The Shambala Stupa

Last Friday, John and I took the day to go up to the Buddhist Shambala Mountain Retreat. One of our neighbors and several people in our church are Buddhist, and our neighbor goes up there regularly for retreats. It was the same neighbor who told us about the granite countertops. John was curious as to what it would be like, and I was willing to go on the adventure with him.

So, on Friday, as soon as we saw Jet off on the bus to school, we got our hiking gear, drinking water, and sunglasses into the Passat, and headed out to I 25 and then north to Fort Collins. Once we were far enough north we turned west and drove up into the mountains, through rolling foothills, and ended up at the head of the dirt road with a sign that said, "Shambala Mountain Center 5 mi."

It was actually a very nice road, well-maintained and smooth. We only met one other car going the other way, and passed a few houses and ranches. The entrance to the retreat was pretty obvious, with a very clear sign. We turned off and saw an instruction board for where and how to park. The major decision point had to do with whether or not one felt capable of walking the distances involved, and since we had come in order to walk, we parked in the general parking area.

Path to the Stupa
I really liked that the entire path to the stupa was marked with prayer flags. Most of the banners were worn, torn by the mountain winds and faded by the bright sunshine, and some of the prayer poles were bare. It was, however, entirely obvious which way we were supposed to go.

The first half of the walk was through Highland meadow, with rock outcroppings over scrubby trees. They put elevated walkways over some of the grass, in order to not impact the ground quite so much. The day itself was gorgeous, brilliantly sunny but not too hot, since we were about 7000 feet up in altitude. I was struck by how much it resembled the pictures, movies, and videos that I had seen of the Himalayas, especially the "low land" shots of Nepalese Sherpas in their villages at "only" 10,000 feet. The ever present wind was gentle and cool, whispering instead of howling, and making the leaves of the aspen trees rustle in the wind.

They had a central area where most of the buildings resided, which they called a "downtown". It was about a dozen buildings, including one worship area that disgorged maybe two dozen people just as we walked up. They gathered in a circle, clapped, and chanted in loud voices. We stopped, observed, and stayed still while they were chanting. Most of the men had prayer shawls over their shoulders, and when they finally broke stride away in different directions, one of the men smiled at us and said, "You picked a perfect day to come."

The second half of the walk around through wooden platforms set up in order to accommodate tents in the summer. Most of the platforms were bare, a few supported bundles of tent covers. It seems that they were readying for the summer retreats. Once past the tent areas, we crossed another meadow, and decided to continue on the main path rather than take the offshoot toward the greenhouse that they maintained on the premises. Part of the weekend amenities includes a lunch that they serve in the main dining hall, which anyone may partake of for a donation.

Aspen Grove on the Path
Not too much further on there was an aspen grove, covered in new spring green. The trembling aspens' leaves were shivering in the breeze, and the shade was welcome after the open sun. We sat down on the stone bench, listened to the wind and water, because there was a spring just behind us. There was also a small stone shrine covered in small offerings. We watched as another couple walked by us, and just enjoyed that particular moment. Eventually, we got to our feet and continued on the path. There was a bridge over the stream, and then we saw the stupa, gleaming in the sunlight. The gold of the crown of the building was obvious and glorious amid all the natural wonders around.

There are also houses right near the stupa, one was obviously handcrafted in a very unconventional manner. A visitors center also stood in the small cluster of buildings just before the temple. On the pathway, directly in front of the stupa's entrance, was a small shrine to Buddha. On it was clustered hundreds of tiny gifts, and I instantly dug into my purse to find one of the goyen pieces that amberley had given to me for luck and as a marker for certain things in some of his games. I love that he let us keep this pieces, and thought it would be a good offering in thanks for creation, fun, and luck. So I placed it on the pile of tiny things, bowed to the happy Buddha and said my thanks.

Then we went up to The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya (the unmanifested or inconceivable body of the three bodies of the Buddha), bowed politely to the building, took off our shoes, and went inside. I was a little surprised that John went right inside instead of circling the building, but the other couple that had gone ahead of us were circling about in the prescribed clockwise rotation, and the interior was deserted. The instruction boards said that photography was just fine, so we took our pictures. The Buddha is immense and covered in gold. The alcoves at the back are filled with pictures of Buddhists with tiny offerings of origami and tokens much like those of the little Buddha outside. There was an array of red silk cushions in front of the Buddha.

I have a necklace of bead, bells, crowns, and clowns on my purse along with a little Luck fetish with his own tiny golden bell and five yen piece. All of them chime when I walk, and the necklace was something that Jet made me. I just carry them everywhere, and find them comforting. In the quiet of the stupa, they were melodic and familiar, but I wanted to complete the silence, so I set my purse down by one of the cushions. And then, because it seemed the thing to do, I sat down on one of the cushions. The position was enough like a meditative stance that I automatically emptied my mind.

And in my own personal paradigm of holy, something divine filled me, spiraled down around the core of me, and embraced me. Tears started to flow from my eyes, and there was no grief, no pain, nothing bad at all. If anything, it was stunned joy and an all encompassing gentle sorrow. Which makes no real logical sense at all, but it just was, and I sat there, tears dripping off my chin, and just was for a while as well. And it was good.

Later, talking about it with John, he said that I was 'touched' and it's as good a word as any. Emotionally touched by the holy space, regardless of thought, argument, or belief. Just... touched.

Eventually, I got up, wiped off my face with my t-shirt sleeve, and then walked clockwise around the inner space. It was really neat to just see all the people I'd never known about before, other than the Dalai Lama, and there was this poem titled "Timely Rain" by Chogyam Trungpa, the closing stanza was the following: "In the gentle garden of sanity, May you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness." The playfulness of the poem made me want to read more.

The Back Door
When the other couple arrived in the space, we left and did our clockwise circuit of the platform for the stupa itself, and found a shrine under black glass on the back of the stupa. I'm not exactly sure who that was up there, but it was interesting to see. When we finished our circuit it was practically time to go, as we weren't that interested in eating on the premises, but there was Red Feathers, a small town not too far away from the entrance.

The hike down as easier than the hike up, and we went pretty well, and got back to the car in plenty of time. On the way, though, I finally saw one brand new prayer flag! It was shiny new silk in yellows with the prayer printed on the banner part of it, and I was struck by the fact that the prayer and image was much the same as the prayer and image on my joss paper at home. The stuff I now burn in conjunction with the Hell Money I have for small offerings and prayers. There's a very clear part of me that says they all go to the same place, no matter the name I might call it all by, and they receive them as they are given.

Red Feathers was a tiny town, with only one restaurant open on a Friday afternoon. The Sportsman's Cafe that had home cooked meals, or so the sign said, and since it was open, we went in. Turns out that the only other two establishments that serve food were closed, one was only open on the weekends, and the other was closed for remodeling. So we sat ourselves down, and were pretty happy with what we saw.

I wandered through the menu of burgers, breakfasts, and all-day biscuits and gravy. I waffled between a patty melt and a burger that had green chili and an onion ring on it, and finally I settled on the Country Fried Steak Sandwich. Now I've had a lot of country fried or chicken fried steaks, and I'll say that the further East (and South) you are, the darker the gravy, and the further north and West you get, the lighter the gravy, but I'd never seen a sandwich. Curious, I ordered that.

And I was ecstatic with it when it came. The crisp crust was delicate and crunchy, the gravy white and rich and creamy, the beef itself was tender, and the bun was buttered and toasted to perfection. With onion rings it was probably the tastiest thing I've eaten for a while. John had a green chili burger and enjoyed every bite as well, so we have yet another reason to go back to the stupa, a stupendous lunch after.

The drive home was quiet and good. Both of us were very happy with our little adventure, and we got to the bus stop in plenty of time to pick up Jet and hug him and tell him we love him. He's got a new habit now, when it's time to go to sleep, to tell us, endlessly, to have a good night and that he loves us, and we're now in the habit of answering them all back.

Maybe all of this was just God's way of telling me that He loved me back.

Gods, you are SUCH a woman after my own heart!! To have made the trip to Shambhala and gotten so much out of it, and then gone to a homestyle restaurant and gotten a good old chicken-fried steak sandwich! Perfect. We really have to meet someday.

I can't say I'm jealous, because it wouldn't make any sense in this context - so I will just say I am very happy for you, that you got to go to the Shambhala Retreat, and very appreciative of your sharing the experience with us like this. I've gotten "Shambhala Sun" magazine for a couple of years (their last one was the best one yet), and I have long wished I could visit that Retreat Center - I had seen pictures, and read about some of the events held there, and had long thought it sounded like a truly spiritual place. I really am so glad you went and enjoyed it so much - reading your eloquent, heartfelt account is the next best thing to having been able to go myself.

And truly, I must heartily agree that the day was God's way of telling you he loved you - as do I! ♥
Hey!! If you decide to go, you could stay at our house before and after!! I'd be so happy to pick you up at the airport and just visit with you and hey, maybe it would be an excuse to go again!

That would be really cool, as we want to take Jet with us sometime this summer, too... so *totally* you should make that wish come true!!

*hugs you happily* It is truly a holy place, and I think you'd love it too!

And, yeah... *giggles* Chicken fried steak was *good*.
Oooh, that is a lovely, kind, and very very tempting invitation, one I will have to give serious consideration to. We've become such horrible sticks in the mud the past several years, between his job, which requires working most weekends, and my health, which has become so unpredictable, and money, or rather the lack thereof, we've largely just fallen out of the habit of even trying to travel. I think we've spent three nights away from home in the past five years. That's just sad. *sigh*

And to think, part of what bonded him and I together was all the mad traipsing all up and down the East Coast and even parts of the Midwest on jaunts to got to powwows all over the place! We thought nothing of traveling all the way from VA to New Hampshire, just to got to go to a one-weekend powwow (and sometimes it meant we would leave after work Fri., drive all night, sing and dance Sat. and Sun, drive all night Sun., and get back just in time to roll into work Monday morning!) Of course, it's entirely possible, and has been pointed out to me by others, that burning my candle at both ends like that MIGHT be part of what landed me in this health muddle in the first place... but we won't go there. And it WAS so much fun! (I really miss it!)

Anyway. I do think I would love to come visit, and would love to take you up on your lovely offer sometime. It probably won't be this year - for one thing, I'd need to save up the money for the airfare and other expenses, which I don't have right now, and for another, I'd need to be in better physical shape than I am at the moment, which I hope to be soon. But I wouldn't want to come all the way out there only to end up in a heap on your couch for the whole visit! I've never been any further west than St. Louis, other than one short trip to San Francisco - I'd really love to see the Rockies, and the Shambhala center, and to get to spend time with you and your lovely family would really be the icing on the cake! It's definitely a goal to shoot for, and it's wonderful of you to dangle the opportunity before me, for me to strive for.
*grins* Very very cool. Sounds like something you can aim for, and I'd be happy to add incentives...
That is wonderful. That really should be on a t-shirt or something. At least on a restaurant menu or a cookbook cover or something.

Gravy is the dharma made manifest. I love it. ♥

ESPECIALLY really good chicken-fried steak gravy. *drools*
Delicious! From the circumambulation to the prayer flags to the stupa to the sandwich.
What an awesome day you had here! So beautiful to read this...i'm taking a few extra moments to take it all in and fully appreciate what i'm reading. You're a good writer too. I'm filled with emotion reading of your experience while you were divinely filled and brought to tears. It may not seem logical, but I get it. I really do, and it's just beautiful beyond words. You're fortunate to be so spiritually in touch and to have someone to share the ride with you makes this even more beautiful. I'm happy for you! That meal at the end of the day is a happy wrap-up, of course.
All in all, this sounds like a wonderful day in your life, and I think what I loved the most here is how your day begins and ends with Jet and the precious love you have for one another! Beautiful...just beautiful!