Our most precious gifts


Yesterday was Shambhala Day, a day of practice and celebration to mark the new year according to the Tibetan lunar calendar.  It is a time to express appreciation, not only for our teachers and teachings, but also for our connection to each other and to the basic goodness that is inherent in us and in all things.  I’ve listened to the Sakyong’s Shambhala Day Address three times so far, and to say that I feel inspired and uplifted and re-energized, after an incredibly difficult month, would be an understatement. I am so proud and so honoured to be a part of this beautiful and brave community of tender, open hearted, kind and loving warriors.

The quote is from Rinpoche’s book, The Shambhala Principal Discovering Humanity’s Hidden Treasure and it feels so relevant to yesterday’s Address where he asked us to contemplate how we can help.

As I contemplate that question what comes up for me, as I shared with a friend via email, is a sense of gentleness, softness, and opening around my heart, kind of a warm glow, and it just seems to get bigger the longer I sit with it. What if I took a few seconds to drop into that before each interaction I have with another being, in person, or electronically; or when I notice that I am spinning around in my head about something; maybe even just randomly throughout the day?

How might that help? How would I feel? How would the other person feel? How might it change the next moment for both of us? For the next person we both interact with or the next task we undertake?

I would love to hear your thoughts! What comes up for you as you contemplate that question?

How might I help?




Ceremonies of the Wakeful Heart

img_1775This weekend, I did a home retreat, partly because it’s a long weekend here in Toronto, Canada and that’s what I do for at least a part of most long weekends.  It’s an opportunity to just be, away from the demands of the typical workday or weekend, and to go a little deeper than usual with my meditation and contemplation practice and study.

I was also studying for a course I am taking at my local Shambhala Centre.  One of the questions related to culture and ceremony within my practice community of Shambhala Buddhism. In one of the reference texts, THE SHAMBHALA PRINCIPLE Discovering Humanity’s Hidden Treasure, the author and head of our lineage, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche writes:

“The power of ceremony is that through the rituals of our day, we understand who we are…” and asks “What are our ceremonies celebrating?”

When I arrived at the Shambhala Centre on Sunday morning, one of the course leaders, who knew that I had spent the previous day in retreat, commented that here it was another beautiful day and I was spending it inside, practicing and studying. Yes, I quipped, half joking, that seems to be one of my ceremonies.

The heartfelt truth and celebration in that statement didn’t really land until this morning when the trees at my favourite outside sit spot came into view. I smiled and quickened my pace, my heart gladdening as I imagined the trees, dear friends by now, waving at me, welcoming me back.

I go there most mornings between 7-8 am. Sometimes the ground and the trees are covered in snow, sometimes the air and the ground (and my hair) is heavy with humidity; sometimes the sun is just rising, sometimes it is already up and beaming brightly; sometimes painting the sky a brilliant pallet of pink, orange, grey, blue, almost purple, sometimes vibrant and full, sometimes softer and more pastel; sometimes there are clouds, white and fluffy, or dark and foreboding; sometimes there is just a vast, open blueness as far as the eye can see.

I’ve done it often enough over the last year that I’ve seen most of the variations at least a dozen times, but each time it seems so fresh and new, as though it’s the very first time I’ve ever seen anything like it.

How can that be?! I ask myself this question every morning as I marvel at the beauty that is all around me, above, below, behind and in front, everywhere I look.

This morning it dawned on me (not for the first time but in a slightly different way, more on that later*) that it’s because I open to what is there, I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I touch and allow myself, my heart really, to be touched by all of it. It often feels as though my heart is actually expanding in my chest, filling with gratitude for being able to experience all of this so vividly.  My life force awakens as I breathe in the beauty through every pore and I taste the salt in the joy-filled tear that trickles down my cheek.

This is what I celebrate. This is my ceremony, a ceremony of appreciation, joy, gratitude, and wakeful, open heart.* Even when it’s cloudy and dreary or the winter air is biting at my nose or my t-shirt is clinging to my sweat-drenched back and I’d really rather not move another muscle.

I felt drawn to reflect on some of the other opportunities I have each day to celebrate and open my heart to what is right in front of me, some of it mundane and some of it profound:

Tenderly stroking my partner’s forehead as he sleeps.

My dog snuggling into my leg, trusting me with the weight of his peaceful slumber as I sip my first mug of hot, milky, aromatic coffee.

The brave warriors who gave up their Saturday to deepen their practice with me in an “across the miles” retreat.

Another group of warriors who gave up their Sunday  to courageously share their hearts and their wisdom as we take yet another step together on our path to becoming Shambhala Guides.

When a trusted mentor says “I’ve got your back.”

Being moved to tears as I see my meditation teacher, an embodiment of wakeful open heart, seated in front of the shrine as he gives a Dharma talk, photographs of our lineage holders on either side of him, and feeling such a profound connection to him and to the entire lineage of practitioners and awakened beings through him.

Practicing Tonglen.

Spending Friday evenings with a dear Dharma friend on Skype, sitting together for 30 minutes and then sharing tea, laughter, wisdom and sometimes tears.

Exchanging daily emails of connection, curiosity and inspiration with yet another Dharma friend.

Hugging someone and being hugged by them in a way that says I see you, all of you, and I care about you, I really do.

Offering a gentle smile of acknowledgement, recognition and caring to the homeless man in front of McDonald’s.

Feeling and  seeking support when I need it to help me feel the whole range of confusing, conflicting emotions that accompany a recent loss, owning my part in what happened and honoring my need to distance myself from it, while not putting the other person involved out of my heart, knowing the confusion and longing to find happiness and avoid suffering that we all experience as part of our shared humanity.

This is what I celebrate: This precious human birth, with all of its opportunities to awaken and to feel and to know what is real.

Just One

img_1761Buried beneath the dizzying, nightmarish spin of often confused and sometimes venomous words and actions

Stories that reflect decades’ worth of unfelt hurt and unfaced fear

Mind desperately flailing to bring about conceptual understanding

With its fleeting promise of safety and security

Carried within the fiery heat, the icy trembling, the nauseating quake that threatens to consume and destroy

There is a shimmering brightness

A  radiant truth known only by feeling

The heart that longs to open and be cradled in warmth, gentleness, kindness and love

And to recognize and hold all of our hearts in that same life giving embrace

Underneath all of that there is just one heart

Yours, mine, ours


Everything is Changing

img_1757Oh Pema…you always know exactly what to say and when to say it.

“Come back to square one, just the minimum bare bones. Relaxing with the present moment, relaxing with hopelessness, relaxing with death, not resisting the fact that things end, that things pass, that things have no lasting substance, that everything is changing all the time—that is the basic message.”

– Pema Chodron

When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times, 1997 Shambhala Publications

Coming Home Again

img_1723Just when I think the last wave has receded and maybe there won’t be another

When it seems I’ve regained my balance and am once again standing on solid ground

Another one comes crashing in

Bringing with it more tears

Of anguish, loss and regret

An ache, a longing deep in my heart

For something that was here

But is now gone.

And questions, so many questions!

Who am I without this thing

Do I still have value

Do I still matter

What will I do

How will I know

Will someone tell me

Please tell me!

Worn out by the frenzied search for answers

Left with no choice but to feel what is here in this body

There comes a tender, gentle knowing

That this is where I belong

I am home

I am this tender, gentle, soft, aching, loving heart.

Seeing with my heart

The heaviness of sleep lingers in my head and my limbs

Making it feel impossible to move even as far as my meditation cushion much less beyond the front door

The uplifting rhythm of morning chants proves irresistible

The words of proclamation, intention and celebration

As lifegiving as my own breath

Before I know it my attention is being drawn to the damp chill of February air against my face

And the crunching sound my boots make with each step in the still falling wet snow

The tender knot in my neck and shoulder a reminder that I am still carrying the burden of weeks old hurt and anger

My throat tightens around sounds that I realize are coming from images flashing on a screen

That  only I can see

Images that dissolve when I  am distracted from the script of I, Me and Mine

By the snowflake that flutters softly against my eyelash before falling to my cheek

Where it melts and mixes with tears

Just as the hard ache in my chest begins to soften and yield

Under the caring gentle warmth of my gaze

And I am once again able to see with my heart

The soft beauty of a pine cone nestled beaneath a blanket of snowflakes that seem to come alive with color as they reflect the sun’s rays

A leaf delicate with age yet no less beautiful

A rock upon which the snow has arranged itself into the shape of a dog

And your heart, as open and tender and easily broken as my own.