A Place Where People Can Be Liked
In preparation for Harvest of Peace later this month, a Windhorse retreat leads to personal reflection on the meaning of Shambhala
by Caroline Moore
I have been attending Shambhala on and off for about six years, having completed Way of Shambhala and currently working through the Sacred Path series. At this time of year, when we are being asked to consider how each of us is able and willing to support the sangha, I thought I would offer my own thoughts about what Shambhala means to me.
This month, I took a one-day retreat at Windhorse with about 24 people from three Shambhala centers. Once we gathered, Shastri Marita McLaughlin led exercises to shift our attention from our travels and worries, to the groundedness at Windhorse. We had a lhasang on the front lawn and enjoyed the aroma of juniper harvested from the land around us. Quiet sitting followed, then Marita asked us to think about what sangha means to us. We reflected privately, shared with a partner, and then were invited to share with the whole group. I said that my first thought of what I look for in a sangha is that I want to feel that people like me.
Hurriedly, I added that when I look more deeply, I recognize that I also want to know that I am contributing to the life of the sangha, that I play a useful role. No big deal, I thought. Other attendees expressed different thoughts both before and after me, and we all listened well to each other. I kept my contribution brief and matter-of-fact, yet I wanted to mention how long and hard I have worked to become someone who does not alienate people from the moment she meets them, and to learn as an adult the basic social skills that most people acquire growing up.
The early rain had blown away and it was a beautiful sunny day, so we were able to enjoy lunch on the lawn, and a guided tour of the extensive fields, woods and ecological projects around the retreat center, as well as more quiet sitting and another talk. I caught up with people from other sanghas whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, chatted with friends from Chicago, and met several new people. Altogether it was a lovely time, but what delighted me more than anything is that two people, separately, came up to me, and each in a very natural way told me specific qualities of my energy or way of being that they particularly liked. It seemed quite out of the blue, and I felt happy and proud. When I called my adult daughter the next day, I told her, “Two people I hardly know told me separately that they like my personality!” We laughed a little together, quietly remembering the many times, as a pre-teen and teen, that my daughter tried to coach me in social skills. She would say, “Mom, when people say x, they really mean y, and you shouldn’t say z.” One day she praised me encouragingly for being pleasant to the parent of one of her classmates. “You’re making progress!” she said.
Later, thinking about it some more and reminding myself to stay grounded, I started to question the coincidence of receiving two such compliments in one day. “Did someone put them up to it?” I wondered. Finally, I remembered the beginning exercise and I realized that I put them up to it myself! But far from being disappointed, I was all the more moved. Two people from that small group had heard the feeling that I tried not to show. They had made an intention to respond to that feeling, and they had remembered that intention much later in the day. Moreover, both of them spoke to me so warmly and easily, that I experienced no sense that they were doing a good deed or trying to buck me up. I felt just what I was asking to feel: that I am liked.
What Shambhala means to me: it’s not just a place where people are nice to me – although I certainly appreciate that. It is, much more importantly, a place where I receive clear, precise instruction in how to be the person who hears the feelings behind words, forms an intention to respond to those feelings, and later follows through on the intention in the most natural way possible. That is the aspiration that keeps me coming back, and that motivates me to do all I can to help our sangha thrive.