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Pema Chodron, Free-floating, Curiosity, and How Many Nehru-collar Shirts Does Acharya Lobel Own?

What a retreat! Ane Pema Chodron, Acharya Gaylon Ferguson, and Acharya Adam Lobel just spent a week at Sangha Retreat, with 200 attendees, many from the Shambhala Buddhist community, teaching in Colorado. I was there.

Hard not to be spiritually materialist about that experience; shall I try? Or shall I just stop being so self-aggressive, to be something that is not (as if that were possible!) Shall I be present with that, acknowledge it, and open up? What did I just spend 7 days doing, freezing and baking in a tent city in August in the Rockies, sitting on my butt?

Pema Chodron is a bit of buddhist nun rock star, albeit an unlikely one. So what is Pema teaching now? What might I have learned? Curiosity, gentleness, sadness, joy, free-floating. Whaa?!??

Pema began with this oft-quoted prophecy from the Hopi Elders:

"There is a river flowing now very fast.  It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.  They will try to hold on to the shore.   They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly. 

    "Know the river has its destination.  The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water.   And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.  At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves.  For the moment that we do,  our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. 

    "The time for the lone wolf is over.  Gather yourselves!  Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary.  All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. 

    "We are the ones we've been waiting for."

What was that all about?

Pema, Adam, and Gaylon all taught that we must let go of those shores, whatever ground we think we stand on, and go out into the dynamic flow of energy that is life. All the teachers acknowledged that the flow, the river of media and image and Facebook and cell phone and iPhone and event and weather and society that we swim in, is moving faster than ever -- a torrent of change that gets ever speedier. It's not just our cellphones that are buzzing. We are connected to a society that is vibrating so fast.

And that's scary.

Lots of folks are hanging onto shore, fearful. But the tradition that Lobel, Chodron, and Ferguson teach in communicates that the only way to truly experience fearlessness is to experience fear. To know fear REALLY WELL, and then to float free. So we proceeded.

Being a free-floater in the chaotic stream requires training, the discipline of sitting meditation, the discipline of opening oneself to oneself, as their teacher Chogyam Trunpa said.

From there, we can see "what is needed now, at this time, on this planet, to create a good human society?" as Acharya Lobel asked. So we looked.

We moved on from there, but barely -- sitting hours a day, walking in meditation, in silence, in conversation both structured and unstructured. We did tonglen, instructed by Pema, we sat, instructed by Acharya Ferguson, we ate too much fiber, we got cold (really cold!) and hot (quite hot), and brought the right clothes, and the wrong shoes, and we went to the stupa

and liked the people and we thought some were idiots, and we just sat. And opened ourselves to ourselves, uncovered some basic goodness, lots of prickly fear and anxiety, and looked at self-aggression.

We really looked at self-aggression. We really, really looked at self-aggression, at our constantly manifesting and whirling fear of feeling what we feel, for how can we move out into the river and celebrate with the other free-floaters? How can we have the confidence to do that unless we really know ourselves, with gentleness. With great gentleness.

More, much more like that. Global transformation thru the ways of gentleness, of melting our hearts, opening them to ourselves, which lets us open to others' pain, to feel that pain and sadness and not turn away.

We sit. We feel. We are curious about what we feel. We soften and open. We leap, out into the stream and float free.

And I enjoy it! Curiosity did lead me down some funny paths; truly, I am fascinated by how many Nehru-collar shirts Adam Lobel owns. He's a wonderful, brilliant, funny teacher, and with his mother, wife, and child all there, quite a great guy! And those shirts.

At the end, folks could ask all three teachers questions. One young guy asked what the word "spirituality" meant to them, and why he himself was often so irritated by it. All three paused, wondered what he meant by spirituality, and tossed around that question. None were all that eager to answer. Pema answered first, and talked about authenticity, about genuineness, about her experience in the 60s and 70s, and finally a bit about how a distaste for inauthentic spirituality can tell us something about inauthenticity in our own.

Adam paused, and said, "To me, spirituality means nuns."

The place stopped. I flashed on the black-and-white wimpled "penguins" of my Catholic school youth -- "Sister Mary Ignatius!" -- then, I realized that sitting next to Adam was the most famous nun in America, the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.

The place broke up.

Our sangha broke up the next day, like the American (not Tibetan!) nomads we are, as we departed our tent encampments for the roads and airports, perhaps more fearful, perhaps less, perhaps a little more ready to let go our death-grip on the shores of hope and fear and certainity, to float free and celebrate, amid the great, crazy, rushing torrent of a world that every single one of us lives in--and creates.

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thank you

Thank you for that. I too attended last year's retreat and am glad to at least have a small taste of that experience again through your account. May this new tradition continue for many years to come as we celebrate the river and the web of life within it.

Nice post Ellen! Glad to hear

Nice post Ellen! Glad to hear Pema's doing well.

Thanks for posting!

Thank you for posting this! I went to the Sangha Retreat last summer, but I was unable to attend this year, so it was really enjoyable to read about your experience and inspirations. It allowed me to remember the joy of being there last year and sparked that sense of wakefulness and gentleness and openness that I felt from that retreat, that land and that community. Thank you!

Not as many as Shambhala President Richard Reoch

Shambhala Leadership has decided that collars are samsaric in nature.

When I was empowered as a Shastri, we were told that we had to phase out our collared shirts over the next three years if we wanted to have any hope of meditative realization.

Just kidding!

Adam is an amazing teacher and guy - odd to say it, but if there's any young teacher who is the next Pema, it is probably him.

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