Category Archives: Shambhala

Taking Refuge

my meditation shrine

my meditation shrine

The first time I attempted meditation was almost 20 years ago. I was reading Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart and books on writing by Zen Buddhist Natalie Goldberg. I was fascinated by the philosophy, the perspective, the practice, and willing to try anything that might help me cope with the difficulty of my life, my emotions and my mind. Even though I found it beneficial, sat regularly for a short time with a Zen meditation group and on my own, the practice didn’t stick. I didn’t even finish reading Kornfield’s book.

I continued to struggle for eleven more years before finding my way back to a cushion. A friend recommended Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart and mentioned that the local Shambhala Meditation Center had a program coming up I might be interested in, “The Art of Being Human.” I read the book and went to the training, and started to practice in earnest. For two years, one weekend a month I was either attending a retreat or staffing one. I read and studied and practiced. This was the same time I started to practice yoga regularly. Things were falling into place.

And then everything fell apart. I had already been dealing with a difficult work situation, was stressed and in crisis, when my Obi was diagnosed with a treatable but ultimately incurable cancer. At the same time, my friend Kelly was diagnosed with cancer. That summer I went to Shambhala Mountain Center to participate in a longer retreat, Warrior Assembly, the culmination of the two years of training I’d been doing. Not long after I returned home, Obi died. Six months later, Kelly died. Even though I didn’t leave CSU entirely, I effectively quit the job that was so problematic.

Meditation Hall at Warrior Assembly, Shambhala Mountain Center, Summer of 2009

Meditation Hall at Warrior Assembly, Shambhala Mountain Center, Summer of 2009

I was completely heartbroken, utterly lost, so confused. After two years of regular practice, I couldn’t do it anymore. Every time I sat on my cushion to meditate, I fell part, felt so raw, came unhinged and couldn’t stop crying. I was angry — if this practice couldn’t help me feel better when the worst happened, what good was it? I smile to remember it now, that way of thinking about what practice was supposed to do for me. What I understand now that I didn’t then is that my raw and tender broken heart, being able to feel that, experience it, sit and stay with it is exactly the point, not making it “go away” or fixing it like I thought.

Practice starts precisely where we find ourselves, which for many of us is a place of heartbreak, suffering, alienation and doubt. But it is precisely there, within those circumstances, that we start. ~Ryushin Sensei

For at least a year, I tried to find my way back to my cushion. I would practice in fits and starts, but it never seemed to stick. I continued to practice yoga and slowly started to write more regularly. I started taking ecourses and began this blog. I started building a routine, finding a rhythm. And then I found Susan Piver and her Open Heart Project, (OHP). I signed up for her newsletter and started meditating with her. Her wisdom, kindness, and friendship, along with the OHP community, helped me find my way back.

meditating with Susan

The great gift of a spiritual path is coming to trust that you can find a way to true refuge. You realize that you can start right where you are, in the midst of your life, and find peace in any circumstance. Even at those moments when the ground shakes terribly beneath you — when there’s a loss that will alter your life forever — you can still trust that you will find your way home. This is possible because you’ve touched the timeless love and awareness that are intrinsic to who you are. ~Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

For the past few years, I’ve been thinking about taking refuge vows. I’ve been telling people for so long “I study and practice Buddhism, but I’m not actually a Buddhist, haven’t taken vows or anything,” that I wondered if I ever would. But I’ve been feeling a longing, a growing awareness — this is my path, I’m committed to it. Like I told a teacher once, “if this doesn’t work, nothing does.” For whatever reason, this is just what makes sense to me. It helps me to live my life, to be in the world, to cultivate kindness and wisdom, sanity. And yet, I have been waiting, for either an opportunity that was close to home or one Susan Piver could attend, because it felt important to me to have her there somehow, since she’s the primary reason I’d be there.

Then I got certified to teach yoga. We studied yogic philosophy as part of our training, meditated, did mantra and kirtan practice, learned various breath practices and the sanskrit names for the yoga poses, read the yoga sutras — and I loved it all, saw so many similarities between it and my tradition, but also became very aware that it wasn’t my path. Yoga is one of my practices, and part of my path as such, but I’m not so much a yogini as I am a Buddhist who does yoga.

Becoming a yoga teacher made it clear it was time to make a true commitment to my path. I searched to see where I might go to take my vows, and saw that the Boulder Shambhala Center was offering the ceremony two days before my birthday. Susan couldn’t be there, but she did write my letter of recommendation. The teacher who would be performing the ceremony had taught at my Warrior Assembly, and when I arrived the night we went to make our official request to make the vow, a friend was leading our meditation session. It was time.

boulderrigden

Boulder Shambhala Meditation Center Main Shrine Room

I asked Susan her advice about taking vows in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, and she said, “Relax. Watch your mind. Enjoy. Relax. Repeat … And remember, you have nothing to prove. This ceremony is to mark something that has already happened.” I tried to remember this as I waited for my interview with Acharya Ferguson (“Acharya” in this tradition basically means “senior teacher”), and even though he’s the kindest person and I’d met him before, I was still nervous. The purpose of the interview is to make a formal request to take the vow and for the teacher to come up with the dharma name you’d be given the day of the ceremony. We were told that he might ask us questions, but might not. The person who went in just before me was talking and laughing with him, and I wasn’t sure what to wish for — if he didn’t ask me any questions, was that good or bad? Part of me wanted him to see me and for my presence to be so vibrant, my true self so clearly embodied and present that he would know just by seeing me. I think I was also afraid if I opened my mouth, I might say something weird because I was anxious and end up with an odd name that didn’t fit, didn’t make sense to me.

In Tibet, children are given a nickname when they are born. This is what everyone calls them until they are old enough to take their refuge vows and receive their adult, Buddhist name. In that culture, everyone given a name uses it. In the West, many dharma students don’t actually change their name, but rather use it as a contemplation. We were told that the name isn’t meant as a compliment or a challenge, but rather something to consider as we practice, intended to offer insight, and that it was entirely up to us whether we wanted to officially change our name, use it in that way. I felt sure my name would be a message, that it would provide me a new understanding of my path. And during my meeting with Acharya Ferguson that night, he did ask me a few questions, and I could see the exact moment he knew the name he’d offer me.

heartgiftOn the day of the ceremony, I focused on Susan’s advice. I relaxed and enjoyed myself. Acharya Ferguson gave a talk in the morning about what it meant to take refuge, and then we did sitting and walking meditation until lunch, contemplating what we were about to do. After a break to eat, we came back and had a rehearsal and then the ceremony itself.

In the Buddhist tradition, the purpose of taking refuge is to awaken from confusion and associate oneself with wakefulness. Taking refuge is a matter of commitment and acceptance and, at the same time, of openness and freedom. By taking the refuge vow we commit ourselves to freedom. ~Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche

The ceremony itself was a funny combination of something like a baptism and a wedding, along with something else entirely. After you take the vow, reciting it three times after performing prostrations, the teacher (referred to in this case as a preceptor) snaps his fingers, and it’s at that moment the vow is made. My favorite moment was that finger snap. It was so simple and yet so definite. My next favorite moment was receiving my dharma name.

As I stood in line, listening to all the other names, I wondered if mine would be so good. Every person’s name seemed so rich, so full of beauty and possibility and wisdom. Every name that was read, I thought “oh, I wish that was mine!” I worried I’d get something that would be awkward or confusing. I’d talked to other people about their names, and listening to them describe their lingering confusion, I anticipated my own.

dharmanameI didn’t need to worry. There’s a rightness to the name I was given. I will continue to contemplate it, but my first thought was an appreciation of the way it married the concept of vastness, openness, emptiness with embodiment, movement, physical expression. I used to long to be a visionary, an oracle, a seer, a prophet of some sort, but I’m understanding more and more than my purpose is to be a container, an embodiment of wisdom and compassion.

You go through this ceremony which is like part baptism and part wedding and you expect to be born again somehow, cleansed or something, a new beginning, but really I’m just back in the heat of my own stew, laughing at how silly I was to think anything was going to be magically changed by it. I have to do the work, show up and practice, it’s up to me and that’s never going to change. This is my path, for sure and for real.

The biggest illusion about a path of refuge is that we are on our way somewhere else, on our way to becoming a different kind of person. But ultimately, our refuge is not outside ourselves, not somewhere in the future – it is always and already here. ~Tara Brach, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart

Step by Little Step

Dex's snow feet

Service is your heart’s desire made visible. Service is the act of sharing what you most care about for the greater good. It requires no special goodness, thankfully. After our basic needs are met, we all yearn to make a difference and service springs from listening to that yearning – and taking action on it, step by little step. ~Jennifer Louden, The Week of Inward Looking

My most intense longing, my deepest hunger, my heart’s desire is to ease suffering, in myself and in the world. As I have been retreating and reverbing and unravelling and reflecting and contemplating and practicing this past month (year?), it has become clear to me that the “basic need” I still must meet is the essential requirement of self-love and self-care. I need to learn and practice radical self-acceptance.

I was naive at the start of this “life-rehab.” From the moment I first realized I had been in a long term abusive relationship with myself, I believed it would be an easy fix, that with awareness and mindfulness would come immediate and lasting change. I thought I could read a book, take a class, attend a workshop, complete a practice or project, and “presto chango” I would be transformed into a woman completely in love with herself, confident and strong.

I was so wrong. You can’t take years of self-abuse, self-hatred, self-loathing, and all of the self-soothing and coping strategies you’ve developed to counter those behaviors, to numb and distract yourself from all the hurt, and fix it so easily, so quickly. It is hard work to repair the damage done, to restore your self to yourself. Almost every single old habit, way of being has to be undone and replaced. This is slow, heavy work, and while so much has changed for the better already, there is more to be done.

loveapocalypse02

Kris Carr’s post The Myth of Finding Your Purpose is one thing that has helped me to see this more clearly. In it, she says “Your purpose has nothing to do with what you do…Your purpose is about discovering and nurturing who you truly are, to know and love yourself at the deepest level and to guide yourself back home when you lose your way.” She goes on to suggest a whole list of “what ifs” that precisely define what steps one might take to embody your purpose. She ends with saying:

Seriously, what if finding your purpose is about finding and nurturing yourself? Not an external to-do or accomplishment, even if that to-do or accomplishment is the most important discovery of all time. Because if you are the one destined to find the most important ah-ha of all time, you will probably find it quicker and easier if you feel good, loved and happy. Start there. It’s that simple.

This is directly in line with the wisdom of two of my primary practice traditions: yoga and meditation. Both used the term “warrior” to describe the practitioner, and in the lineage of Buddhist philosophy in which I practice, I train to be a Warrior, which is described as:

The Shambhala view of warriorship shares some of the qualities of earlier warrior traditions such as those from the Middle Ages that combined fearlessness with dignity and wisdom. The most important quality of the Shambhala warrior is being non-aggressive. The Shambhala warrior is defined by gentleness and fearlessness. As Chogyam Trungpa said it, “the first principle of warriorship is not being afraid of who you are.” ~William A. Gordon, Shambhala The Path of the Warrior

superhero earth necklace made by andrea scher, a gift to myself

Don’t be afraid of who you are. To be a spiritual warrior, face each moment with openness and fearlessness, because “the ultimate definition of bravery is not being afraid of who you are.” Susan Piver, who also practices in this lineage, defines confidence this way, “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.”

If service is the fruition, radical self-acceptance is the path. Tara Brach talks about this in Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, where she defines this practice, this awareness of radical self-acceptance as “the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.” She goes on to say that:

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small.

Stop Beating Yourself Up…Start Loving Yourself Radically!!, a video and blog post by Kute Blackson, explain the concept further, with great enthusiasm and clarity.

As one who practices radical self-acceptance, who is confident, a tenderhearted and brave warrior unafraid of herself or her life, showing up with an open heart, no matter how hard or how much it hurts, I can serve. I can embody generosity and love and confidence. I can manifest wisdom and compassion. I can satisfy my longing to ease suffering, in myself and in the world.

I’m still not sure exactly what shape that will take or what it will look like, how exactly it will manifest. Some of the possibilities are as a writer, a teacher, a therapist or coach, a yoga and/or meditation instructor, an artist, a mentor. Some topics I know something about are grief and loss, cancer, addiction, practice, writing, voice (both losing and finding it), mindfulness, and relationship with the self. I’m not exactly sure how those will come together into specific offerings, but I’m okay with not knowing. For now, I will continue to remember, as Jennifer Louden suggests, that “service springs from listening to that yearning – and taking action on it, step by little step.”

The view of the sky from my front porch, right now

I started writing this post in the dark of early morning, as I worked stringing the words and thoughts together the sun rose, and I am finishing with the sun up and out, the sky wide open and clear blue–something about that seems really, really right.

Wishcasting Wednesday

from jamie’s post

What heights do you wish to reach?

In the Shambhala Buddhism tradition, “there is a developmental process for deepening and furthering authentic presence…called the warrior’s path of the four dignities,” (Shambhala Training Glossary). One of the four dignities is the Dragon. Sakyong Mipham Rinphoche describes the Dragon this way:

The dragon’s confidence is prajna, deep wisdom based on knowing how things are. The dragon knows we’re always trying to project a concrete world onto a fluid process, mistaking our ever-changing experience for a self. Like the elements, this kind of wisdom doesn’t need to be propped up. It is a direct experience of reality, empty and ungraspable.

As the wisdom of the dragon destroys our illusions, we begin to understand basic goodness, the unconditional purity and confidence of all. With this view, life itself becomes our source of energy, and the enlightened world begins to appear. The wish-fulfilling jewel of wisdom and compassion are liberated, and we can play in the blessing and magic of our everyday existence.

I wish to reach the heights of the Dragon, to soar in the sky, gentle and wise, above all my illusions and confusion and suffering, to “play in the blessing and magic of our everyday existence.” More specifically, if I had to guess, that might look like this:

  • Doing work I love, work I’d do anyway, for pay. To spend my days writing, making art, practicing yoga and meditation, engaging with amazing women, studying and serving. I would make a loving living, with the same quality of benefits and pay I have now. I’m not going to rush or push this, don’t need to force what I love to pay my bills, but I think that eventually it’s possible, and that I would be of more value to others, be more personally satisfied if this were how things were.
  • Yoga and Meditation Instructor Certification. These practices have meant so much to me, been so helpful, that I want to be able to share them, teach them, and want the proper training and wisdom to do so ethically and safely.
  • To reach my optimal physical strength and health, quickly and without obstacle. Resting when I need rest, practicing loving self-care, enjoying moving through the world in this body with minimal pain, breathing, walking, hiking, headstands in yoga, running, playing, eating, being nourished.
  • To be in a position to give, to help, to decrease suffering in the world.
  • Published and paid writing. Again, I don’t necessarily want to strip the joy from my writing by making it too work-like, but I also think there’s value in being recognized, validated for that work in these tangible ways. I don’t have a specific idea of what this might look like, but it would make me happy for my books to be a physical manifestation in the world, to be held in people’s hands.
  • Confidence. To manifest the funny, silly, brave, confident, open-hearted, generous, wise, gentle, kind, and creative women that lives deep in my heart. I want everyone else to know her like I do. They don’t all have to love her, I know she’s not for everyone, but I want her to be seen, to be known, to be realized and embodied, instead of a secret I kept, instead of a quiet whisper in the dark. To be confident in the way Susan Piver describes it, “the willingness to be as ridiculous, luminous, intelligent, and kind as you really are, without embarrassment.”

B is for Basic Goodness

bee

B is for Basic Goodness

Even though BOOK was a really close second, so close considering I am a bibliophile, I decided to use basic goodness for today’s post in the Blogging A to Z challenge.

This blog started because I was determined to rediscover my own basic goodness, and in sharing that process, I hoped to remind you of your own as well. I write about basic goodness just about every time I post. It’s the main theme, the center and guiding principle. It’s essential. My purpose for my own life is to remember that I am basically good, to rest in this truth, and to act with this at the heart of everything. It is what is precious about each and every one of us. It is what makes us shine and sparkle, what fuels love and right action and great work. It is medicine and magic and maitri, (“loving-kindness”). It is the only thing that is unchangeable, unconditional.

Here are some of the things I know about basic goodness:

It’s such good news, no one believes it. ~Chögyam Trungpa.

Basic: primordial, innate, fundamental, unalterable, unchangeable, continually present, foundational, simple.

Goodness: whole and complete, worthiness, without fault or mistakes, alive, awake, without parallel or opposition, complete perfection.

Basic goodness, most simply, is unconditional purity and confidence. 

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, in his book Turning Your Mind Into An Ally, says

When I’m teaching, people often ask me questions in hopes of hearing some esoteric truth. They seem to want me to tell them a secret. But the most fundamental secret I know is rooted in something that we already possess–basic goodness. In spite of the extreme hardship and cruelty we see happening throughout the world, the basis of everything is completely pure and good. Our heart and mind are inherently awake. This basic goodness is a quality of complete wholesomeness. It includes everything. But before we can begin the adventure of transforming ourselves into awakened people–much less the adventure of living our lives with true joy and happiness–we need to discover this secret for ourselves. Then we have the real possibility of cultivating courage, from which we can radiate love and compassion to others.

Basic goodness is inherent wisdom and compassion, the fundamental nature of all sentient beings. I might also call this love, because when we talk about love and when I contemplate love, the truth there is essentially the same. Every being is precious, has basic goodness, and their true nature is to be compassionate and wise.

Basic goodness is the original ground of humanity and is primordially complete. It is not something we own, or can generate or earn–it simply is.

The discovery of basic goodness is not a religious experience, particularly. Rather it is the realization that we can directly experience and work with reality, the real world that we are in. Experiencing the basic goodness of our lives makes us feel that we are intelligent and decent people and that the world is not a threat. When we feel that our lives are genuine and good, we do not have to deceive ourselves or other people. We can see our shortcomings without feeling guilty or inadequate, and at the same time, we can see our potential for extending goodness to others. We can tell the truth straightforwardly and be absolutely open, but steadfast at the same time. ~Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.

I am already whole, all of us are–this is basic goodness. I am not a problem to be fixed, or a project to take on, and neither are you nor anyone else. You are not–no matter what advertising, religion, culture, or that little meanie with sharp teeth that lives in the dark might say–you are not basically bad, you are not unworthy or unlovable. You have a basic goodness, a deep wisdom and compassion, available to you every moment.  It’s right there inside, waiting all the time.  No matter what mistakes you have made or bad luck you have, it remains, it cannot be used up or “smashed to bits,” no matter how hard you might try and no matter what happens to you. You have everything you need already to save yourself.

As human beings, we are so wise. Our minds are vast and profound…this innate wisdom is known as “basic goodness.” It is the natural, clear, uncluttered state of our being. We are all appointed with heaven–great openness and brilliance. Bringing this heaven down to earth, into our daily life, is how we rule our world. ~Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Ruling Your World: Ancient Strategies For Modern Life.

The purpose of our practice is just to be yourself. ~Shunryu Suzuki

Basic goodness is whole and complete, as it is. It is unconditional and “does not depend on our accomplishments or fullfilling our desires,” (Chögyam Trungpa). We can love and accept ourselves, our reality, exactly as we are and exactly as it is. No need for self-improvement or change, no need to earn this. We can simply drop the trying, the smashing ourselves to bits, and accept ourselves. And the good news is:

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves–the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds–never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake. ~Pema Chödrön

Basic goodness is like buddha-nature, the seed of mindfulness and enlightenment in every person, representing the potential of every being to become fully awake. Relax completely into who you are, aware in each moment of your basic goodness, your natural wisdom and kindness, and in this way, you will be of benefit both to yourself and the world.

Basic goodness is freedom. “If you are ever going to be free, you must be willing to prove to yourself that your inherent nature is goodness, that when you stop doing everything else, goodness is what is there,” (Cheri Huber). You are who you are, you are basically good and you can’t change that, no matter how you try. Certainly, you can change habits or opinions or affiliations or memberships or addresses or hairstyles, but that fundamentally true part of you, that collection of love and wisdom and dirt and breath and blood is basically good, and in a way that is you as only you can do it. It is the best, most brilliant you can give, and the most brave you can be. “As human beings, we are basically awake and can understand reality. We are not enslaved by our lives; we are free,” (Chögyam Trungpa).

In Buddhist teachings, as well as in the teachings of many other contemplative or mystical traditions, the basic view is that people are fundamentally good and healthy. It’s as if everyone who has ever been born has the same birthright, which is enormous potential of warm heart and clear mind. The ground of renunciation is realizing that we already have exactly what we need, that what we have already is good. Every moment of time has enormous energy in it, and we could connect with that. ~Pema Chödrön

During meditation instruction, Susan Piver of the Open Heart Project often shares this mantra, a contemplation she begins her sessions with: “I am basically good. I am aware that all other beings share this same basic goodness. Recognizing this, my heart opens. With an open heart, I can change the world.”

So, watch this video to get yourself energized, and get out there and change the world, dear reader.

Wishcasting Wednesday

image from Jamie's post

What do you wish to experience?

Contentment. Satisfaction and peace, surrender and acceptance, ease and relaxation, fearlessness and joy, simplicity and engagement.

Love. On every channel, all the time, 24/7. Know it, feel it, be it. Love, love, love. And then, more love. Keep it coming, keep it going.

Health. Full body and full life wholehearted and embodied wellness. I want to light up, shine with it, glow, radiate.

Confidence. Certainty, courage, daring, determination, faith, tenacity.

Self-love. This is most likely a combination or culmination of the rest, what is at the center, the heart of everything else, its foundation, but it seems to be worth an independent mention. I want to move through the hours and days of my life with supreme confidence in my innate wisdom, compassion, strength, and fundamental goodness.


That part of the list is states of being, but there are also “things” I wish to experience.

Playing the ukulele well enough that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. The secret wish underneath is to someday be able to do a duet with Danielle Ate the Sandwich. Just once, please. But I have a lot of work to do first, like learning to play.

Publication. I’m okay without it. I have a full writing life, even if it never happens. Writing is like prayer for me, a spiritual practice, and I am utterly devoted to it. But…I’d also like to be published, as in paid for my work, as in people curled up in hammocks or in front of a fire on the couch cuddling with their dog reading my books.

Paid work that isn’t work, but rather pure love, aligned with my calling, maybe even God’s work. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating that I don’t need what I love to pay my rent, or turn into a business, and yet…it might not be the worst thing if what I love, the work I would do regardless, the thing that wakes me up in the middle of the night thinking and planning, the stuff that makes me wake up and rise at 4:30 am every morning, and the money, the means to take care of what needs taken care of, would be in the same location at the same time, would feed each other, work together, and then I could just do what I love, all the time, instead of trying to juggle full-time paid work with everything else I want to do. It is sometimes like trying to live two lives, and that can be exhausting, and lonely.

Hike the Appalachian Trail with Eric.

My very own writing cabin.

A whole summer in Amsterdam.

Dathun, a month long meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center.

An in-person workshop with Brene’ Brown.

P.S. The magic power of wishing, part two: Holy wow! Brene’ is going to be in Boulder for a two day workshop in May, and I am going.

A yoga retreat with my friend and yoga teacher Jessica.

A writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg.

Church with Anne Lamott.

A meet-up with Susannah Conway. Really, what I would love is a long weekend on the beach with her, writing and blogging and taking pictures and talking and taking long naps and eating and laughing.

P.S. The magic power of wishing: I just found out this morning, less than 24 hours after making this post, that Susannah is going to be at the World Domination Summit, and has proposed a writing workshop. Even if the workshop doesn’t go (it so will), there is a very real chance that I am going to be able to at least tell her in person how much I adore her. I can hardly believe it, but it’s true!

Walk and talk with Mary Oliver. This is most likely the craziest wish on this list, but I would just love to be near her and able to tell her just once in-person how much I love her, how much her words have meant to me.

Swim without fear.

Hike with Judy Clement Wall.
A walk on the beach with Julia.
Take pictures or paint with Andrea Scher.
Sit with Jen Lemen at her kitchen table.
Sit in stillness with Erica Staab.
Meditate with Susan Piver, (oh wait, I actually get to do this in a few weeks!).
Discuss writing with Margaret Atwood, and not embarrass myself.
Trust over a cup of tea with Kristin Noelle.
Make art with Patti Digh.
Take a yoga class with Jennifer Louden.
Ask Pema Chödrön one million questions.
Take a Nia class with Jamie Ridler.
Go on tour with Aimee Mann.
Teach an art and writing class for girls with Kandyce.
Draw with Hugh MacLeod.
Listen to Neil Gaiman read.

I could keep going with this list forever and ever…so many good people doing so much good stuff and I want to just hang out with them and soak up all that goodness and tell them to their sweet faces how much I adore them.

Something Good

1. Another day, another opportunity for a fresh start, to begin again.

2. “Where I’ve Been” blog posts. I can’t wait to try this.

3. The Pressure, a poem by Tara Sophia Mohr: Oh how I know this pressure, and want to discover what it might be like without it.

4. Gratitude Practice. Spending some time, every day, thinking about what you are grateful for, writing about it, or even saying “thank you” directly or publicly, is a path to contentment and joy. Here’s a freebie intended to help, “3 good things that happened today,” shared by way of a Scoutie Girl post, “art to inspire: the power of positivity.”

5. Slow down your writing from Kaspa at Writing Our Way Home. This is some really great advice, not just for writing Small Stones, but for writing practice in general.

6. Hannah Marcotti shared a list of some really good stuff to read, Beautiful faces. Magical Places. My favorite quote is from the post on Find Your Balance (because if you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know I struggle with finding balance):

When I say balance, I’m not saying, “Be like me.”
I’m saying, “Be more like you.”

7. I knew there was a reason I have been in love with Ray Bradbury’s work most of my life. His love of reading and writing is my own. He says:

Books are smart and brilliant and wise. Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.

8. How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love by Maria Popova. This is a really great list! And the blog where I found this post and the Ray Bradbury video, Brain Pickings, is really great too.

9. how to be original by Justine Musk. She is on fire lately. This post is all about the four qualities of a compelling creative voice.

10. 40 Days of Silence, a free ecourse from Erica Staab. I signed up for this and have been getting the daily emails. They are short but powerful, such good reminders! My favorite from this last week was a quote from an interview with John O’Donohue, (a really wonderful Irish poet, he wrote some of my favorite poems), which said “To return back into ourselves, there are three things needed”: stillness, silence, and solitude, and he explained why each was so essential.

11. A Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted, a post by Erica Staab and a poem by John O’Donohue. I couldn’t stop crying when I read this, both Erica’s words and the poem. Erica said:

Tears sprang to my eyes as I thought how often we think we have the “wrong” answer. How often we are stuck in the thought that we should be anywhere else but where we are. How often we think that we are handling our grief, our children, our jobs, our friendships in the “wrong” way. And sometimes yes, things need to change, but more often than not it is only because we haven’t given ourselves the compassion and more objective look that we give to others.

12. Brene’ Brown’s latest TED talk, “Listening to Shame.

13. If you never saw Brene’ Brown’s first TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” I highly recommend it. Judy Clement Wall wrote a post today on a Human Thing, “What I know,” about that first talk’s impact on her. While her details are different, I had the same experience of that first video. It changed my life, helped save my life, in about a million different ways. Judy said:

It changed everything for me. Not that day, or that week, or that month, but over the course of the almost-year since I watched it. It was the beginning of deep down, gut-wrenching honesty, first with myself and then with my husband. It was the beginning of true fearlessness, of love like a religion, of faith.

Amen.

14. The wreck and the raw of post retreat. Dear reader, I am in the thick of this. I went to the Boulder Shambhala Center this weekend (along with about 340 others, and 1500 who joined us in a live, online broadcast) and received a new practice from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche that broke my heart wide open, which always leaves me completely exhausted, but in this really beautiful way, feeling everything that it means to be alive–the good, the bad, and the ugly. So today, I am attempting to take John O’Donohue’s advice from A Blessing For One Who Is Exhausted and be excessively gentle with myself.

We think we are rocks, but we are gold.

image by Richard Reoch, click on the image to see a beautiful little video of the making of the dragon

I mentioned in a post yesterday that it was Tibetan New Year, Year of the Water Dragon. At the Fort Collins Shambhala Meditation Center, this is celebrated as “Shambhala Day.” Last night, a large group met at the Center, and while we couldn’t do the full, traditional Lhasang (smoke) ceremony because of high winds, and there were some technical difficulties with parts of the Sakyong’s video address, dinner from Mount Everest Cafe was its usual delicious and the company was good.

A few things from the Sakyong’s talk really stood out to me, are still resonating. First, as he was on retreat last year, he talked about how for him it was a year of knowing basic goodness, studying it and reaching a fundamental understanding. He feels this year, for all of us, will be a year of being basic goodness. For me, this reinforces my own path of retreat this year, underscores the importance of really knowing something before you can manifest it, embody it.

Dalai Lama and Sakyong Mipham at Shambhala Mountain Center

The other thing the Sakyong said is “we think we are rocks, but we are gold.” This phrase has been on repeat in my head, in my heart since I first heard it. I am utterly in love with it.

He didn’t mean that we should feel like we are special, or that we should use this information to build up our ego into thinking we are better or more important than anyone else. He meant that we all, every being, are precious, have basic goodness, and that our true nature is compassionate and wise.

We think we are rocks, but we are gold.

We could also say that we think we are rocks, but we are diamonds. Or that we think we are dirt or even shit, but we all are a seed, flower or vegetable or tree, we all have the possibility, the instinct and desire to grow, to manifest our basic goodness. We must know it, and then we must be it.

We think we are rocks, but we are gold.

Pema Chödrön and Sakyong Mipham

Then I read the latest post on Painted Path (seriously, are you reading this? Julia’s writing, poetry, audio posts, art, and beautiful self are not to be missed), in which Julia invited her readers to answer this question “What in your heart do you know you are meant to do?” and “Leave six words that give a glimpse.” Her own answer was “I am meant to shine light.” Mine was:

I am meant to open hearts.
Soul surgery, to help and heal.
Kindness and gentleness are my superpowers.
Wake up, brave and tender hearts!
We’re warriors of wisdom and love.
Our basic goodness is our birthright.
I am here to remind you.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop (see, even that’s six words!).

painting by Julia

We think we are rocks, but we are gold.

Be you.