I recently attended a two-day program with Acharya Fleet Maull and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche entitled, “The Practice of Radiating Out: A Social Transformation and Leadership Training.”
For me to attend such an event was a profound and powerful proclamation of confidence in basic goodness, far beyond what I could possibly have foreseen.
The Sakyong opened the program with a penetrating and challenging talk in which he suggested that Shambhala centers can be a seat for both lineage and social engagement. He said we are involved in creating a lineage of goodness, and that the sanctuary of sangha is interdependent with what’s going on outside.
It’s all well and good to have that sanctuary, but if the goodness that’s cultivated in our centers doesn’t radiate out into the surrounding community, where people are suffering, the potency of the teachings, and of our practice, remains largely dormant.
Rinpoche spoke about how we begin with the ground of discovering and developing confidence in our own basic goodness. From there, bodhicitta arises and we embark on the path of beginning to look at societal basic goodness.
For us to go from “What about my practice?” to “What about others?” to “What about Society” is not easy. We have to realize the magnitude of what we’re doing.
“Give yourself a break when you think it’s challenging. Because it is challenging.”
I was particularly moved when the Sakyong said that. It forced me to acknowledge that my own journey to this point—having grown up in a violent home where I was sexually abused and feared for my life, having suffered with clinical depression and PTSD, having been convinced that I was fundamentally worthless—and now to have chosen to get on a plane and be a participant in this conference about radiating confidence in basic goodness…well, that’s just amazing to me.
The Sakyong also said that when we discover and connect with the truth of goodness within our own heart, we will be awe-struck. That’s putting it mildly.
But then we have to figure out what to do with that potent discovery. And we have to pay attention to the strong tendency to snap back into our familiar old patterns of limitation and doubt. “Cocoon adapts, changes shape,” the Sakyong said. Acknowledging the existence of this tendency, its strength and tenacity, and the very real pain it causes, is important. When we find ourselves back in our familiar black hole of doubt and despair, this is where the rubber meets the road.
If we can muster even the faintest twinge of compassion for the self that has gone there yet again (and we might need a lot of help to do so), we can find the strength to climb back out. If we have to do it millions of times, then that’s our practice. We develop confidence in our own goodness by doing this over and over again. And then we can embody that confidence in such a way that it might radiate out to others who find themselves in a black hole, helping to ignite the spark of courage in them.
During the Radiating Out program, we shared in small discussion groups any topics that we may have been uncomfortable bringing up in our (Shambhala) community. I spoke about how I’d almost never heard the topic of profound trauma (such as that caused by the murder of a loved one, exposure to war, torture, child abuse, etc.) discussed in Shambhala teachings, and that this feels like a furthering of my own attempts to deny, repress and minimize the reality of my own experience of trauma.
I had come to Shambhala hoping that the teachings would help me to heal. My experience has been that they have (though I had to do twenty years of “preliminary” work in therapy before I even considered practicing meditation, and continue to utilize other healing modalities).
But I wondered what the lineage view was. I’d been in Shambhala Training through Warrior Assembly, and could only remember one instance of a teacher bringing up the topic of extraordinary trauma, how it can be so deeply embedded as to feel like the very atmosphere of our being, and how one might work with it. (That teacher happened to be a psychotherapist.)
Soon after the Radiating Out weekend, the Sakyong was interviewed on Waylon Lewis’ “Walk the Talk” program. It was broadcast live via Google+ and viewers were invited to send in questions. So I asked Rinpoche if he would share his views on how meditation and the Shambhala teachings could address the issue of profound trauma.
His response was so heartening. He indicated that the Shambhala teachings could be part of a repertoire of useful tools for working with trauma. He mentioned that there were many effective healing modalities, and that meditation could support them.
But he also shared how, in the work that the Chicago Shambhala sangha is doing with community groups to address youth violence, kids who are deeply traumatized by violence are not immediately introduced to full-on meditation because they might encounter overwhelming feelings and be further traumatized in the process.
I so appreciated the wisdom in the Sakyong’s realistic assessment of what meditation can and cannot do.
So many of us enter into a meditation practice hoping it will be the answer to our problems. But that’s not what it is. Meditation, and the view that arises from a regular meditation practice, is a support that can help us to work with whatever problems we bring to the practice. It enables us to have a sense that we are more than the sum of our problems, even while experiencing the very real pain of whatever difficulties we may encounter in a world that can be quite harsh.
The brilliance of the Shambhala Dharma works its real magic, not as a cure-all panacea, but as a light that, once switched on, helps us to look clearly and compassionately at our experience and see that we ultimately are our own healers—first of ourselves and then of the world of which we are part.
We avail ourselves of whatever help we might need, surround ourselves with a supportive community (family, friends, sangha), and we do the work of excavating the wisdom and compassion that may have been heavily scarred over for ages, but are inherent in our very being.
In his talk at the Radiating Out program, the Sakyong said that we are not trying to become leaders; we are self-existing leaders. He said that nobody has all the answers, but that the essence of leadership is not panicking on the edge of not knowing. He added that we don’t have to do it all at once, but by “returning to the breath,” returning to awareness of the present moment, we can know how to respond in each situation. This was particularly inspiring to me. It spoke honestly and directly to my fears.
I realized that I had begun the journey of my own healing having no idea how to do it, but I learned by doing it, and now I am in position to be a participant-leader in sharing the Shambhala Principle of basic goodness with our world that so desperately needs it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Provided by Editor