Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What is Being Present?

Being present is the best gift we can give someone. It doesn't matter whether you are being present for someone that is deeply suffering and has asked for your help, or you are being present for someone that pushes all of your buttons and throws you into fits of rage. The most generous thing you can do for that person is to be present. Actually, being present might be the best thing you can do for society!

A lot of people are talking about "being present" these days, and that is potentially very good, but there is also the possibility that few people know what it means and for this to become an empty phrase. If this notion of being present sounds elusive to you, you definitely need to question what it means. So the question should arise: what are we being present with?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

3 Steps to Wake up Now

One of my teachers, Lance Brunner, talked about how he worked with doctors in a hospital, helping them be more present. Doctors wanted to be able to connect with their patients more deeply, so Lance gave them a quick practice for cutting through the distracting thoughts in their minds. When they would put their hands on a door knob, before entering a room with a patient, they would go through a series of steps: Stop, Breathe, Be... 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When you F%@# up

I f@#$ed something up at work, which is embarassing and frustrating. I pointed it out to my boss on Friday and thought about it all weekend. This morning my boss called me into her office to talk about it. She didn't have to say much to kick it off. As soon as I realized what she wanted to talk about I got really chatty, squirrely and over-apologetic. The truth is that I wanted out.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Experiencing Ordinary Perfection

Every now and then I realize there is perfection all around me. This sometimes comes up during or at the end of a meditation sitting, but when it is most profound is when I'm just driving in the car or talking to my wife, or having a beer with a friend. This comes up more and more as my meditation practice gets stronger. 

I didn't often realize these moments of perfection before I started meditating, although once in a while I think I did. Before I started a serious meditation practice, these moments usually arose when I was in nature and when the light was unusually beautiful. I can recall a few sunsets at the beach that were sufficiently mind-blowing for me to experience this gap. These experiences almost always came with a sense of majesty, beauty and tender-heartedness.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Instinct to Be Decent to One Another

I have a few pet peeves. One of those is when people cut in line. I have lived in countries where old ladies will elbow you out of the way to get to the front of a line. 

Another peeve comes up when I see someone get on the metro who obviously needs a seat. Maybe the person is on crutches, but the seats are all taken by young and able people absorbed in their iPhones, so the person that needs a seat is forced to stand until someone speaks up.

Despite the way it sounds so far, this isn't meant to be a moralistic rant. I have been absorbed in thought and failed to open a door for a guy with his arms full of boxes, so I'm not always better. But when we touch into our basic humanity, we are better.

How to Stay Inspired and Keep Meditating

This post builds off of last week's discussion about how to start a daily meditation practice.

You need inspiration to keep any regular practice going. If your goal is to hit the gym every day, you could watch Schwarzenegger movies and think about the huge muscles you will have one day. I'm not sure meditation translates as well on screen, so you'll probably need to find other ways. Here are some ideas on how to keep the momentum going:

1. Set your intention every day, before you start meditating
When you sit down to meditate you can remind yourself why you are doing this. This will probably change over time, or it might change every day, which is fine. When I first started meditating, I often reminded myself before sitting that I was interested in communicating better with people, as well as building strength and clarity in my mind.

How to Start a Meditation Practice: 5 steps

Meditation takes discipline, just like going to the gym or learning to paint. At first, your mind will feel like a perpetual motion machine of random thoughts. Eventually, your mind will start to relax and you'll start to get momentary glimpses of clarity and peace. You'll learn about the contours and features of the mind. You'll find out about things living in the deep dark recesses of the mind, that you never knew were lurking. When you start to figure out how your mind works, you can gain a better connection to others, better concentration, courage, and much more. The benefits might even surprise you!

Here is a list to get you started and help you follow through:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Guest Post: 2 poems over tea

Yesterday I wound up sitting in a Georgetown tea house with a dead cell phone battery and no other forms of diversion. I hadn't yet meditated, and was feeling a bit scattered. So I decided to try to really be present for the experience of drinking the tea -- dong ding oolong -- which, by the way, is really tasty. Pouring the tea, smelling the aroma, sipping it, steeping again... this all became a kind of meditation.

I began to feel like writing down some of what I was experiencing. I wrote:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Head and the Heart

When your mind is like a roller coaster,
you could sit still and enjoy the ride!
My meditation practice has felt a little off this week. My department at work went on a team retreat early this week and there are lots of changes coming, so my mind was filled with thoughts about work. On top of that I've felt angry and aggressive lately. I'm not sure where it is coming from. Maybe it is the coming winter season. Maybe it is anxiety about my wife losing her job. Maybe it is dealing with some of the ideas around Karma that are rocking my world view (see recent posts about Karma).

My morning meditations have felt off balance in the sense that my mind wanders during most of the time that I am sitting. I get anxious and look at the clock

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Karma and Rebirth (part 2 of 2): the Solidity of Your Actions

If there is no heaven and if there is no reincarnation, what’s with all the talk about re-birth? I don’t have all the answers to that question and maybe later I'll have another conclusion, but there is a lesson here that I’m going to take away for the time being: if we have no soul, then the only solid thing, which carries on after we die, is the momentum of our actions.

Here is where the concept of Karma kicks in. The concept of re-death and re-birth can be taken on a very practical level, forgetting the metaphysics. In every split-second, we are making choices and we are engaged in actions. Those choices and actions generate karma in a network of interdependent causes and consequences. They create momentum that carries on for a while and sets off other chain reactions. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Karma and Rebirth (part 1 of 2)

I’ve been taking a class on Karma (action) and the 12 Nidanas (links of causation) and what surprises me most is my difficulty in letting go of the concept of the soul. Throughout my studies as a Buddhist I’ve always been agnostic about the concept of reincarnation. My attitude for a long time has been that there is no way for me to know whether reincarnation is real; so why bother thinking much about it? What I didn’t realize, despite my ability to feign indifference to the questions of what happens when we die, is that I have been secretly holding onto the view that we all have a soul.  

After studying the cycle of samsara in more detail, I realize that I’m confused. If you are raised as a Muslim, Jew or Christian, you might be taught that there is a soul that goes to heaven; this soul is believed to be the essential element of your self, which is not dependent on a body to exist.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Advice on Irritation from Pema Chodron

I've heard it said that "irritation is the vanguard of basic goodness." When I'm really pissed off or find myself irritable, I often hear this phrase in my head and it helps to calm me down. I like to feel the sensation in my body and then touch into my mind and my heart (which is where Tibetans believe the mind resides). If I have the discipline to actually try this, I'm usually amazed by how well it works. The problem is that sometimes I'd rather just keep complaining or play video games or read the news when I'm irritated.

The video below is Pema Chodron offering a great analogy about how we could just work with our minds to rise above aggression.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Remembrance of Things Past

Beautiful memories are like comets hurtling through space, dazzlingly brilliant, but growing ever distant. I fear the stories that encapsulate my most beautiful memories will travel so deep into darkness that they will disappear from sight. Eventually they will become imperceptible even to the most powerful telescope, forever lost in the vastness of space.

That's how it feels to think about old friendships, or the feverish days of solidarity and angst in the punk scene, or the glory days on the high school football team, when things seemed intense, alive, maybe even perfect.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The "Touch and Go" Technique

At some point in meditation training, a teacher might suggest that the student use the "touch and go" technique. It was quite a few years ago when I first received this instruction, but I feel like I only understood it last week, during a weekend program with Acharya Christie Cashman.

Thoughts will come and thoughts will go. The issue is not that we have thoughts. The issue is our attachment to thoughts.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Aren't You Supposed to be Somewhere?

This is actually an advertisement for meditation cushions, but it is great on so many levels:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Prejudice Meets Bravery

A friend recently told me about the stories she tells herself about other people, like the lady with the $3,000 handbag and the perfect hair and nails, the lady that smokes in front of her baby, the right-wing-wackos that drive her nuts, fat people, skinny people, poorly dressed people, smokers, health nuts, scary looking men on dark streets, etc. I know she doesn't mean any of this maliciously. She was being brave and honest by admitting that these thoughts exist, like they do in most of us. Prejudices can be a disturbing facet of our selves and its hard to know what to do with them if we struggle to do more good than harm while hanging out on planet earth.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Never Let Me Go

This weekend I saw Never Let Me Go, which broke my heart.  The movie is about a group of (rather attractive) young people who are raised to live solely for the benefit of others. They are faced with the inevitability that they will die during the summer of their youth. The movie is beautiful to look at, the acting is amazing and the plot is rich with real human suffering. After the movie ended I didn’t want to move. I sat there quietly contemplating one particular line as universal to the experience of being human as anything I can think of: “Maybe none of us understand what we’ve lived through… or feel we’ve had enough time.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Nobody really gets me"

I was sitting around with a friend eating a sandwich and conversation led to the shunyata. It went a little something like this:

"I had this realization that nobody knows the real me. One guy thinks I'm this uptight corporate guy, another person thinks I'm too cool for school, another person thinks I'm a nerd. My mom thinks I like certain things, my dad thinks I'm whatever...

Thoughts from a first time meditator

I really enjoyed reading this post from a fellow Washingtonian who walked into the DC Shambhala Center for the first time the other day. Check it out and drop her a comment!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guest Post: that lumpy feeling

I know something is moving inside me when I get this funny lump in my throat. It feels similar to what you'd feel if something strikes you with a bit of sadness, but not in a depressing way, and not enough to make you cry. The unusual thing signaling that a shift is taking place is that it lasts: sometimes for hours; sometimes for days. At Shambhala I've heard people refer to it as being able to "taste your heart". It's a raw feeling.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Greater awareness, greater happiness

While I could cite all kinds of scientific studies (like this one!) that claim meditating has psychological benefits that enhance a person's intelligence, ability to relax or produce chemicals that counter depression, I'm interested in taking this in a different direction, which is to look at the effect that awareness has on my happiness and my mood.

I've been spending most of my energy learning two types of meditation through the DC Shambhala Center. Shamatha, or "calm abiding," aims to pacify an agitated mind and develop mindfulness. Vipashyana or "insight" meditation, was taught to me slightly after Shamatha, and the aim of this technique is to develop greater awareness of the world around you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Becoming a Refugee

On September 22nd, 2011, I 'm taking vows of refuge and officially becoming a Buddhist. This is a ceremony and tradition that has been practiced for two and a half millennia, since the time of the Buddha’s first teachings. Preceptors of these vows have been empowered by their teachers to do this for as long as the Buddha's teaching has existed, and this passing from teacher to student has been going on in a lineage that leads back to the Buddha himself. The vow marks an official jumping off point for the refuge seeker, and a commitment to studying the Dharma, to practice, and to transcending confusion (ie. seeking sanity).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Real Communication

One of the reasons I started meditating seriously was to learn how to better communicate with other people. Long before I showed up at my first meditation class, I felt like my life was lacking substance and direction.

I had a decent career and people who loved me, but I still felt like something was missing. I had a feeling that I couldn’t truly and deeply communicate with others the way I wanted to, or the way I did when I was younger. I had heard that Buddhist monks, when tested by psychologists, had an uncanny aptitude for recognizing emotional nuances in the facial expressions of people, whose photographs were shown to test subjects.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What to do about Suffering (and Demon Bunnies)

"There is suffering in life. So how do we detach ourselves from suffering or not follow suffering into its depths?" That was a question recently posed to me by someone trying to understand the Fourth Noble Truth, which says, "There is suffering." The Fourth Noble Truth is sometimes translated as "Life is suffering," but I think that must be a terrible translation since I've never heard a true Buddhist teach anything like the notion that all we have is misery and pain in life. In fact, Buddhist philosophy strikes me as exceedingly able to teach us how to enjoy and appreciate life, while also diving head first into the painful truths that we must face in order to live free from ignorance. This quality of going straight into the painful stuff with no Kool-Aid to be drunk, is what attracted me to Buddhism in the first place, and it is also my answer to the question posed above.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What Happens when a Jedi Gets Nervous?

Have you ever had a big presentation to deliver and as you were getting ready to stand up, you suddenly thought you might actually pass out? The heart starts pounding, you get tunnel vision, your thoughts of terrifying embarrassment sound like they're being broadcast on the PA system, and someone just CRANKED THE VOLUME TO 11!!! No matter how much I practice public speaking, I can never shake the nervousness that comes up, whether before a big presentation or right before I ask a question at a public forum on how to reduce corruption in the Republic of Kerplunkistan.

This happened to me on the other day when I had to give a presentation to my organization's board of directors. I knew I was about to be introduced. My brain got word down to my heart and then to the rest of my body. Sudden dizziness, a cold sweat, deafening thoughts about impossibly horrible and embarrassing scenarios, like how I could become that guy who passed out during a board meeting.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Putting Myself out There

I'm always freaking out about putting myself out there. I'll post something on Facebook and then an hour later, as I'm walking down the street, I'll think, "shit! I shouldn't have posted that thing on Facebook!" Then, a second later I'll get over it and move on with my life. When I was younger I was often paralyzed by the fear of putting myself out there, and I didn't even have to deal with social networking. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily get easier with age. A lot of people get better at avoiding potential embarrassment and pain by staying inside their nice warm cocoons. Maybe that's why adults suck at learning new languages. We always want to be right, sound smart and never suffer failure.

But my meditation teachers keep instructing me to put myself out there, and meditation has given me a lot of confidence to experiment and to fail. Putting yourself out there means making mistakes and often falling flat on your face, then getting up and saying, ok, that failed miserably, so I'll try it another way next time. It means being fearless in the face of failure, and resting in the knowledge that I'm not always going to get things right.

What it doesn't mean is acting like an asshole, giving constant unsolicited advice to all my friends or saying whatever I feel like to everybody. After all, the Buddha taught upaya, or "skillful means."

Putting yourself out there is a bit like learning a new language. You practice your set phrases and then you get to Mexico. You think you are picking up the language, but then you want to say something about an embarrassing moment, so you say, "estoy embarasado." Instead of saying what you meant, you tell everyone you are pregnant. You fall flat on your face, but you laugh it off with your new friends, assuming you've had some success practicing gentleness. Next time, you'll definitely get that word right, but if you didn't put yourself out there and try to communicate, you'd never learn Spanish.

Sometimes I still cringe a little when I'm putting myself out there. For example, this blog is an experiment in moving out of my comfort zone. I know and accept the fact that some people are going to read this and say, "whoa, he kind of went off the deep end with this meditation blog." I understand that not everyone is going to get it. By practicing gentleness towards myself, it is easier to imagine that others will cut me some slack as well.

So where does this fear of putting oneself out there come from? For starters, I'm thinking it comes from attachment to a self, an identity. I've experienced the loss of self in brief moments of awareness, but to live constantly in the knowledge that the self is illusory, is not something I have achieved or that I really fully understand. Since I grew up in the self affirming punk scene, Noah Levine's words really resonated with me when he said, "you have a personality, it comes through, it's conditioned, it's completely part of you. It's not your true identity." Being part of the punk scene was empowering. It was by developing this hard-core, counter cultural identity that I put on my armor and found a way to get around in society. I felt like I had a place in the world and that there was something special about me and my friends. There was a time when I was terrified to let that identity go. It gave me all my power, but later I realized that I could get a lot more done by relaxing my grip on that identity a little bit.

To start putting yourself out there you have to get a taste of fearlessness, which is not so different from equanimity. But to learn fearlessness, you have to start with gentleness. And to learn gentleness, you have to learn to be gentle to yourself first. Gentleness is one of the first things you learn about when you study meditation. It's an ongoing process, not something that you ever graduate from. I expect that the same goes for putting yourself out there. It is a practice and a process, not something we graduate from.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Contemplating Impermanence from my Hotel Room in Phnom Penh

I’m sitting on the back patio of my hotel room in Phnom Penh, contemplating impermanence. My time sitting on this cushion will soon come to an end. My time in this beautiful hotel room (with a private dipping pool - what?!?!?) will come to an end; I will move to a new hotel room (will it be as good?). My time in Cambodia will come to an end and maybe I'll return home safely. My time with my beloved fiancĂ© will come to an end. She’ll become my wife, but my time with my wife will some day come to an end (and it will definitely end in heartbreak), and my time on earth will surely come to an end.
This is a heavy contemplation before 7am, suffering jet lag and adjusting to the sweltering heat of Cambodia, but contemplating impermanence has been a rewarding practice. Through the contemplation of impermanence, I aspire to rest in the truth that all compounded[i] things are impermanent. By resting in this knowledge, I cultivate fearlessness in the face of change.
By facing some of the most difficult truths in life, you start to relax into the realization that everything is impermanent. At the end of this contemplation I stop and realize that my chest has tightened. My heart is beating a little faster (cool, I can feel my heart beat!). I recognize the fear of these truths and the discomfort it causes. I acknowledge this fear, drop the words, and hold onto this feeling. I let it sit and I experience the physical sensations. Then I drop the practice and return to my life.
I was listening to a podcast by Noah Levine of Dharma Punx the other day and he was talking about how he met this person who said, "I've been studying Buddhism lately, but man, what a bummer!" (My dad says the same thing once in a while). A student of the Dharma might argue that contemplating the truth of reality is important and that this philosophy attempts to cut right through the fear and bullshit, resting in all of the hard truths, even if it leaves us squirming sometimes. What was it that Nietzche said? "That which does not kill us only makes us stronger," or some Conan the Barbarian tidbit like that... But that would only be half of the story. The thing that people often fail to realize when hearing about the teachings on impermanence is that great joy and peace can come out of a contemplation like this. Once I realize that my time walking the earth is impermanent, and once this knowledge sinks deep into my bones, I will slowly learn to appreciate every moment, every movement, every shadow, every word and every rumble from the motor bikes outside my hotel window. I won’t be taking my fiancĂ© or my mom or my dad or my friends for granted, at least not as often as I otherwise would. I won’t be taking myself and my health or the job I love for granted, because I know these things will end. My aspiration is to learn to appreciate every fleeting moment that passes. Those moments of awareness are like a bird swooping in overhead to see what is going on, before mysteriously disappearing back into the sky.

[i] Pretty much everything we deal with on the day to day level is a compounded thing, as the Buddha taught. Things come about as an aggregate of many factors. For example, this cup of tea I am drinking is the product of sunlight and fertile soil and water for growing the tea leaves. The cup contains water that had to be heated by a person for it to brew. Some stranger picked these tea leaves in India, and then a truck took it to an airport before someone flew it here. That required gasoline, someone to build the truck, roads, etc., etc. etc. There is a teaching on interdependence embedded in there too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Contemplating Spiritual Materialism at the Kalachakra Empowerment in DC

Today I volunteered at the Kalachakra for World Peace event at the Verizon Center. The Dalai Lama is leading the Kalachakra empowerment over three days and today was the first day of that empowerment. This is a historic ocassion as the Kalachakra is a fairly rare event and carries profound signficance within Vajrayana Buddhism. It is unlikely that the Dalai Lama will ever offer this again in DC.

It was a kind of a weird juxtaposition to have a sacred event at the epicenter of agression, capitalism and competition, where the Washington Wizards go to battle with the LA Lakers. One of my fellow volunteers pointed out the irony of having a TV screen with the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama on it, and an advertizement for the Army on the side bar. "Not just strong. Army Strong." (Note to self: find out if Army makes trash bags or condoms.)

My job, along with a team of volunteers, was to pour purification water and blessed water into the hands of people observing or taking the Kalachakra empowerment. I won't get into specifics about the empowerment, but basically, those taking the empowerment are committing to a set of daily tantric practices. This stuff is way over my head at my current stage in practicing and studying Tibetan Buddhism. Needless to say, I was more of an observer than a participant in the empowerment ceremony.

I was fascinated by the zeal with which many of the Tibetans participated, doing prostrations in the Verizon Center, and coming up to me with empty water bottles, asking me to fill them with blessed water so that they could take it back to their families in Minessota and Massachussets. During my visits to China, India and Nepal, I've seen Tibetans practicing Buddhism, but I've never seen it in the United States. It is remarkable just how differently Westerners practice and Tibetans practice. Westerners are generally more focused on the meditation practice, whereas Tibetans are very interested in blessings and sacred objects like blessed red string to wear on their wrists, and kusha grass, the same kind of grass that the Buddha's meditation mat was made of. In fact, there was a small riot at the Verizon center during the distribution of blessed red string and kusha grass. I wasn't there to see the pushing and shoving, but it put a damper on the awesomeness of the whole event to hear that violence had broken out around something so sacred.

This is not to say that only Asians bring a strong materialistic streak to their Buddhism. I noticed how much I and other Americans were yearning for little Buddhist goodies to bring home and satisfy our spiritual materialism. I was disappointed not to have gotten a big piece of kusha grass to put under my mattress. The lore is that if you put the grass under your pilow, you'll have dreams that will bring you closer to the Kalachakra empowerment ceremony. That sounds pretty cool... and now that His Holiness planted that seed in my head, I better push my way to the front and get me some of that holy grass!

Now that I've started going to Sangha retreats and Dalai Lama events, I've started to notice the spiritual materialism that Chogyam Trungpa warned about and that we can read about in his book Cutting through Spiritual Materialism. In that book he says, "If we become successful at maintaining our self consciousness through spiritual techniques, then genuine development is highly unlikely." Picking up on this vibe in a big way, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, who gave a Dharma talk almost exclusively to a Western audience after today's events, noted that Easterners have gotten into a nasty habit of waiting for lightning to strike them and give them spontaneous enlightenment. She warned Westerners not to fall into the same lazy beliefs. She praised westerners for being skeptical about stories about how the Buddha would give a Dharma talk and people would become instantly enlightened. The point is that real development takes real work. We have to spend countless hours sitting on a cushion to develop wisdom mind or prajna, and we have to exert ourselves in learning to love humanity, which sometimes seems so damn unlovable. We have to practice multitudes of kind and selfless acts to rouse Boddhichitta. We can't just buy it in an antique shop in Osaka or Dharamsala. I guess that means we can't take it in pill form either... better get to work with that meditation...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sangha Retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center with Sakyong Mipham

Sangha Retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) in 2011 may live in my memory as a life changing experience somewhere alongside losing my virginity, joining the Peace Corps, and deciding to get married. I'm not sure I'm coming back home the same person that I left.

The Shambhala Sangha Retreat is kind of like Lolapalooza for Dharma students in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. Every Sangha retreat features giants of the Shambhala lineage and this year's event at SMC included Sakyong Mipham, Acharya Arawana Hayashi and Acharya Adam Lobel. Actually, scratch that thing about Lolapalooza. It's more like the Tibetan Freedom Concert but instead of the Beastie Boys you get Sakyong Mipham. The point is that if you want to attend a summer retreat and study with some great teachers, this is a great event to attend. For me, this was the first meditation retreat I had ever attended outside of a city, and it was amazing.

I met Sakyong Mipham for the first time a couple of years ago when he spoke in Baltimore. He was on his way to meet Queen Noor. To be honest, I wasn't blown away by the meeting, even though other people I knew there seemed floored by him. So I went to SMC with no expectations other than that I would hear some teachings from as legitimate an authority on meditation in the East or West as you will ever find. The Sakyong just returned from a year long retreat and so I was hoping he would kick down with some wisdom bombs and blow our minds.

That's just what he did. I had the feeling that the Sakyong had blossomed into his role as a spiritual leader, that he had fearlessly confronted his doubts about human nature and his commitment to his father's legacy (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche). Through this deep self reflection, he saw not only his own nature, but the key to human dignity. He admitted his doubts and this honesty is the first thing that struck me: we don't have to take anything on faith, but figure things out through contemplation, experience and reflection.

The Sakyong taught on the theme of basic goodness. To know basic goodness, you have to know feeling. That was a word he used a lot, "feeling." Bravery is allowing yourself to feel the feeling that you are feeling. Not running away, not burying it, not turning your back on it. Don't be afraid to hold a feeling and poke it; see what it is made of. Don't be embarrassed of your humanity, your awkward moments, your tears, your mistakes, the things that scare you, your lust, your materialism. In all this pain and discomfort you will find opportunities to touch basic human goodness.

He spoke about themes like the embodiment of the feeling of basic goodness (bringing it down from the head to the heart). He also talked about noticing the ceremonies in life and the need to consciously design the ceremonies you engage in, or face the reality that others will design the ceremony for you. He quoted his father, Chogyam Trungpa, "life is ceremony," and the poetry of this father to son to Sangha transmission was not lost on the Sangha retreat participants.

Throughout this retreat there were several moments when I thought my heart would explode. This came not only from the teachings, but from the outward expressions of human goodness that I saw in the Sangha. I hung out with a concentration of incredibly talented and inspiring people, from an ex-neo Nazi turned peace educator, to a couple that run a children's theater, to the Dog Whisperer's website manager, a holistic healer, musicians, a community landscaper, a mother of two, and multitudes of other humans devoting their lives to creating a more sane planet. Coming to Sangha retreat felt like a meeting of minds, a tribal gathering, a battery recharge, and an opportunity to evaluate our wildest aspirations that suddenly felt like many steps less than impossible.