Today, May 4th, the first pole beans poked their heads above the ground inside our greenhouse at Karmê Chöling. Outside it is still windy and cold.
Watching the birth of a plant, after warding off countless challenges from above and below, invariably fills me with awe and joy. After forty years of gardening, I still don’t take anything for granted and use the utmost care to aid the fragile process of germination.
For me this process starts with building a healthy soil that is teaming with life: Microbes, fungi, and countless other visible and invisible creatures that create a beautiful soil structure, like an underground cathedral, with lots of open spaces for water and air to move up and down, in and out. Like the skin of our own body this earth needs to breathe!
The question may arise: What can we do to support and strengthen these all-important microbial networks in our garden soil?
First of all, we try to have this soil covered with living plants as much as possible. Plants have an extraordinary ability to capture sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air and draw moisture from the soil. They then rearrange these different molecules into simple sugars and oxygen, thus laying the foundation of this fantastic world we live in.
Through this process of photosynthesis, plants not only grow roots, stems, leaves, and flowers, they also transport 10-30% of the carbohydrates produced in their leaves to the soil surrounding their roots - so-called root exudates - where they become like bitesize cookies feeding the microbes who have amassed themselves for a continuous banquet. Aside from improving soil structure, these bacteria and fungi also deliver essential minerals and moisture to the plants.
In recent years we’ve also learned that plant roots eat bacteria directly through a process called rhizophagy cycle. This insight is likely to have profound implications for all farmers and home gardeners because, when taken to full advantage, it opens a biological pathway for complete plant nutrition. This is the way of natural ecosystems.
An alternative to having green plants cover the soil is to use a generous layer of leaf mulch, grass clippings, or straw. This will also feed and protect the microbial community underneath.
Next, to not destroy soil structure, we disturb the soil as little as possible, which allows for fungal networks to grow and thrive further. We may use a garden fork to lightly aerate (not turn) the top 7-9 inches.
Third, we spread biologically active compost on top of the soil, not for nutrition but primarily to inoculate and feed the soil microbes. Only when we need to seed a crop directly, spinach or carrots for instance, do we fork the compost into the top 2 inches and rake the bed smooth. Generally I do not recommend animal manure unless it was composted in a hot compost pile.
Lastly, I want to mention the benefits of microbial inoculants. You may have used a nitrogen fixing inoculant for peas and beans in the past. In recent years, research has shown which strains of bacteria and fungi are particularly beneficial to healthy plant growth. Many new products have appeared on the shelves of nurseries and catalogues.
I recommend that you check out this new development. At Karmê Chöling, we use several products from Advancing Eco Agriculture and Tainio Biologicals that have helped our garden to flourish even more, including great germination of our pole beans. We have seen a steady reduction in insect pests and less need for soil fertilizer because these beneficial microbes both directly and indirectly feed the plants.
If you want to learn more, join Karmê Chöling this summer for our Regenerative Gardening program co-taught by myself and Donna Williams, August 12-19.
May these suggestions benefit you and your garden.
Along with the seasonal falling of the leaves, gradual changes are taking place in the staff mandala of Karmê Chöling. Within Guest Services, we have two new faces at the Front Desk, Lindsey Gavens and Max Cappelli-King.
Lindsey Gavens (left)
Lindsey is a California native who has spent a little over two years on the East Coast. The past few years have been a whirlwind. She graduated college, chased career opportunities in New York City, and was introduced to the dharma. Two years ago Lindsey moved to New York with dreams of “making it” in the big city, but instead found herself depressed by the competitiveness and seeming insensitivity of city life. While questioning what she was going to do with herself, she started to explore different spiritual communities and eventually found herself drawn to Buddhism.
This summer she decided to quit her job and venture to Vermont to be a summer volunteer at Karmê Chöling. She started off the summer thinking she would spend a few laid-back months learning about Buddhism and then move back home and apply to grad school. Little did she know that this place would completely steal her heart. Lindsey feels more at home here than she has felt anywhere else, and feels honored to be a part of this community that provides such an excellent container for those looking to awaken their hearts. As a new member to the sangha, she hope to make others feel just as at home here as she does!
Max Cappelli-King (right)
A lover of music and bodies in motion, Max hails from Madison, Wisconsin. His dream to become a dancer was born at the age of 11 while performing with the Madison Boys Choir. There he found that he adored being on stage, but despised performing motionless. Nine years later, Max received his Bachelor’s in Fine Art from The Juilliard School in New York City. After a brief stint as a freelance dance artist, Max was hired as an apprentice with the Mark Morris Dance Group, where he performed in several of Mr. Morris’ classic and new creations for audiences in the United States, Europe and Asia. At the end of his apprenticeship it became apparent to Max that something was missing from his life, and so he left dance and the big city in pursuit of whatever that might be.
While attending a half-dathün at the beginning of this year, Max began to find exactly what was missing from his life, and with the desire to continue exploring that he applied for a job at Karmê Chöling and the rest is still unfolding. Max hopes to share his kindness and passion for Shambhala with all who come through Karmê Chöling, and if the time is right maybe he’ll do a little dance for you!
Please join me in welcoming this new warrior duo, and we look forward to seeing you here at Karmê Chöling!
I am so thankful for the new team. I am planning to depart in December of this year and I feel confident Lindsey, Max and the new Director of Guest Services will care for everyone who walks through our door with loving kindness.
Adrienne Kehn is the Director of Guest Services. She has worked at Karmê Chöling for over 4 years.
i am a fireball, learning how
to be a lake. both are me;
a lake of fire walking across
itself to kiss your forehead
my dear, take my hand
walk with me where Mother
Nature has bitten off
the asphalt road here
we can be generous with
our whole hearts like the
Sun, the fireball i offer you
from within my very chest.
This poem was inspired by Enlightened Society Assembly held in August 2016 at Karmê Chöling.
Paul Singleton III is the author/illustrator of ‘Sometimes Mama’s Just Like That’, ‘When My Hero Left’, and ‘free movements’. His work has appeared in Maple Leaf Rag anthology, in NPR’s On Being blog, and in Duke University’s Invisible Bear anthology.
Long-time staff member Pam Linnell shares contemplations from her summer road trip.
August 1, 2016
Waterhouse’s Camping and Marina, Lake Dunmore
“Camping the way it used to be.”
The campground logo becomes a road trip contemplation. What is “camping like it used to be?” The Waterhouse’s website promises tenting grounds with water, electric and internet, which is not how camping used to be for me. Maybe they mean the onsite pub will offer 6 kinds of beer, but no prosecco? This does turn out to be true, alas.
Day 1. My solo expedition sets off into soft pearly gray skies just as the threat of rain intensifies from mist to splatters – now that is camping as I remember. All morning as I head deeper into west central Vermont the rain comes down with increasing earnest and the passing semis toss it around in bucketfuls. My rule is that I’ll be a good sport about rain as long as it’s dry while I’m putting up my tent. Internet weather predicts a break in showers mid-afternoon at my destination, so I’m timing my arrival at Waterhouse’s for then. The irony of the campground name is not lost on me.
Along scenic and still controversial I-89 clouds settle on the mountain tops, blurring the boundary between earth and sky. The famous green is deep and muted. As I leave the interstate for Vermont highways, the roadsides are thick with Queen Anne’s lace, their white flowers almost translucent against the sodden landscape. Hey, the rain has diminished, and the clouds are releasing their toehold on the peaks. The heavens brighten. I cross a line on the pavement, wet on one side and dry on the other. On the dry side is Lake Dunmore where the sky is bright with sunshine and the water is sparkling. My tent is up and dry. Perfect.
To “Vermont Camping the way it used to be” is now added “but with today’s amenities.” The Paddler’s Pub has fresh knotty pine, vintage canoes, an interesting menu and an outside patio. A singer/guitarist sets up the evening’s entertainment. He makes everything – from the Sweet Baby James to The Stones to The Dead – sounds like Margaritaville. A marina of small pontoon and motor boats makes a lovely slapping sound as the water rocks with human passage. A tidy beach with a row of cheerfully painted Adirondack chairs overlooks children at water play. The number of young ones is perfect – enough to add interest, but not enough to dominate the scene.
Waterhouse’s tenting sites can be deep woods, riverside or grassy. I am next to the clear, shallow river with its quiet voice. I’m not sure if it’s because of “the way it used to be” or “today’s amenities,” but the bugs are happily minimal. Perfect. Later, as I hike back from dinner at the pub, I see the sign I missed the first time across the river: “Danger – Water level rises rapidly without warning.” Yikes. When I wake in the night I listen for any dangerous changes to the river’s sound as rain falls on my tent. But the water, too, is perfect and remains as one would wish, tamely within its banks and humming a gentle lullabye.
August 4 – 7, 2016
Waterhouse’s Camping and Marina, Lake Dunmore
Day 4, and so on. Another perfect day in a perfect place.
Sitting by the river, summer afternoon
Lazy waters murmuring an old familiar tune
The humming birds are humming a sweet melody…
…and the Kampersville store is now stocking the perfect drink – single-serving size bottles of Prosecco. Just right for a single-serving size gal. Under its influence, the perfect contemplation continues. I’m considering when “camping is the way it used to be.” Two of the old photographs I’ve been seeing keep coming to mind.
An 1890s Adirondack scene shows fur-clad men standing next to the rustic wood shelter they have built in the clearing they have made next to the canoe they have paddled by the fire they have built from the wood they have gathered where the supper they have hunted simmers. Wow. They must be really hungry.
A 1950s brochure shows a mom in short hair and short shorts cooking breakfast over a camping stove on a picnic table next to an Airstream mobile home in a KOA campground. Inside there is a portable TV where Dinah Shore is singing to her audience that they really should, “See the USA, in your Chevorolet.” Ah, escaping from everyday routine.
This is what Martin Hogue, William Munsey Kennedy Jr. Fellow in Landscape Architecture at the State University of New York, Syracuse, must have had in mind when he wrote:
“Modern campsites embody a peculiar contradiction: They are defined and serviced by an increasingly sophisticated range of utilities and conveniences, and yet marketed to perpetuate the cherished American ideal of the backwoods camp…”
“No wonder that the daily repetition of chores once associated with survival has now been so fully recast as a series of almost spiritual rituals intended to reconnect the camper with what has been largely lost; for by now most of the old necessities — hiking to and clearing the site, hunting for game, collecting water and firewood — have given way to such less arduous activities as parking the car, pitching cable-free pop tents, buying cold cuts at the campground store, hooking up electrical and sewerage conduits, setting up patio chairs, etc. Serviced by networks of infrastructure and populated with trailers and $100,000 RVs, campgrounds celebrate a unique form of American ingenuity in which intersecting narratives and desires (wilderness, individuality, access, speed, comfort, nostalgia, profit) have become strangely and powerfully hybridized.”
That it is standard, says Martin, “to send emails wirelessly from the campsite picnic table … bespeaks the near total elimination of boundaries between the home and away.”
Yikes. Where do I fit into all of this? At the intersection of motorcycle (the myth of the rebel, cheap transportation, a particular way of being in the landscape) with that most American of curiosities (what’s over there and beyond that and beyond that). More caravanseri than backwoods, I think. More the romance of the Silk Road, that carrier of ideas and commerce. A conduit of way stations from the familiar to the exotic and back – safe, serviced, and supplied with material for a memoir (or blog).
The senior member of the current generation of Beaches operating Harbor Basin Club, in a video memoir about his grandfather who founded the club, included a nineteenth century print showing the view from the lodge porch onto Lake Champlain. Next to that he put a photograph of the same view today, remarkable in that it was, save for type of vessel moored in the harbor, the same. His point was not so much that nothing had changed in that time. After all, Vermont chopped down a state’s worth of trees and grew them back again, to mention only one impact our landscape has survived. His point was that his family lived their todays with an appreciation for their yesterdays and without fatally mucking up the environmental infrastructure for their tomorrows. For all our tomorrows.
As for the Waterhouses, I decide they follow another American pursuit: finding profit in myth and making what you are an asset. They are what they are – so much beachfront, so much woods, neat and well maintained buildings and grounds – un-mucked-up landscape with enduring value and no need to be anything else.
“Camping the way it used to be.”
Pam Linnell is the Director of Finance and Chagdzö for Karmê Chöling. She has worked at the center for nine (mostly) joyful years.
“I always seem to be fending him off,” Joan blurts out. She’s hosting a dinner party while her husband is out of town and she’s aware of how little affection she shows him, while he is affectionate to a fault. Two of her guests, Andrea and Bill, laugh and then exchange quick glances. They’re in a new relationship and are beginning to see where they get stuck. Andrea wants to engage in an open, unobstructed way; Bill prefers quiet time alone. Michael, the other guest, still wounded from a divorce, launches into a speech about the women in his relationships. “I always seem to fall for emotional women who can’t communicate well,” he says. “I like working with strong women who think clearly and get the job done,” he adds.
We don’t know the people at this dinner table, but we can learn a lot about each of them from the different kinds of energy they display. All of us express a unique mix of energy through our attitudes, emotions, decisions and actions. Although we often think of the world in terms of material existence, it is energy that’s the vibrant aspect of being: the quality, texture, ambiance or tone of people and environments.
Of the many methods for understanding and working with the energies that pervade our existence, one of the most profound is the “five buddha families,” an ancient Buddhist system of understanding enlightened mind and its various aspects. The five buddha family framework is an instrumental component in Buddhist tantra, a path of working with and transmuting mind energy.
The buddha families are traditionally displayed as the mandala of the five tathagatas, or buddhas. The mandala (from the Sanskrit for “circle”) aids meditators in understanding how different aspects of existence operate together in an integrated whole. Each of the buddhas in the mandala embodies one of the five different aspects of enlightenment. However, these manifest themselves not only as enlightened energies but also as neurotic states of mind. The buddha families therefore present us with a complete picture of both the sacred world of enlightened mind and the neurotic world of ego-centered existence. We see that they are indeed the same thing; the path of awakening is what makes the difference.
Traditionally, at the center of the mandala is Vairochana, lord of the buddha family, who is white and represents the wisdom of all-encompassing space and its opposite, the fundamental ignorance that is the source of cyclic existence (samsara). The dullness of ignorance is transmuted to a vast space that accommodates anything and everything.
In the east of the mandala is Akshobya, lord of the vajra family, who is blue and represents mirror-like wisdom and its opposite, aggression. The overwhelming directness of aggression is transmuted into the quality of a mirror, clearly reflecting all phenomena. Vajra is associated with the element water, with winter, and with sharpness and textures.
In the south of the mandala is Ratnasambhava, buddha of the ratna family, who is yellow and represents the wisdom of equanimity and its opposite, pride. The fulsomeness of pride is transmuted into the quality of including all phenomena as elements in the rich display. Ratna is associated with the element earth, with autumn, with fertility and depth.
In the west of the mandala is Amitabha, buddha of the padma family, who is red and represents discriminating-awareness wisdom and its opposite, passion or grasping. The intense desire of passion is transmuted into an attention to the fine qualities of each and every detail. Padma is associated with the element fire, with spring, with façade and color.
In the north of the mandala is Amogasiddhi, buddha of the karma family, who is green and represents all-accomplishing wisdom and its opposite, jealousy or paranoia. The arrow-like pointedness of jealousy is transmuted into efficient action. Karma is associated with the element wind, with summer, with growing and completing.
In the early 1970s Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught the five wisdom energies to contemporary practitioners as a way of understanding who we are fundamentally: our personality, our emotional landscape, and how we relate to others and our world. He promoted the understanding that there is nothing inherently wrong or bad about the energy itself. He taught that to bring the wisdom energies to the path, we first learn to stay with them through mindfulness and awareness. Then we can work with these energies as they arise in our experience by applying loving-kindness. We allow them to express themselves openly rather than trying fruitlessly to manipulate and control them. The energies then become a way of celebrating our strengths and working with our weaknesses.
These energies are most easily identified by their colors, which hold the essence of their qualities. Just as light radiates, so does energy. The color of energy is like colored light. We can now look at the buddha families described in traditional terms above in terms of how they manifest themselves in our experience of ourselves and those around us, capturing both our wisdom and our confusion.
The buddha family radiates a white energy, spacious and peaceful. Buddha energy is an all-pervasive, peaceful space. When people manifest the wisdom aspect of Buddha energy, they are receptive, accommodating, easygoing and content with just being. Buddha can also be solidly immobile with the density of ignoring or denying. When people manifest the confused quality of buddha, they can be dull, lazy, stubborn and insensitive.
The vajra family reflects a blue energy like a crystal-clear mirror. Vajra energy reflects what it sees without bias. When people manifest the wisdom aspect of vajra, they are clear-minded with an intellectual brilliance, sharp and precise. They maintain a perspective and are full of integrity. Vajra also has a self-righteousness that can harden into cold or hot anger. When people manifest the confused quality of vajra, they can be overly analytical, critical, opinionated, authoritarian and demanding of perfection.
The ratna family exudes a golden yellow energy that encompasses and enriches everything. Ratna energy displays equanimity and satisfaction. When people manifest the wisdom aspect of ratna, they are expansive, resourceful, hospitable and appreciative. But ratna can also turn into greedy territoriality and puffed-up pride. When people manifest the neurotic quality of ratna, they can be arrogant, ostentatious, oppressive and emotionally needy.
The padma family glows with the vitality of red energy. Padma sanity is a finely-tuned intuition that discriminates subtle experiences without bias. When people manifest the wisdom aspect of padma, they are engaging, magnetizing and charming. This energy listens deeply and speaks from the heart. Padma also can have an obsessive desire to magnetize and grasp the most pleasurable and ideal situations. When people manifest its confused quality, they can cling to what gives pleasure, are overly emotional, and perpetually seek confirmation.
The karma family emits a green energy, swift and energetic like the wind. Karma sanity is all-accomplishing action for the benefit of others. When people exhibit the sanity of karma, they can be efficient, effective and practical. Full of confident energy, they act in timely and appropriate ways in synchronicity with the world. Karma can also be restless and speedy, and when people manifest its neurotic side, they can be power-hungry, competitive, manipulative, controlling and dominating. They fear failure, so they are paranoid and jealous.
Now, if we return to our dinner party, we can see how the party-goers exhibit the various wisdom energies. Michael, who displayed such strong opinions about the women in his life, manifests vajra clarity in his thinking, which sometimes gets fixated into rigid views about things. He also shows some ratna qualities in loving to hang out with family and friends sharing a big meal and life stories.
Andrea is all fun and engagement. People contact is very important to her. She has lots of friends and makes connections with people easily. She is dominantly padma but also loves the richness, expansiveness and caring for others that is her ratna side.
Bill, who rarely spoke during the party, is more inwardly directed. He radiates a spacious warmth and easy-going manner, and buddha qualities are quite strong in him. There is also a tinge of padma in his coloring.
Joan, who loves to cook for her husband but finds his physical affection a bit much at times, displays several qualities in equal measure. Fending off her husband is a vajra quality, which is also reflected in a general sense of propriety about what should and should not happen. Though she does not talk much in the group, her padma qualities come out in private conversations: talking about how she feels and always longing to connect more closely with others and situations. Wanting to keep busy is her karma side.
It is interesting to identify energies in others as we observe their behavior, but the wisdom energies are much more than a classification scheme. They can help us to work with our emotions creatively and openly, appreciating the basic energies and seeing the various ways they manifest in our everyday actions. When I first learned of the energies, they began to color my perspective in many aspects of my life. Why was it that one man brought out my intellectual curiosity and another my desire? Why did I feel at ease with one person and anxious with another? Why would I feel powerful in one situation but inhibited and frustrated in another? What was the energetic relationship between myself, these people and these situations?
Eventually I came to understand that we are a mix of colors. We are born with certain energies; others we learn as an enhancement to who we are; still others arise as we adapt to life. Some energy patterns are more dominant, others more background. When we become aware of our mix of colors, we no longer identify with just one energy. Defining ourselves as one or the other solidifies and centralizes our sense of who we are. By boxing ourselves in, we miss the play of totality. Rather than seeing ourselves as red or blue or green energy, we can perceive our experience more as a rainbow or kaleidoscope.
Working with the energies, we always bring our understanding of who we are back to immediate experience, rather than to our conceptualization of who we are. Through our thoughts and emotions, we experience the energy of our inner being; through our sense perceptions, we experience the energies of the outer world. All of these energies—inner and outer—are accessible to us at any time. They are an experience of a subtle level of being and communication with our world.
To work with energy, we first need to cultivate awareness, attending to the present moment by observing what is happening. We can train ourselves to do this. Mindfulness and awareness are the basic components of sitting meditation practice, which plays a key role. Through this practice we can stabilize our minds, which, in turn, brings clarity and an inherent mental strength. As well, sitting meditation acts like a lightning rod. It grounds overly volatile energy in the simplicity of just being there.
We all have moments when we feel synchronized with ourselves and our world. We experience a quality of openness, relaxation and inner strength. At these times our concepts drop away and we ride the energy of the moment. If we feel the sharpness and directness of vajra as we encounter our daughter’s wild defiance, we can just let it be there. If we find ourselves filled with the wind of karmic accomplishment, we can just let it get down to business. Suddenly flirtatious, we can let the padma energy bubble and spark. Reveling in the earthy richness of possibilities, we can enjoy the ratna feast without gluttony. Simple and calm, we can let buddha reign. These are times when we shine and are the best of who we are. At other times we can’t get out of our own way. We solidify and fixate, rather than ride the energy. We feel awkward at best or stuck in strong emotions at worst.
Usually we flip-flop between extremes of feeling good or bad about ourselves, and never find any real bridge or connection between these two states. The power of the teachings on the five wisdom energies is that they show us how we can find our wisdom within the very darkness of our confusion. Energy itself is neutral; it is our attitude towards it that determines whether we are open (sane) or closed (confused). When we are open to our own energy, we experience ourselves as warm and clear. When we are closed to our energy, we feel confused and stuck. Being open or closed determines how we view ourselves and consequently the world. In fact, it is when we experience intense emotion that wisdom is closest at hand. Fully embracing the emotions that bind us can liberate us.
When energy becomes heightened we need a very powerful tool—the tool of unconditional loving-kindness, or maitri—to allow us to be who we are unreservedly. Accepting ourselves as we are, in both our sanity and our confusion, is the key that unlocks our heart. It allows us to be in the present moment just as it is, without trying to cling or push away. Accepting ourselves fully is what stops our struggle, and only when we love ourselves in this unconditional way can we also love others. Only when we love ourselves can we be lovable. Maitri has a soft quality that is open, kind, relaxed, warm and inclusive. It allows us to be who we are and let all our colors shine. We breathe easily.
Maitri is not one-dimensional, but has various facets, each of which sharpens our understanding of how it works. First off, maitri has an element of familiarity. We know our habitual patterns like old friends, so they don’t throw us off so much. Since maitri is accommodating, when we see the intensity of our closed energy we no longer try to avoid what’s happening. We allow it to be and so expand our palette of acceptable energy states. Maitri also relaxes us and allows us to be gentle and kind toward ourselves. Our pain is still there, but instead of avoiding it, we care for it as we would care for an open wound. Working with maitri enables us to develop bravery, which means that we can touch our vulnerable, raw spots and still stay open. Maitri also allows us to see our life experiences are workable. When we encounter an unwanted circumstance, we don’t contract and close but rather open ourselves to the situation. We see it not as a crisis but as an opportunity. Finally, the quality of friendliness toward ourselves is unconditional. We are friendly toward all aspects of our experience, especially the facets of ourselves that we like the least. We can love ourselves without reserve, with zero stipulations.
The wisdom, or brilliant sanity, of each energy is open, warm, clear and spontaneous. When the very same energy manifests neurotically it is frozen, blocked or constricted by a manipulating, self-serving and solidified sense of self. When we make friends with and become fully aware of the constricted quality of our neurosis we realize we are not connecting to the liberated aspect of the energy, but a distorted manifestation of it.
When we encounter an intensified emotion with these aspects of maitri, a transformative process occurs. We move from letting go to letting be. The pith instruction is to stay with the primary emotion we’re feeling. Making friends with the essential nature of the emotion that binds us offers the possibility of liberating it. Both the storyline and the quality of the basic energy may differ, but the process remains the same. Each energy has an emotion associated with it that is transmuted into a particular wisdom.
When we use maitri as a tool, we find that we could either laugh or cry. At the point when we laugh or cry, the struggle is over. There is a sense of breakthrough. We have broken through our sense of constricted self. We have touched our heart. We have found the key to the wisdom within us, which displays itself as a colorful mandala of liberated qualities.
Republished with permission of Lion’s Roar magazine.
Irini Rockwell is the author of The Five Wisdom Energies: A Buddhist Way of Understanding Personalities, Emotions and Relationships (Shambhala, 2002). She leads workshops on the buddha families throughout North America and Europe.
This poem was written during a Level 1 retreat in July 2016 taught by Shastri Nick Kranz at Karmê Chöling. Photos are also by Kassie Harris.
A million tiny faces
in the carpet.
Animals and humans
staring into my soft gaze.
An audience for my practice,
they’re judging my level of madness
or the depths of my lucid sadness.
A gentle breeze, nature’s breath,
brings me back to my own.
Fullness then deflated.
Basically content in basic curiosity.
I am training my mind.
Is pulling ourselves from societal distraction
merely a distraction
from the natural chaos of the modern mind?
Both states are relevant.
Both sides of the same vast, empty coin.
The invisible tears behind me,
bring me back to my own.
I am awakening.
I wear my emotions as badges of honor
for the history of my heart.
I make this choice,
I’ve earned them.
Don’t worry, be happy.
Kassie Harris is a 2016 Garden Apprentice. She is from Austin, Texas.
On June 20, 2016, Karmê Chöling staff and guests gathered around a lively fire to celebrate the summer solstice with an open mic. Programs manager Emily Forse played the part of the solstice queen and led revelers to a bon fire that served as a stage. Under the glow of an enchanting strawberry moon, merry makers shared music, stories, and games. Sarah Paolino, our receptionist, led the group in the creation of a group poem. Volunteer Jason Cheu captured playful moments.
Untitled Summer Solstice Poem
By Karmê Chöling Staff and Guests
A shredding clamoring posterior is starlight
the earnest ransack cumber
We twist secret tunneling bird watchers
spoke by strawberry moon blessed health
obstruct from lovebird labyrinth through
half gone molt
knew semblance rooted
i trimmed back the blueberry bushes
because their branches are like old memories
and i knew i should be thinking about which branches were healthiest
but i was thinking about which branches looked the most like they were dancing
a seed appears to be dead although it is always respirating
and that is a little like me before i started sticking my hands in the soil
I tried to make things beautiful on a screen, placing little dots in a row and putting them in a show
now my dots go in the ground and turn into nourishment and there is no praise to make me
look lovingly into the imaginary mirror
while the real mirror cracks with its own laughter
but here i am making a poem as if there is an audience so i guess me and my ego are pals, and
maybe i can start to forget if i’m the one bumping my head mindlessly on the low ceiling during
or the ceiling itself, grateful for the touch
Katie Frank is a 2016 Garden Apprentice. She is from Silver Spring, Maryland.
Immediately after finishing college in 2008, I spent one year on staff at Karmê Chöling. It was easily the most important single year of my life, and perhaps the most difficult. As I consider how to write about it, I can picture a series of long, earnest paragraphs dotted with power phrases like “field of warriorship” and “wisdom of no escape.”
This being the internet, though, I thought I’d write a list. And so:
1. Do not accept a work space next to a large westward-facing window in wintertime Northern Vermont. You will watch the light bleed from the world at 2 PM and quickly go mad.
I made this mistake in my work at Karmê Chöling’s off-site office space, on Church Street in Barnet. My year at Karmê Chöling coincided with the end of a long and happy college relationship, and the winter was already extremely claustrophobic. I later realized that I should’ve avoided staring into gathering darkness for around half of every weekday.
2. It is quite possible for a Vermont farmhouse to bend reality in order to expose your innermost secrets. Don’t worry, the farmhouse is friendly.
Life at Karmê Chöling takes on a spooky echo-chamber quality. Without getting too much into the topic, I’ll say that it’s extremely helpful because you can finally see clearly the patterns in your life, both healthy and unhealthy. I matured (not aged; matured) about six months for each month I lived on staff.
3. When the kitchen makes a really good meal, and then you can go to the walk-in and grab leftovers any time you want: That’s when you know you’ve arrived.
Room and board has its privileges, and this was a big one.
4. As the theory of “cognitive dissonance” correctly predicts, people enjoy an experience more if it takes place at the end of a narrow, steeply inclined dirt road covered in ice.
Karmê Chöling’s main road is treacherous in most seasons. I’ve had at least two of my scariest automotive experiences on that road: trying to correct a fishtailing van before it smacked into the bridge and river below, and sliding helplessly backwards toward a similarly stuck (and parked) car at the base of the iced-over main hill.
5. If you live, work, and practice meditation in a single building with the same 30 people for months at a time, appropriate metaphors to describe the experience include “fishbowl” and “pressure cooker.” “Cattle car” and “The Hunger Games” are considered offensive.
“Fishbowl” and “pressure cooker” are permanent catchphrases among Karmê Chöling staff. The land has the effect of quickly deepening your practice by constantly hammering you against whatever it is you need to work on–like exposure therapy, except that the environment itself is your therapist.
6. A commercial kitchen’s dishes are kept clean with a steady supply of soap, sanitizer, and rage.
Dish shifts are usually a simple part of the weekly staff rhythm–but because it’s fast, hot, close, and in groups, the dishroom is also Karmê Chöling’s most common site for outsized displays of emotion. I had a sponge thrown at me on one occasion, and on another occasion two colleagues confronted me seething with rage over what seemed to be too many unfinished mixing bowls.
7. “Privacy” is a silly and decadent modern luxury. You should follow the example of your ancestors, and live in tiny tribes that physically cannot avoid hearing each other’s business.
Karmê Chöling is utterly without privacy. The mostly shared bedrooms and bathrooms and the tiny overall space are the objective elements of this, but there’s more to it than that: the land’s overall energy is that there’s nowhere to hide. After a while, you stop trying.
8. When the news programs list those statistics about people living on less than three dollars a day: They’re talking about you.
Room-and-board is an odd economic arrangement, in ways that I didn’t fully appreciate coming straight from college. I found it rather comfortable, sort of a communism that works–as long as other life expenses from the outside environment aren’t a factor.
9. A time will come when you find yourself unprepared for the big-city hustle and bustle of downtown St. Johnsbury.
You really do slow down at Karmê Chöling, and small doses of speed and entertainment become almost overwhelming. It’s a very nice way to live, and you realize you don’t need the most entertaining experiences right this instant. Lacking that impulse is a good way to stay out of trouble.
10. When they dress you up in a secondhand military uniform and march you around in the searing cold at dawn and you love it, you will have trouble describing the experience in a text message. “I’ve been brainwashed” sounds so negative. “I’ve been brainwashed :)” comes close.
Despite my prior history in Shambhala, living at Karmê Chöling was still one of the most penetratingly strange experiences I can imagine, and still defies easy description. It was also the most magical, helpful, and important time in my life. If you have space in your own life, I can’t recommend more strongly that you try it for yourself.
Frederick Meyer is a lifelong Shambhala Buddhist practitioner who lived on staff at Karmê Chöling from June 2008 to June 2009. He now lives in New Orleans.
When it snows
where I come from
the whole city tucks away in confusion.
When it snows
at Karme Choling
life springs into action
the birds hop and play
laughter echoes through the trees
the river maintains its current
and I’m worried about the spinach.
Kassie Harris is a 2016 Garden Apprentice. She is from Austin, Texas.
I am so pleased to write the inaugural post for Karmê Chöling’s blog!
As the Marketing Specialist here, I promote the center and all of our offerings. I am so pleased and proud when a program I have worked hard to promote is bursting with excited participants. But what really matters to me is that people create a connection with this precious place and continue to feel the warmth of that tie after they leave.
Karmê Chöling is a place to practice. When people come here, they often zoom through our doors fueled by the speediness, stress, and anxiety of their daily life. The energy of the land, staff, history, and container of the retreat slow them down so they can learn and practice meditation in many of its forms. Through mindfulness-awareness practice, they can uncover the inherent goodness and confidence that was always with them.
When participants, volunteers, and staff leave, many people feel better able to be with themselves (even the parts they don’t like) and understand others. They may be softer, kinder, or feel more connected to the world around them.
Practicing also means making “mistakes.” Sometimes tempers get short, or anxiety flares up and people are unkind or careless. But there is room for that here. In Shambhala’s culture of no mistake, any difficult moments are seen as an important part of the path.
From my experience, this land and the people on it are constantly working to create enlightened society and to support others in doing so too. I’ve gone through some difficult moments while living here. Sometimes I get so angry at my fellow staff members that I can’t sleep. Or I wake up feeling purposeless and desperately searching for an idea that will make my life meaningful. Other times I feel so content with the present moment that I think I could do nothing but sit on the front porch of the main house and simply appreciate the land and beings before me for the rest of this life.
Throughout these moments and all the others, I feel totally supported by this place. I am allowed to experience whatever I am going through and encouraged to be with it fully. Each person who comes here, whether they know it or not, is a necessary part of creating this culture.
But things are always changing, and everyone has to leave Karmê Chöling at some point. Even our longest-running staff member, Max, will eventually move on to another life. (Hopefully not anytime soon!) When that time comes for me, my aspiration is to remember what it feels like to be here: that deep confidence that I am good as I am, and so is everyone and everything else.
That is also what I wish for anyone who comes here.
My hope is that this blog becomes a place where we can all share our experiences of being connected with this magical place — joyful, painful, and everything in between. May reading the posts in this blog help us all remember the truth.
“To be a warrior is to learn to be genuine in every moment of your life.” — Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Samantha Solomon was the Marketing Specialist at Karmê Chöling.
By Natalia Shafa
Grounding in the Path of Dharma is a four day course developed especially for those meditation practitioners who are committed to their practice, but are struggling with the real-life dilemma of making that commitment fit into their day-to-day living. This includes those who are having difficulty getting their practice off the ground (whether they’ve tried once or many times). And for those who may have once had a strong meditation practice but have lost their inspiration somewhere along the way and are looking to reinvigorate their enthusiasm for meditation.
“I think it’s so hard to be a genuinely committed dharma practitioner in the West because it’s really new here,” says dharma teacher and monk Anyen Rinpoche. “The difficulties are a lack of education and community, such as we have in Tibet. We don’t yet have enough of this kind of support in the West. Sometimes students feel like they have to choose between dharma and their job or their spouse or other commitments and that can be discouraging. They can lose inspiration. It takes a lot of effort to stay committed when the whole environment is not supporting dharma practice. But without keeping commitments, it’s really hard to improve the dharma practice.” ̶ Anyen Rinpoche
Anyen Rinpoche is a rare teacher in the modern age, straddling the worlds of East and West. Raised and trained in Tibet, he has devoted his life to bringing Dharma to the west from a young age. He is a unique blend of cultures, which allows him to act as both translator and bridge between ancient teachings and contemporary practitioners.
This August (2022) at Karmê Chölíng, Anyen Rinpoche will provide students with the tools they need to steadily strengthen their practice and commitment over time. This includes the ability to keep their seats in the face of life’s day-to-day challenges once their meditation practice is no longer being supported by the discipline of retreat. Students gain the strength to keep going when life becomes overwhelming, to keep momentum when life is smooth and fun, and to stay excited and ‘in-love’ with their meditation practice through the daily grind that can be living.