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.


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