When, as I wrote here last week, I was betrayed by a friend and then taunted by him for my earlier effort to help him, I fell into sadness and rage.
That drama, which only took stranger twists and turns as it unfolded, created a conversation in my head that would not cease. The question of "why" alternated with the desire for revenge. At the same time, a voice in the back of my head maintained an attitude of astonishment. "You haven't been this out of control of your thoughts in years," the voice said. What to do?
The place I learned over 10 years ago to cope with the incessant percolation of thought is the Shambhala Meditation Center of Atlanta. As it happened, three weeks ago, the center, which I had not visited since its move to Decatur a few years ago, offered a weekend introduction to the Shambhala path. It seemed like a good opportunity to refresh my knowledge and, more to the point, to sit as still as I could with the drama that was continually playing in my head. I knew that was best, as any effort just to turn off the thoughts only seemed to energize them.
Taught by John Rockwell, an excellent teacher and head of Shambhala International's Office of Education and Practice, the workshop was titled "Fearless Buddha, Peaceful Warrior." I took this in my circumstances as encouragement to face my thoughts with courage and to hold myself to the task with a compassionate but disciplined heart.
The Shambhala program was created by the late Chogyam Trungpa with the idea of exposing Westerners to a secular version of Tibetan meditation practices. Trungpa died in 1987 and, today, his son heads the organization that has 165 centers throughout the world. In recent years, the Shambhala path seems, confusingly, to have taken on a more religious quality in that it is now called "Shambhala Buddhism." But the meditation practice and principles that Trungpa taught remain useful to people of all faiths.
Like all Shambhala weekends, the one I attended was mainly sitting practice, with a few talks and conversations led by Rockwell. The foundational principle, as Rockwell explained, is basic goodness. "Every human being has a basic nature of goodness, which is undiluted and unconfused," Trungpa wrote.
In my own state of mind, dealing with what I conceptualized as evil, I was feeling very far from any such notion. Of course, the existence of basic goodness does not preclude the occurrence of evil. Trungpa calls evil the "setting sun world," where fear predominates. The idea of his form of meditation is in part to begin to witness the spontaneous arising of thought, including fear, and, by focusing lightly on the breath, to detach from the virtually addictive process of rumination. In those times when one accomplishes that, a sense of wellbeing, basic goodness, becomes radically present.
This takes courage because one cannot go to the state of basic goodness without confronting the thoughts that block its experience. This is the same courage people bring to deep psychotherapy -- a willingness to look at whatever arises with the understanding that our behavior and thoughts are never fixed and thus cannot be said to represent who we are at heart.
As soon as I hit the meditation cushion inside the big tent the center had erected for the event, my brain began spinning wildly. I had not meditated with any regularity in three or four years, and the Saturday morning session was agony for me. The times I was focused even vaguely on my breath were virtually nonexistent. Instead, I delivered lectures to my betrayer and punished myself with memories of clues that, had I not overlooked, I might not have been hurt.
I almost didn't return to the center after lunch. I wanted to give myself completely to the drama, to soak myself in hatred and anger without Rockwell's nagging about open hearts, basic goodness and the breath. But things went a little better in the afternoon. I didn't feel good about my own process but I did feel grateful.
The next day, I shifted. The part of me that observes my thoughts became stronger. As I watched my thoughts torment me, I was overcome with grief. I cried throughout the day -- not so much for what had happened to me but how derailed I'd become by it. Like the anger that had plagued me the day before, the grief came in waves. When Rockwell spoke that afternoon about how the path leaves you feeling brokenhearted and wanting to cry, I knew I was in the right place.
The weekend didn't free me completely from my pain but I identified much less strongly with it afterward and began looking to what is good in my life right now. I was also overwhelmed during the meditation by memories of all the love that had been offered me in my life and how hard it had been to accept. I committed myself to the next series of workshops in the Shambhala path.
People interested in the center's work can call 404-370-9650 or visit its website at www.atlantashambhalacenter.org.
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WHAT ABOUT LUCY
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