By Whitney Trotta //
It was a lovely summer afternoon in the mountains at SMC. The rain had passed through earlier, and with the sun back out, it was only a little wet sitting down on the bench beneath some Ponderosa Pines.
Kristen and John graciously agreed to be interviewed the week before they were due. I was curious about how they felt about raising a child at Shambhala Mountain Center—and what got them here in the first place!
Whether you know John and Kristen personally or not, you’ll enjoy getting to know them here.
Whitney: Tell me about your first time at SMC!
John: It was a weekend in July 2000. Noel, myself and another friend were on an exodus trip from Madison, Wisconsin to Northern California. We had a friend volunteering here (at SMC) for the summer and stopped in just to visit him. We stayed a couple of days—it was great! We continued on our way, and as the summer panned out, California did not pan out. So my buddy said “Hey, you can come back for take-down!” and we did.
Kristen: I lived on the front range for about 10 years, and attended Naropa. I think I visited SMC once or twice before I met John, and then dropped him off for fall take-down in 2016.
W: I’ve got to ask…. how did you two meet?!
J: It was around fall 2006 when I started working for a Boulder company called Imagine Colorado, which takes care of developmentally disabled adults. I worked at the day program.
K: And I was working for the same company, just in the residential aspect, and we found ourselves crossing paths.
J: I think you (Kristen) asked me out. We went out for a drink at the Catacombs. But I was in school at the time, and super busy and stressed out… we didn’t hang out again for probably a couple of years. Then in 2012, I was in Lafayette…
K: And I was up in Lyons. So we ended up spending a ton of time together that December before I was leaving for graduate school in Vermont.
J: We did a long-distance relationship for a year and a half while she was in grad school in Vermont. While she was in school, for health and financial reasons, I moved in with my mom back in Wisconsin. By the time she graduated, I had a good job, my own place, and so we made the decision for Kristen to move to Milwaukee, and we were there until this past fall.
W: What made you decide to come back and live at SMC this past year?
K: I really did like living in Milwaukee, but it wasn’t always great. If something was working out for John, it wasn’t quite working out for me, and then vice versa. It was kind of this yearning to get back to Colorado that urged the decision.
J: Circumstances really put us back in Wisconsin, it’s not like we chose to move there. We both loved Colorado.
K: And so we made the choice to come back.
J: In 2016, SMC had been reaching out to me for Set-up and Take-down, and I had come back to do both, and in the middle came to staff Sacred World… I was gone a considerable amount of time in 2016… which wasn’t cool!
K: Because I was brand new to Milwaukee!!
J: And so when in 2018 SMC called again, it was Kristen that said, “Why don’t we just move there?!”
K: Right. I said, “Why don’t you plant the seeds, and maybe we can both get jobs there?”
J: I came back to SMC, and it was good. Then I went back to Milwaukee, and then the bomb drops with the allegations against the Sakyong. I saw the letter from the SMC Staff around the willingness to deal with the situation…. and you know, I love this place so much, I felt they could need me more than ever. So it was a big motivator for me to come back to help the land.
W: Now you’ll be living here with a baby! How do you feel about that?
K: We found out around last Christmas and kept it a secret until March or so. I just remember being in the community meeting that we have on Thursday mornings and being really scared to say anything… as I don’t like public speaking in general!
J: And I was away at a training…
K: So I was by myself! But I was at the point where it might be noticeable. I was kind of stumbling with words, saying we had this secret that we wanted to tell everyone (I think I said that a few times!), and then everyone was like “What?!,” so I finally said “We’re having a baby!” The roar was unbelievable. I really wish you (John) were there.
K: It’s incredible that from the beginning of the community knowing that we were having a child, there was that much support. It’s pretty great.
J: Yeah, I am definitely super excited about having a baby here. In my tenure at SMC, I’ve seen three babies that have lived here, and it was always super exciting. I even hosted one of their baby showers in the cabin I was living in! But most of those people (with babies) left right away… so I am excited to see how it goes staying here and living here with the kid.
J: And I couldn’t be with anyone better. This is a conscious choice we made, and were ready for it and wanted it.
K: And John’s been a really good father. We don’t even have the child yet, but he’s doing everything he can to fix up the place… from fixing the front patio, to the interior of the house, to making sure the car seat fits in the car.
K: And I think if we didn’t have the water hooked up in the house, we could not have stayed. And so thanks to Michael Gayner for pushing to make it happen.
J: He was always supportive from day one to make that a priority and a promise to us.
W: What are some positives and negatives to having a baby in community?
J: Well the classic “It takes a village.” If we were still in Milwaukee, I had like one buddy that would come by…
K: And I just had co-workers…
J: So we would’ve raised a child kind of in isolation, in a lot of ways. And I could see that happening anywhere we lived that wasn’t an intentional community.
J: Having the people around here… the upside is way greater than the downside of having people around always.
K: I think right when the baby comes, I’ll need to stay at home and be secluded for a little bit. But I’m really excited, and have been daydreaming about bringing the child down here, watching them get to know people. It’ll be fun to have a little one holding my hand, walking down the path from Red Feather Campus.
J: Yeah, and fostering empathy will just be so much easier in a community than just us living alone. And empathy is what it’s all about!
W: In this time of your life, what’s special about being at SMC?
K: I really appreciate the food!! I’ve had a really healthy pregnancy because I have healthy food at my disposal, and it’s cooked for me!
K: That’s one thing, and you have to walk everywhere! I exercise naturally just by walking. And not to mention the beautiful scenery, the fresh air, the community, it’s all wonderful.
J: For me, it’s the reason I came to begin with. Growing up in Racine, Wis., I didn’t know any Buddhists! Or anything outside of the working-class, Christian world… and so I get here, and here are all these people living in this alternate way—fostering ideals, intentionally choosing to be up here and do something different. And that’s still how I think of this place. It’s my motivation for staying.
About Whitney Trotta | SMC Development Manager
Before coming to Shambhala Mountain Center, Whitney lived in Olympia, Washington, where she worked in schools and for a non-profit that served homeless families. She was intrigued by a peaceful life in the mountains, and the idea of living at a meditation retreat center brought her to SMC as a summer volunteer. Whitney now joyfully serves SMC as the Development Manager.