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Being Gentle and Fearless

photo by Charles Blackhall

photo by Charles Blackhall

A Shambhala Women’s Retreat

by Allison Conant, Los Angeles

Gender is not something I’ve ever talked about much. I’ve never enjoyed “women’s” groups, so when I was asked to be a part of the second Los Angeles Shambhala Women’s Retreat I said yes – mostly because I relished the opportunity to work with two experienced teachers within the Shambhala mandala, Katie Bainbridge and Anne Saitzyk.

The idea of the Women’s Retreat was born in Nova Scotia in 2003 when Katie attended the Kalapa Assembly entitled “Victory Over War”. Katie made a promise to her teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, to bring about opportunities for women to seek each other out, gain support from each other, and come into their own strength and wisdom.

Katie reached out to Anne to bring Shambhala Dharma Arts into the program, and then to me to coordinate. I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew it was a pleasure to spent time around these two accomplished women – what followed next was nothing short of revelatory.

Being a woman is difficult. That’s not the revelatory part. It’s in every woman’s blog, on the television, radio – there are entire television shows dedicated to talking about it. The media makes us out to be either victims or super heroes. We learn about romantic love first by playing with Barbies, later watching The Bachelorette. We redefine the ideal physical appearance every time a new supermodel, or a new Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian grace the cover of US magazine. Hilary Clinton’s intelligence doesn’t define her so much as do her hair scrunchies, pants suits, and her husband. “Having it all” isn’t just an aspiration, it’s an expectation. Beyonce set the bar and it’s up to us to go above and beyond.

Few of us have “real” women as role models. Many of us are disconnected from our mothers and sisters and grandmothers. It’s not appropriate to discuss what is means to be “female” with our colleagues at work and because we’re all so busy multi-tasking, we don’t get much time to spend with our friends. We deny what our bodies tell us it means to be female, what it means to age naturally and beautifully.

Truth to tell, one of the reasons I decided to seek out meditation was because I knew I wasn’t going to deal with getting older gracefully. I could see myself chasing the phantom of my 20s with Botox, fillers, lifts, and all the horrors that come with our society’s’ refusal, and my own, to see the beauty, and inevitability, of aging.

It only took a couple trips to the Shambhala Center to appreciate how good Shambhala is for women. Shambhala women age well. Their smiles become more radiant. They are more energized, more powerful, more potent, more pithy. They know that their greatest strength is their vulnerability. They are truly gentle and fearless, and truly beautiful. While it may not be too appealing to talk about being a woman in 2014 or 2015, being a woman in Shambhala – that’s something worth talking about.

And so we did. At the second Shambhala Women’s Retreat in which a combination of meditation, dialogue, and Shambhala art created a vast space in which twenty-five virtual strangers were able to express some of the deepest desires, insecurities, and aspirations for themselves and others.

This bevy of multi-taskers set aside iphones, schedules, to-do lists and expectations to play with cardboard, paint brushes, and glue. We sat in dyads and spoke about what we longed for. We listened with hearts blissfully free of judgement. We meditated together. We read aloud our desires for the world. We forgave ourselves for the wrongs we’d perceived ourselves to have done. We ate and laughed and cried and created everyday magic. It was joyful and glorious and sometimes painful but always gentle and fearless.

Something extraordinary transpired in those two short days. We learned not just how to be gentle and fearless, but that we were gentle and fearless. We learned that we could depend on ourselves to seek out our own wisdom and that we could depend on each other for kindness and support. We learned that there is no enemy – there are just voices that we can choose to accept or ignore. We learned that accepting our strengths as women makes it possible for us to be more connected to each other as human beings.

At the beginning of the retreat Katie made a profound statement. She said it was “imperative” that women come to see themselves as the profoundly powerful and compassionate beings they are – not just for ourselves, but for the world.

We can’t lose ourselves in comfort and entertainment, and we can’t indulge in victimhood. It’s time. There is great need in this world for the compassion and the wisdom that emerges when women come together and there is great joy when we meet these challenges together. Let the Shambhala Women’s Retreat be one step closer toward bringing us together as women, as human beings, to engage in a world so very in need of gentleness and fearlessness.

Have a story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

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3 responses to “ Being Gentle and Fearless ”
  1. Marlene Ellis
    Feb 1, 2015

    The women’s retreat sounds wonderful. Please let me know when it is repeated. :)

  2. Helena Fagan
    Jan 24, 2015

    This is beautiful! And it resonates so much. Thank you for pointing out what I have known but not put into words: Shambhala women do age well! It is a great gift and delight to be a Shambhala woman.

  3. This retreat sounds great, but what do you mean “indulge in victimhood” ? In my experience, we women are valiant in the face of many sexist challenges.

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