Fearless Openness: My Enlightened Society Experience

I’ve been to weekthüns and nyinthüns before, but I don’t think any previous practice intensive could have properly prepared me for the excitement, pain, joy, boredom, and direct openness of Enlightened Society Assembly (ESA) at Shambhala Mountain Center last month.  I have no idea how it can be summarized in even a few cogent paragraphs, so I will give brief thoughts on the adjectives I just used.

Photo by Jason Elias

Photo by Jason Elias

Excitement: We’re an international sangha on 6 continents, yet as I am enmeshed in local sangha life, I forget often that Shambhala does not begin and end in Chicago.  At least 7 countries spanning 4 continents were represented at the assembly!  I know that the Way of Shambhala curriculum is the same across the world, but to see its expression through so many different people was emotionally and intellectually uplifting.  Even among the 6 Illinoisans who attended, our connection and expression of Enlightened Society ranges from gentle and spacious to outrageous and fierce.  To attend this retreat provided a great opportunity to work with society.

Pain: Definitely felt physical pain for me as I was more susceptible to the effects of the high altitude.  I didn’t experience relief until day 6 of 10.  And I also experienced deep emotional pain around a particular exercise on day 4.  I won’t reveal what the exercise was intended to do, but what I harvested from that exercise and its impact was the very close awareness of how pain arises and dissolves within me.  I could actually feel it coalesce and dissipate, without any assistance from me and without wanting to run away from it.  Perhaps it’s because Shambhala Mountain Center is a feng shui superconductor that I felt compelled to really lean into the pain, name it, and let it go when it was ready to do so.

Joy: No one moment was distinctly more joyful; I found a lot of little things  contributed to an overall sense of joy.  Food (seriously, y’all!  That food was amazing!), conversations behind the kitchen, singing the Shambhala Sadhana as suggested by Ashe Acharya Rockwell, getting my ESA name, witnessing a beautiful friend take Shambhala Guide vows, and actually being in full Dorje Kasung uniform were all naturally-arising moments that I cherish even still.  Oh… and “Mambo!”

Boredom: Yeah, there were days in which I consciously decided not to join opening chants at 7AM.  Or I would join, and then I would not do the contemplative exercises afterwards and just have breakfast and wander the grounds.  Or I would drag my feet to the shrine tent after the open period.  Or not attend the dance party.  Boredom is not exactly the right word; I think there was this greater sense of spaciousness that encouraged me to play with limits, desires, and responsibilities.  Within that, there were definite moments of stillness that I just didn’t want to be with.  And I am most appreciative that the space to work with that was inherently present in the assembly.

Direct Openness: A specific experience and a general experience come to mind.  Some participants who are involved in leadership at their centers came together to discuss challenges and opportunities that, surprisingly, are the same with slight variations.  We’re all worried about new members and member retention.  We’re all worried about operating budgets and programming.  We wonder how to be an inclusive community center instead of only a Buddhist temple, how to work with technology best, and how to mentor the next generation of sangha leaders.  That was really refreshing to me and I hope a continual dialogue emerges from that.  Generally, I found myself less afraid of what I was thinking, saying and doing.  It was good practice for me to slow down, form more complete thoughts and appropriate actions, and be brave about the consequences of these actions in a container of Lovingkindness.

Photo by A. Barberousse

Photo by A. Barberousse

My overall sense of wonder about ESA is wrapped in a blanket of gratitude.  A lot of folks helped me get to this assembly, some of which didn’t live to see me get there (the first person to give me meditation instruction).  To the living, present ones, whether through financial, spiritual, or practical contributions: Thank you, always.  May I be brave enough to provide support when it is needed to all beings; may I carry the wisdom gained from self and others through this lifetime; may all beings realize their authentic harmony!

–Akiba has practiced meditation since 2008, but didn’t really get serious about it until 2013.  You can ask her why Mondays – Fridays at Shambhala Chicago.

7 thoughts on “Fearless Openness: My Enlightened Society Experience

  1. I certainly relate with the fullness of your experience, Akiba and really appreciate the transparency implicit in the sharing of it. It IS difficult to capture, in words, the depth and fullness of the assembly experience, and yet you have more than managed. I know I was forever changed by my first encounter with ESA and the brilliance of encountering our international sangha,as well. Our network is subtle yet strong and infused with potently positive intentions for our world. I know that, together, we are manifesting a vision to benefit all beings and that we need each and every one of us to do so. I’m so pleased to have shared the experience with you and trust that your influence in Chicago and beyond is powerful and good.

  2. Thanks so much for this inspiring and beautifully written account of your ESA experience. I’m sure it will enrich both you and the center.

  3. Thank you for posting this! Your experiences sound wonderful, if also challenging. I also really enjoyed the beautiful photo of the stupa and Colorado blue sky …

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