the years passed, work became more about making money than engendering greater happiness either for me, for my family and friends, or for the world. I had made one creative left turn two decades ago into a not-for-profit venture using experiential learning techniques to teach adults about issues like race, gender and peace. The adventure was wonderfully satisfying but it never got traction financially, and I returned disheartened to a dependable paycheck in my familiar work world.

In these intervening years my particular cramped attitude toward my working life continued unabated. It only started to shift when I found Shambhala—or probably more accurately when Shambhala found me three and a half years ago.

Feasting in Phoenix

Feasting in Phoenix

I had moved to the Southwest to take a job, one that I knew would be my last. Like spiritual seekers through time who have wandered in wilderness and desert to find their paths, I too began a journey in the Arizona desert and found far more than a livelihood.

I discovered simpatico friends at the Arizona Girl Scout Council where the key executive focused on building girls and women from the inside out. The “Coming into Your Own” program, developed with the Ashland Institute in Oregon, trained troop leaders and volunteers, as well as women in the community, to discover their wholeness and strength. The program used archetypes—the sovereign, the lover, the magician and the warrior—to explain internal leadership qualities. As I left that four-day program I voiced the intention to the group of women to become a “compassionate warrior.”

When I told my daughter, Katharine, about the experience, she knew exactly what her mother needed. She had taken Level I of The Sacred Path of the Warrior at the San Francisco Shambhala Center and immediately got online and signed me up for Level I at the Phoenix Center.

A year later, meditation had become an ingrained part of my life, and I had adopted the Shambhala path as my own. Since then, I sat a Dathun in July 2012 and completed Enlightened Society Assembly this past July.

My way of looking at things also has turned upside down.

The abilities I had underappreciated most of my adult life—a love of beautiful things, finding natural objects in the woods and painting them in great detail, creating a container for individuals to feel included and safe, arranging flowers, welcoming people into my home and having good food and conversation—are now the cornerstone of my life.
An advisor, who knew I was retired, asked several months ago, “What is your vocation?” My first thought and my answer has remained unchanged: the tender and contemplative arts I love are in fact are my new vocation.

These soft skills also have become a joy to share with my sangha.

When the Phoenix Center decided to have its first-ever weekthun last December, I was elated to take the assignment to plan, cook and serve homemade meals to the 20-plus people who participated. It is gratifying to feed Shambhalians because our warrior troops do indeed travel on their stomachs.

I was happy to join a large team that undertook the renovation of the Phoenix Center, a workable but small space that needed some tender care. After three months, there was new paint, new accent furniture and storage cupboards, a greatly enhanced teacher table, chair and platform in the shrine room, and a bright brocade covering for the shrine itself. It is a quite incredible makeover accomplished by many hands and hearts.

A Phoenix Shambhala Dharma Art Delek started to meet monthly this year to study Chögyam Trungpa’s Shambhala Art teachings and take part in hands-on workshops, such as the upcoming making of sugar skulls in October for Dios de los Muertos. The art delek also plans and executes four community events that fall quarterly at the time of the equinox or solstice.

Jane Ferguson

Jane Ferguson

In June, we celebrated the summer solstice with a Midsummer’s Night Salon where 25 sangha members discussed enlightened society, listened to live music and a reading of a published short story by delek members. Of course, we had a wonderful feast.

In September the delek will present “Harvest of Fun—Open Mic: Your Stories, Your Songs, Your Inspiration” to coincide with the fall equinox Harvest of Peace festivities. The entire sangha will celebrate.

I also introduced a five-week class on “Creating Your Personal Mandala.” Ten women are now completing the course that uses the mandala as a vehicle for self-exploration and a graphic motif to picture one’s life. The group has looked at the Five Buddha Families, the Four Dignities and Tibetan Buddhist symbols and styles to incorporate in creating the mandala. The finished pieces will be helpful for daily contemplation practice.

My life is very full. I not only keep busy, I “go” to work every day.

Jane Ferguson
, representative to the Office of Culture and Decorum, is a member of the Phoenix Shambhala Center governing council. She had a 35-year career as a consultant at regional and national communications agencies. She has now embraced household and community arts activities that previously seemed too soft when following a “serious” career. She and her dog, Neda, can be found walking and hiking in the cool part of the day in Phoenix (that’s 90 degrees in August).

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5 responses to “ Living a Beautiful Life in Retirement ”
  1. There are different reasons to be happy after retirement, especially if you carefully planned for it. Most young people nowadays almost spend their energy and money to none sense, and when they get to the retirement age, they regret many things that they did while they are at the peak of their life.

  2. An inspiring story!

  3. Linda V. Lewis
    Aug 27, 2013


  4. John Fischer
    Aug 27, 2013

    Sounds great, but how in the world does someone living in Phoenix find things in the woods?

  5. Linda Willow
    Aug 26, 2013

    I look forward to retirement for these reasons, and am always using that “looking forward” to assess where I am career-wise and how to make it currently reflect more like what you are experiencing in retirement.

    How wonderful it is to find sangha and similar places where our gifts go to good use and are appreciated! I now live in the Eugene, OR area, but am from Phoenix, and only a few years ago, literally stumbled on the Phoenix Center during a visit. It is lovely, and I came to the joyous realization that Shambhala is “home” for me, no matter what city’s center I am visiting. Thanks for making that place even more delightful and contributing gifts so sangha can have retreat!

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