Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

A blast of synchronicity, courtesy of Shambhala

Okay, I need to let everyone know that I’m awaking to full enlightenment by 10 p.m. Sunday. This means that after tonight you cannot reasonably question anything I have to say. Of course, it also means that even if you do question me, I’ll respond with such equanimity that you’ll gladly believe the sky is a lovely shade of puce, just to keep soaking up my vibe.

How do I know this? I attended the talk and blessing by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (above) at the Atlanta Shambhala Center Thursday night.  At the end of his talk, the Sakyong blessed each person present. Part of this was receiving a red thread with a “vajra knot” that we were instructed to wear for three days.

The event was seriously a wonderful experience. I’ve hung about the periphery of the Shambhala Center for over 20 years. It teaches meditation in two series of workshops, along with regular classes in Buddhism. It’s part of an international organization founded by the Sakyong’s father, Chogyam Trungpa.

I promoted the center’s work in my Creative Loafing column, Headcase, for years. While there are many reasons to meditate, the most important to my neurotic mind is learning to watch my thinking without getting attached to every despondent, judgmental, angry thought. Buddhists have been doing this for thousands of years and, as I’ve also frequently written, psychology is now borrowing the technology. About the only self-help book I ever recommend to clients is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “The Mindful Way through Depression.”

I’m not a good meditator. I’m the least patient person I know and sitting still to watch my brain’s frantic activity while I try to direct my attention to my breath often feels agonizing to me, no matter how useful. I had a pretty amazing experience in regard to this at the Shambhala Center Thursday night before the Sakyong began his talk.

‘I’m leaving!’

I arrived before 7:30 but, despite having made the requisite donation for a seat, the meditation hall was full. I was told I’d have to sit outside one of the doors. The more I considered this, the more annoyed I got and the more I thought, “Fuck it, I’m leaving.”  I was literally about to walk out when I looked up at a framed piece of calligraphy that turned out to be by Pema Chodron (above right), one of my favorite teachers in this tradition. The calligraphy was a single word: “Wait.”

It was one of those synchronicities that is so timely and potent that I laughed out loud, telling myself to calm down. Then, as it turned out, several center volunteers offered me seats in the hall and I declined them, genuinely feeling quite at peace sitting outside the main doors.

Because my knees are shot, I have to sit in a chair instead of on a cushion when meditating. Finally, though, I did accept an offer of a cushion that turned out to be almost directly in front of the Sakyong. It was the first time in three years that I’ve tried to sit on a cushion and I was surprised that my knees did not bother me.

Until…until I stood up to receive my blessing. I felt like I was 100 years old and could barely walk. I thought I was going to fall over. That would not be fun.

A light-hearted leader

The Sakyong himself, in his mid-‘40s, absolutely blew me away. He completely embodied the levity and seriousness that I’ve often encountered in mature spiritual teachers. He talked about the importance of the heart and reminded us that the Shambhala path isn’t about self-improvement but about waking up and bringing basic goodness to society at large.

I could not help comparing my experience of the Sakyong’s vibe with that of another spiritual teacher, Mother Meera, whom I’ve visited several times in Germany.  Mother Meera conducts darshan – the meeting with the “guru” — in complete silence. People who attend darshan kneel before her one by one. She looks into your eyes, while holding your head. The experience, in both its collective and personal respects, can be overwhelming.

Interestingly, in one of her books, Mother Meera describes what she’s doing with each person during darshan as untying knots in consciousness. (My partner Wayne described exactly this image after meeting her, even though he’d never read her description.) I couldn’t help but recall this after being given the knotted thread during the blessing ceremony with the Sakyong.

Generally, the Sakyong’s vibe was lighter than Mother Meera’s, but just as palpable. I’ve found this lightness to be true of most people with longterm association with Shambhala. It’s quite a contrast to the gloomy, controlling dogma of most of the world’s religions. In them, you are actually taught to combat your sinful original nature, whereas Shambhala wants us to give expression to the basic goodness that is at the core of all beings.

Another aspect of Shambhala I like is its emphasis on art, considered a meditative path itself. The center is a beautiful space and it was full of striking flower arrangements — ikebana — Thursday night. In this, Shambhala is also different from many Protestant religions which often maintain a puritanical (and guilty) attitude toward the expression of beauty. As James Hillman has taught me, beauty is the soul’s primary longing.

If you haven’t visited the center, I urge you to do so. It offers free instruction in meditation every Sunday and Tuesday, along with its workshop programs.

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