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Shambhala Meditation Center – Staying Still

Shambhala Meditation Center
By Gillian Abbott

This past year has taught me a lot about the power of stillness. After a year of playing the lead character, ‘Baby’, in the National Broadway Tour of Dirty Dancing, I found myself at a Shambhala meditation center called Karme Choling in remote Barnet, Vermont.

I embarked on my first Weekthun or week-long retreat. This sounds very relaxing, right? Sitting still, surrounded by mountains and no electronics? Surprisingly, working with one’s mind in this intimate way is more like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. (I have not run a marathon, however, I have summited Mt. Kilimanjaro). Instead of ascending a mountain to its peak, we descended into the depths of our beings. Or rather, the retreat began at the top of a canyon, descended into the valley and finally ascended back out to society.

Using the Shambhala pre-meditation technique, I am learning how to take my seat in the world, or feel my own worthiness.

It simply begins with feeling oneself. Scanning through one’s body, feeling physical sensations, connecting with all five senses and finally noticing our emotional state. All emotions are OKAY and actually sacred through a certain lens. For me, learning to accept my emotional and physical state without trying to change it, is both scary and freeing. As a professional dancer and actor, I feel the pressure to be “on” all the time and to pick myself up from my bootstraps whenever I am injured, sick or even sad. If my storyline is always to stay “positive”, a glass-half-full kind of gal, then, of course, I will experience fear when I begin to let myself feel anything negative.

My favorite quote about the emotion of fear is, “True fearlessness is not the reduction of fear, but going beyond fear”, by Shambhala master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

After acknowledging how we feel, we accept ourselves by placing our hand on our heart and saying to ourselves, “I am worthy”. This simple gesture and phrase feel like I am giving myself a big hug. Have you recently felt your own heartbeat? Take a moment right now to place your right hand on your heart, feel the precious pulse underneath your palm and tell yourself you are worthy, just the way you are.

Finally, we touch our lineage. Now, this may sound unfamiliar in our Western society where we seldom speak of the lineage we come from. For me, I come from a Scottish grandfather, an Australian grandmother, Irish great-grandparents, and Newfoundland Canadian grandparents and parents. I am also Catholic and feel a deep connection to Christ, the Holy Spirit and God. Touching our lineage also includes touching the teachers who have supported us on our journey to awakening, or in becoming our truest self. For me, these spans from acting and dance teachers who have helped me see the beauty of my authentic self as well as friends and teachers I have on the Shambhala and Christian paths. We bring our hand that was just placed on our hearts to touch our cushion. To me, it feels like plugging into my source. To know that all these people who make up my lineage are with me as I sit is both comforting and empowering.

Once we have gone through feeling, being and touching, we have officially taken our seat and can begin to work with ourselves from a gentle, tender place. The Shambhala path deeply believes that personal (working with oneself), interpersonal (working relationally) and collective (working with society) practice is necessary for enlightenment. In a society where we face so much suffering, both at home and afar, I want to offer stillness as a first step to taking our seat so that we can help heal the world together.

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