By Travis Newbill
Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a regular feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.
Late last night I had a look around, for a towel, I had spilled my water on the wooden nightstand. I’m not used to drinking out of glasses. I’m not used to wooden nightstands. I’m not used to towels, carpeting, toilet in the next room. House/cat-sitting again for Director Gayner. A joy — purring Dorje Phurba. Soothing kitty.
Earlier in the night, I presented dharma to my fellows. It was a learning experience. I felt deflated afterwards, like my message was not clear, not precise. I went through a few sommersaults of sorrow and frustration. It was a potent process. Charged practice experience. It felt good, feels good. Excited to refine my style and approach. Glad for the opportunity to study with Greg Smith — a great mentor, friend. A seasoned teacher. I feel like I’m receiving a good, wholesome, training. And, I’ll be here for another two years.
Last night, myself the the other student-teachers taught on the concentric circles of peaceful abiding meditation, as presented by Sakyong Mipham in Turning the Mind into an Ally. I taught on the outer two circles. Below is some free-writing that I did on the topic just before class.
The outer-most ring, labeled “Our life” has to do with the space in between whatever we were doing before we came to the cushion, and the moment when we actully begin to practice. It’s a moment to simply pause and feel ourselves sitting down in the room. We can reflect for a moment on what is going on: Do I have a cold? Am I really pissed off or worried about something? Is my body in good working order? And… what am I about to do?
The answer to that last question, in this case, will always be: I am about to practice shamatha. Why? In order to develop clarity, stability, and strength of mind. I am going to practice remaining fully present, in the moment, rather than thinking about the past or the future.
This feels like such a good, wholesome and important part of the practice experience that I don’t hear very much about. It’s not a strong habit of mine. I tend to get to the shrine room, light the candles, sit down and get to it. No time to waste, right?
Recently, my mantra has been “No rush.” I think this part of the practice is about that.
It’s really lovely and fortunate that we’re able to sit in this warm, safe room and just be with ourselves. There are no emergencies to tend to. We have the supreme luxury of just sitting in a nice space in order to experience being alive for a period of time. This is precious. Something beautiful is happening.
I think taking a moment to touch in on this is a good set-up for then entering the formal practice of being with the breathing and allowing the mind to settle.
The next ring in towards the center has to do with what may occur in the midst of our shamatha practice. We may get swept up in big, full blown thoughts that could be referred to as “Fantasy.” Fantasies are the big narratives — there are characters, emotional tones, maybe scenery. There could be a strong visual component or not. It could be like a movie, or just commentary on a certain topic. Often, the fantasy has a quality of hope or fear: Like, it would be so great to be at a rock concert, or It would be awful if the person is hurt by the email that I sent to them when I was angry.
I suppose the fantasy could be more neutral too, just imaginings. Like, a bunny hopping down the road and a space ship pulling it up with a laser beam, and then the bunny and the aliens playing cards for a couple of hours, and they have a sleep over.
That could happen too.
I think the main thing is that we are totally swept up in it.
For me, it seems important to point out that the imagination is a beautiful and miraculous feature of the human being. I don’t think that daydreams are evil.
The thing is, it’s not what shamatha is about. In shamatha, we’re sitting down on the cushion to tune into the world we are inhabiting with our bodies at this particular time. I think it’s important to be able to do that when we want to, because experiencing this world may actually blow any fantasy out of the water — in terms of beauty, humor, and brilliance.
Developing the ability to be present is liberating. We’re not a slave to fantasy. There is space around it. We can walk into the movie theater when we choose to, and we also walk out and enjoy just being in the world.
There is always something cinematic happening. That’s our life. I think it would be a shame to miss out on the profundity of life in this world. So, I think it’s good to practice being present — one way or another. Shamatha is a good way. People have been doing it for thousands of years because it’s a good way.
— November 6, 2014
Travis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Shambhala Guide — a preliminary teaching position. Follow Travis on twitter: @travisnewbill