Thursday, July 05, 2018

Where I Am

(This is a further exploration - this time more felt sense - of what is "going on right now in Shambhala." See this previous blog post for the details/what is going on, and resources/links. I think this likely stands on its own as writing, but context can help. "Where I Am" is a default prompt from Saundra Goldman's #continuouspractice community.)

I am in the desert. I thought this was an oasis, a placed beyond place, a respite from all the loss, the losses of all these years. Fear kept me here, in this mirage, convinced of that "What you see is what you get."  

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Letter from Miriam on the Current Shambhala Situation

A drawing I made this week when I couldn't write about this yet.

I am writing today as a teacher, Vajrayana sangha member/student, and lineage holder in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. Most of my life is deeply entwined in Shambhala; all I teach has at least some if not a lot of contact with Shambhala. Today is the end of a very long and hard week for those of us in Shambhala, and I want to write to you about some of my story this week with my feelings (first) then thoughts (second) and resources (last).

Some of these things have appeared elsewhere – in Facebook conversations, in personal exchanges with others – some of these are new. I wanted to compile them all together for myself, for my fellow sangha members who are suffering, and for those confounded by the news and outside the circumstance all together. Everything I say here is in my own words and my own experience, however, I don’t exist in a bubble and I have been greatly inspired, and supported by many folks this week, especially my Shambhala Office of Social Engagement peeps this week.

I will insert a trigger warning here, because there is mention of sexual abuse and clergy sexual misconduct. I myself am a sexual abuse survivor, though I have never experienced abuse in this lineage. Please read with care – lots of self-care and also care for me and for other survivors who tell their stories. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Surprise - and Not Surprise - of Death

This last Sunday, one of our long-term Madison Shambhala sangha members died. Fred Mather had ongoing health issues, heart ones amongst them, and so his death wasn't a surprise in a sense. Yet, of course, when we think someone might die soon and they don't, as happened a couple of times with Fred in the last few years, actual death comes as a surprise.

A friend asked today if I know how to handle death - then answered her self by saying I must, considering how many deaths I have been through. But I told her I don't really. I am not sure we ever know - she and I wondered over what "death skills" would be and how one acquires them - because each death is unique. And in addition, all the deaths I have experienced have either be traumatizing or re-traumatizing, so what I associate with death is trauma, not just grief and loss.

Friday, June 01, 2018

What is Contemplative Writing, Again?

Recently I had an experience in an online class where I found myself going off in a way different direction, while writing, than I expected. Actually, I didn't know what to expect, and I ran into a trigger - a memory which carries trauma associated with it. I made the decision to *not* write about that, and came up with this piece. The prompt was "What are birds saying?"

It helped *me* clarify some things about how contemplative writing relates to formal contemplative practices. So here, for your exploration, is the piece as I wrote it, with very little alteration.

What are the birds saying when? Immediately my mind scatters in many directions. I could write part of this memoir or that project. I could use this time to write about writing. But can I just be here, in my weekly air conditioned second floor home office, with a huge fan blowing semi-cool air around the room?             
There are no birds in here.            

Oh. Fuck.             

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Learning As Love

From the viewpoint of Earth, outer space seems so vast but full - especially in New Mexico or Colorado - the stars touching each other, crowded in the cool night air. My mind knows when we do go out into space, closer to said stars, there's actually a lot of space, further space, outer space, between the stars.

Is my mind like this? Seemingly crammed to the brim with content, commitments, inspiration. Endlessly full - a contradiction. But when I slow down enough, I see there's space between thoughts, enough room for entire breaths to come and go, and be freely witnessed without interruption. Same mind - different scope - from tele to micro and back out again. And the thoughts are not so separate from the spaces between them, though when my mind is agitated, my thoughts seem completely unconnected to a quiet background of existing and peace.


This week has been filled to overflow with IBS. This chronic condition - which I've had for over 28 years, and only really known how to work with in the the last ten years or so - is all-consuming when it sets in. I lose a lot of perspective - my focus shifts to the so-called "large" intestine, which suddenly seems too narrow for what needs to pass through it. In the last couple of years, I've found if I can recognize the IBS ASAP and begin the protocols I know work - hypnosis, restricted diet, supplements, massage, heat - it usually passes in 24 hours or so. Usually. But this last week has been tight - time and energy crammed with classes, returns from travels, etc - and I didn't really give it enough space. It all backed up to a critical point last Saturday, when it became apparent I had to cancel everything and begin again.

But by last Sunday, after a day and night of careful eating, no work, napping, and overall resting my nervous system, it wasn't gone. I had to keep adjusting - keep flattening open field of expectations, irritation, space, and time - so things could move along in their own time. I found some new massage points and they helped. I took a new supplement - which helped too much at first, and eventually, after 48 hours of intense stuckness (this after a few days of discomfort), my intestines were re-calibrated again, more or less. Until yesterday, when it started all over again.


I have been making my own semi-abstract drawings lately to color, as I haven't found coloring books that fill my needs, and I am getting more patient with my own drawing (lack of skill) level. Yesterday, I got the idea to draw my small and large intestines from a medical rendering. It felt good, healing, to look closely at this mystery zone that has caused me so much pain in the last few decades. In some ways, I have numbed myself to my digestive system - dissociation out of irritation, struggle, fear of pain - and it feels as foreign to me as outer space. Drawing my intestines helped me better map - literally - where my pain tends to arise and see it with my mind's eye. It created the paradoxical experience of both getting more distance from my illness - seeing the whole system as if watching the Milky Way from an unclouded clear camp site - and also an intimate proximity - a contour map of convoluted pathways I have actually felt quite closely.

A perfect balance - a place to rest my mind that seems connected but spacious.


Over time, as I age and certain conditions don't go away, or get worse, or new ones appear, I increase my curiosity about this wildly singular and somewhat unknowable body. I find it a combination of uncategorizable felt sense experiences - simply feeling sensations as sensations, whether painful or pleasurable - and cracking open anatomy books, watching videos, learning about how all the systems in the body work,  or change their working. This curiosity has been mainly satisfied by non-western, non-allopathic approaches – Traditional Chinese Medicine, somatic experiencing, and the like. But good old-fashioned anatomy satisfies the intellectual, detail-oriented mind, like mannequins with their stomachs cut open, revealing color-coded livers and kidneys. I stay connected to my own expanse by exploring the vast unknowableness of my body– the electrical currents it creates and runs on, the automatic and autonomic systems–as well as the intellectual desire to learn the names of parts I can literally put my fingers on.


I have always held such curiosity about the psyche – which is even more invisible – but it feels like the psyche is not separate from the body. Just as how these words aren't separate from the page, and stars are not separate from space. What if the intimacy of learning could help more of us to feel deeply connected, to express and experience care towards our ailing bodies, which are bound to be in pain at one time or another?

And what if being curious in this way could help us learn to love learning about race, about gender, about all the other socially-constructed-but-really-experienced aspects of our individual lives? This, too, I remain curious about - how to cultivate curiosity where before I have mainly contracted in fear - whether its exploring my own chronic illness, or witnessing someone else describe being the receiver of a bias I know nothing about. The patience and kindness of staying present as much as possible, then the dedication to study and explore on our own, when we can, so we can express our love of our bodies and each other through forms of curiosity and learning that don't exasperate the suffering more.