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sit thereLike last Monday morning, I took myself to the beach for an early morning meditation. I sat on the thousands of pebbles, in front of a big sea, and under a vast sky. Everything in the external was highlighting magnitude and space; and I used those external markers to point to the space within, the vastness of my own mind. In Buddhism, this vastness is often described as ‘emptiness’ - not in a conventional ‘nothingness’ way, but rather speaking to the potential that is. An aim for practitioners is to learn how to rest in this vast, potentiated awareness. For those of us in the West who are more in tune with our ‘doing’, this spaciousness can be at the very least challenging, and to some of us, it can be terrifying. Even now, nearly a decade in to my ‘career’ as a meditator, there are times when I can feel the compulsion to get out of the space arise deep from within, to get up off my cushion and do something. The antidote is said to be to keep opening to anything that arises - so I resolve to stay on the cushion and allow that compulsion to be felt. Slowly, I notice I am less compelled to ‘doing’, and I am allowing more ‘being’ in my life. Its a well-worn habit though, some 4 decades ingrained.

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Beach meditationI forwent my normal Monday morning blogging ritual this week, instead making the decision to head to the beach for my morning meditation: coming back from a week’s holiday I felt the need to mark that transition, and having meditated outside every day whilst camping, the early morning sunshine encouraged me to continue to do so. There was also another reason - whilst I was away, the news broke that following the release of Project Sunshine (a report investigating the occurrence of sexual misconduct in the Shambhala Buddhist organisation), Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche - the leader of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage - has come forward to admit he has “struggled to find [his] way, and fumbled with unhealthy power dynamics and alcohol”. As a practitioner in the Shambhala community, I’ve been processing this news, trying to digest what it means, holding the victims in mind, and (trying to) stay open to the uncertainty that it throws up: I feel confused, I feel a little “homeless”. Where is my spiritual ground, where does my path lay?

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female shepherdI took two days out of my week last week to deepen my meditation practice and study of the dharma: a mini-retreat of sorts. I was joined by two dear friends from my Shambhala 'sangha' alongside whom I considered the question “what does it mean to be a bodhisattva?”. Literally translated, a compound of ’Bodhi’ meaning spiritual awakening, and ‘sattva’ meaning being. The Bodhisattva concept is central to Buddhism, especially for Mahayana and Vajrayana schools (which Shambhala Buddhism is), and a practitioner is encouraged to not only seek enlightenment for themselves but to help all beings achieve release from suffering and distress: in fact they delay their own liberation until ALL beings have been released**. As Pema Chodron, the much loved American Buddhist teacher, explained in the teachings we studied on our mini-retreat this can seem like “mission impossible”. But what does it actually mean to be a bodhisattva?

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