Cheerful Shambhala Day
We begin with a lasung at the entrance to the shrine room. Here, dried sage is burned in a small cast iron container about the size of a coffee mug. Before entering, we each waft ourselves in the fragrant blue-grey smoke for purification. One whiff and my mind’s eye leaps like a dessert vole across the country to the sacred deserts of Eastern Oregon where I first learned to backpack. Filling my lungs with smoke, I recall the Eastern Washington wildfires of my college years, billowing beastly sage smoke as they breathlessly burned their way to the shores of the Columbia River.
This is not the first lasung I have done, but it is the first formal Tibetan or Buddhist or Shambhala holiday I have celebrated with intention. Somehow, this marks a milestone in my path and as the day progresses, I find that the slogan is true: “Cheerful Shambhala Day!” we greet each other throughout.
All of our rituals are uplifted but no one puts on airs. Since Shambhala Day and the Tibetan New Year are but once a year, it is not as if we have many opportunities to rehearse. But with gentle bravery, Jon umdzes (site as the head of the shringe room and facilitates) as we move through our opening chants, into the Birthday Chant (the birth of the Year of the Fire Dog), and contemplation of the four reminders. I find the contemplations particular poignant: death, karma, samsara (the cycle of suffering), and the preciousness of human birth.
In the morning, all of the older Shambhalian Buddhists are there and I am in awe of the grace and depth of practice. Some wear uniforms for particular roles and practices in the lineage, others wear malas or berets or pins signifying various things (most of which I have still to learn about). Keller is there and my sangha grandmother and even little Drala, the dog.
Perhaps the most extraordinary part of the whole experience was the Roll Call. At the Tibetan New Year the head of our Shambhala lineage (Sakyong Mipham Rinpopche) delivers a speech from Halifax, Nova Scotia where he is based. Before the speech, all the Shambhala Centers from all over the world call in via speaker phone on a conference call to shout their names in attendance. I hear Santiago, Chile, I hear Los Angeles. There is Paris, Munich, Berlin. Of course Eugene, Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Amsterdam, Toronto, Boulder. The list goes on and on, Palm Beach, Durham, Atlanta, and the spirit of the hour rises. I can actually feel the energy and excitement surrounding the fact that there are thousands of us, in that very moment, dedicated to peaceful living in both thought and action, this life and those to come.
We break for a late lunch and free afternoon and I shout rather noisily, “Would anyone like to go to the Folk Arts Center for the afternoon?” Of course, my direct intent is that Keller will join, but I am too bashful to ask outright and instead invite everyone. Somehow, though, everyone else declines…everyone except for Keller.
The afternoon is unseasonably warm for winter, and feels like the Oregon Summer – the benefit of sun without humidity, a soft breeze, floating clouds. Our time at the FAC is undeniably a date, even though I have official business to briefly attend to once we arrive.
“Oh, are you the author? Yes, she’s expecting you,” the receptionist says when I introduce myself by name. I glance back at Keller as we follow her down the hallway. Author! I mouth excitedly, and I secretly hope to myself that this giddiness over writing never fades. He smiles widely in return, then touches my shoulder. “You are,” grin, grin.
Research papers in hand, we are free to roam and I find it very difficult to focus. I stare blankly at the exhibit titles and histories of craft that gloriously decorate the walls and explain the objects we’re looking at. It’s nice to look but nothing really adds up when I’m so distracted. I get the same feeling from Keller but we manage to talk intermittently as we roam. Turns out he was a studio art major, sculpture – wood, bronze. I explain my current investigation into the nature of sculpture, curious about his opinion.
Although the day has been long already, the festivities and rituals begin again around dinnertime and there are over twenty of us at the little Shambhala Center now. There is lightness and laughter and love and shared practices. We bow, we sit, we chant, we cheer, and when it is finally time, we toast, toast, toast until I have toasted all the way to the bottom of my second glass of wine (“Shambhalians have always been long winded!” shouts someone from in the back of our circle). I have to say it’s pretty amazing to me that I have found like-minded spiritual friends who, yes, drink margaritas in the shrine room on holidays because we are precisely not about being up tight or putting on airs of perfection and holiness, etc.
When all is said and done Keller and Jon and I remain, almost midnight now, at the Center, cleaning from the festivities and recapping the day. Keller sees me out, carrying my guitar and we leave Jon (who lives at the center) half-wondering as he flips off the porch light.
All I can say is that it is a sure sign of a sweet man when the moment finally arrives for lips to meet and he first begins with the gentlest little nuzzle of an Eskimo kiss. No need for all-out-first-time-slam-your-face-sort-of-sloppiness. No, this has been building for twelve hours now, yes, since that gentle grabbing of each other’s waists in the narrow hallway at the exhibit, and the subsequent increase in pulse. The fact that Keller has the patience for first an Eskimo kiss is to me, utterly tasteful and well, just down right cute.
Cheerful Shambhala Day!
(Note: Last night was only the second night since July 29th that I did not blog. This was partly due to the fact that I had not finished installing my new external hard drive, and partly due to Eskimo kisses, etc., etc.).