A few months ago I received an email from Cameron Wenaus, co-founder of Retreat Guru, who bring together retreats, teachers and practitioners, as well as develop retreat management software. Cameron attended the 2016 Gathering at Le Monastère des Augustines and there are natural overlaps and interconnections between our networks.
He wrote to make an introduction, saying, “Heather Scott is the Executive Director of Dorje Denma Ling, a retreat center in Nova Scotia connected to the Shambhala Lineage. I have been to DDL many times for retreats; it is a humble and powerful location.
I was talking to Heather about the challenges they are facing recently and she expressed a yearning in networking with other retreat centers during this next phase of growth and change. I thought that the Centers Gathering might be a good resource.”
Heather and I enjoyed a skype conversation this morning and I asked if I could share about the experience online. I’m grateful she agreed and offer some background first; the Shambhala Community was established in the 1970s by Tibetan meditation master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche who felt that humanity was at a crossroads. If it wished to create a better world, it would need to base its approach on global respect for fundamental human dignity. This is the core message of Shambhala. His teachings were gathered together into his best-selling book Shambhala: the Sacred Path of the Warrior, and many other writings, films and recordings.
Shambhala takes its name from a legendary kingdom famous for being an enlightened society. Today, the global Shambhala network brings together people of all ages and from all walks of life who are interested in exploring our own minds, transforming our experience, and awakening our potential for enlightened society.
Shambhala is based on trust in human dignity. It offers a path of meditation practice and contemplative arts oriented towards modern life. Their communities around the world cultivate kindness, bravery, and genuine dialogue. The vision is to inspire compassionate, sustainable, and just human societies. Over 200 centers and groups have been established around the world, the majority in urban areas, offering city based retreats, with four land centers in Colorado, Vermont, Nova Scotia and France.
Dorje Denma Ling is located in Nova Scotia and is Canada’s only Shambhala International residential program centre. It was founded in 1992 under the auspices of the Vidyadhara, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his son and heir, the Sakyong, Mipham Rinpoche. The smallest of the four centers, in a low population area, it has experienced challenges recently that prompt a deep enquiry into the way forward.
Heather explained, “The center was established by volunteers, however, our existing model became no longer viable.” The residential community was changing, instead of receiving a residence, food, teachings and small stipend, people are looking for employment and centers need to be compliant with labour laws. “The need to pay minimum wage doubled the pay roll, a key programme that produced 60% of the income was relocated to the larger Karme Choling Shambhala Meditation Center in Vermont, and with no cash reserves it’s now time to consider a seasonal model for our center to thrive”.
As a co-worker in the Findhorn Foundation in the far north of Scotland, I was interested in the parallels I could see with our own challenges. The Foundation began in 1962 and by the 70s volunteers from around the world were feeling drawn to the spiritual wisdom and help build the community. As employment law developed in the UK we naturally needed to comply and there was a change in culture as we moved from members to employees in the 90s. The recent requirement to pay the living rather than minimum wage increased our overheads. As a Charitable Trust, we rely on our educational income to be financially sustainable and grants and fundraising are vital forms of support.
Heather spoke of the ageing demographic in the Shambhala community, “Older students are attending programs, needing more comfortable accommodation and fewer young people are able to afford the time or cost to commit to long retreats”. Again we see this trend in the Foundation and are unsure how to address a re-balance. Both centers are also located in more remote locations, which can deepen the experience of retreat and make it more of a commitment to visit, however, the catchment area for potential participants is obviously far smaller than a center based in California for example.
Wherever we are in the world, as individuals and as centers, challenges are integral in the fabric of life and call upon our warrior energy along with wisdom, patience and compassion. Over 18 months ago Harbin Hot Springs was destroyed by bush fire that burnt through vast areas of the valley. After a successfully evacuation and dedicated clean up, they are now in the process of rebuilding and will re-open in time to come. Esalen Institute recently closed due to the unprecedented rainfall of recent weeks, land locked for an unknown length of time. Routes north, south and over the mountains are all closed and compromised due to the substantial rains and land slides. The bridge north is sliding, which is the only way out in that direction.
The Findhorn Foundation, located on the Findhorn peninsula, could one day face the threat of rising tides and flood water. The Findhorn village has been lost twice to floods in it’s long history. Heather spoke of the challenges of harsh winters in Nova Scotia; snow on the mountain passes can mean cancellation of programs held in a remote area as participants are unable to travel.
Each center grows out of it’s own unique landscape, culture and tradition and we all exist as beacons of hope and inspiration in the world. Some are seasonal, others offer programmes all year round. Some have a residential community, others have their staff living nearby. Some are urban, such as the New York Open Center, others are completely off the grid, Breitenbush Hot Springs being a fine example. Some rely on volunteers, others recruit staff based on skill and expertise.
Whether large or small, established or emerging, the Centers Gathering is a meeting place for the people involved in running these centers and the joys and challenges we face. We come together both professionally and personally, in our leadership roles focused on the wellbeing, viability and sustainability of our centers. In the spirit of collaboration, we share best practices, learnings and insights, and find friendship, nourishment and support through shared understanding of our calling in life.
“There is great value in being to talk to each other in an open and honest way,” said Heather. “Sometimes leadership can be a lonely place and it’s not easy to make decisions that balance the needs of the various stakeholders”. Although we might experience a great sense of community within our centers, to be able to share with our peers without holding back can help us navigate the way and know actually we’re not alone.
Some centers recognise themselves as a place of retreat, others as a place for holistic learning, alternatively as a center of transformation, social engagement, or activism. Is there a name for our network that unites us all? I believe we’re all dedicated to a more conscious way of life, and contributing through this to a more enlightened society. The importance of inner practice and outer action perhaps unites us all. Eileen Caddy, co-founder of the Findhorn Foundation spoke of the significance of finding our unity in diversity. In these times of globalisation, diversity becomes more important than ever and is the theme of our next webinar, hosted by Omega mid March.
Heather and I look forward to staying in touch and have numerous points to action from the richness of our call:
- Write blog post, share on social media (tick!)
- Introduce Heather to colleagues in the network that have experience as a seasonal center and/or volunteer staffing
- Invite Heather to join the next webinar and dive into mutual learning within our circle
- Create a survey to explore the needs of the network
- Send Heather the link about the marketing webinar
- Explore the importance of framing and ask “What’s the invitation?”
- Find the notes from the Beijing Gathering 2016 about offerings and needs and develop the network of shared wisdom and expertise
- Recognise the larger context of our centers – within the wider network
Feel free to post comments and if you have any questions or would like to arrange a call with Christine Lines, ED of the Centers Gathering, please email firstname.lastname@example.org