Journal for October 28, 2010
The first time I met other Buddhist was in August of 2004. Until them, my knowledge of the religion came entirely from books and the internet. The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh had the greatest impact on me. There was a Soto Zen temple in Omaha, but somehow I had never talked myself into going. It was far from my home and Zen didn’t really sound like my cup of tea anyway. I had come to the point where if I wanted to know more, I would have to do it in the company of other Buddhists. So, without discussing it with anyone, I did some searching and shortly ended up buying a train ticket to Denver.
I told my parents about a week before I left, by way of asking for a lift to the train station in Downtown Omaha and for them to look after my cat for the weekend. I was going to someplace in northern Colorado called Shambhala Mountain Center. I had only moved into my apartment in Lincoln the weekend before and was preparing to begin classes and a new job at UNL in two short weeks. But before my free time evaporated I was going to attend a program called Shambhala Training Level I: The Art of Being Human.
They typically withheld their opinions and agreed to my request. The train across Nebraska left at eleven o’clock at night and arrived in Denver around seven in the morning. The path from there to the mountain center involved an expensive taxi, large bus, and then ride in a beat up old hatchback driven by one of the center’s summer staff. Off and on during that journey, I read snippets from the book I had picked up ahead of time, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.
“The clouds were so big and close overhead, as though I could reach my hand and run my fingers through their soft undersides. I could hear the wind roaring and rushing, but rarely felt it in the protected valley. Otherwise it was quiet and I counted only two birds on the mile or so hike back to Red Feather,” I wrote two years later.
“The lovely Farradee introduced the woman in the teacher’s chair as Cynthia Kneen. She was about my mother’s age and smartly dressed in a business suite with her brown hair artfully styled and makeup done. She was someone I expected in a board room, not a tent in the middle of the mountains, but she had something about her that seemed to make her perfectly at home and perfectly suited to this time and this place. She had a softness I had never seen before in another human being.
“That evening, she explained with a soft voice and a gentle laugh about basic goodness and how wonderful it is to be a human being. I confess I didn’t understand it all, but most of it made sense, and something in her manner told me I would come to understand it in short order, even if I didn’t tonight…
“After a couple of hours and a very sore back from sitting on the meditation cushions, called a gomden and a zabuton, my head felt full and soft. I was still slightly skeptical, but happy. We adjourned for the night and the large group left almost as quietly as we had come. Some stopped at the entrance to bow to the shrine. I did not.”
I returned to Shambhala Mountain Center in 2005 to work on the set up crew for two weeks. In 2006, I make another pilgrimage for spring break in March, when the snow was thick on the ground. I was there again in May, but this time I was stolen from set up to do some mapping and drafting. The Director of Expansion and Planning, Richard Swaback, had discovered my skills in AutoCAD. It was after that visit, on June 22, 2006, that I began the blog.
“I needed a sense of belonging badly by the time I was able to return to the mountain center. ... I have so few to share it with you truly understand. …It is hard being a Buddhist in Nebraska,” I wrote in that very first post. Since then, I have returned to the mountain center several times, including the entire summer of 2007, mostly to work for Richard or to take student groups from the College of Architecture to conduct site visits for design projects. There have been ups and downs, but the good generally outweighed the bad. Despite this, I never felt Shambhala was the right tradition for me, nor was I inclined to study at Naropa, having met many of the students from there.
I think that is for the best, as it seems to have led me here.