Way of Shambhala Level I: What the Heck Am I Doing Here?

Shambhala Level IMy relationship with meditation is akin to that of a couple that’s in love, but where the two are quite often at odds with each other. I have been into the idea of meditation for a while now. The feeling of being at least spiritually awake, if not quite up and off the bed, has been always very appealing to me, and I’ve always imagined that it would give me some sort of strength or feeling of satisfaction.

As luck would have it though, the practice itself has never worked for me that well. It felt like I had tried all methods from calming my mind, to keeping my eyes closed and having thoughts pass on by, to listening to guided meditations on Youtube, but nothing ever seemed to help. So, when I heard about the Way of Shambhala Level 1 weekend level course at my local Shambhala center, I figured I would try it out, seeing that I had a weekend to kill.

I’ll spoil the ending now by saying that if I had any clue what kind of energies I would pick up by the end of the weekend, I would have jumped on board even if I had other plans that during that time. It really left an impression on me, and I am glad to have experienced it.

The three day instruction was broken down into a few components: Sitting meditation, walking meditation, reflecting, sharing thoughts, sharing meditation practices with some of the instructors. It was done in a way where one doesn’t get too tired or too used to one aspect, but rather, the flexibility allowed us to experiment with different practices, and the repetition of moving around so much allowed us to get a better grasp of bring our minds back to ourselves.

As far as what I experienced? It was slow and predictable at first. On Friday night for example, we listened, like a bunch of obedient, new students, to Sarah Woodard, one of the mainstays at Berkeley Shambhala. I have to preface by saying that there are 5 levels of Shambhala training, and seeing that this was the first, I didn’t know what I was walking into. The course itself was called ‘The Art of Being Human’. My curiosity was piqued at this: There is an art to being human?!

Sarah did a good job of weaving the ideas of what that means with some or her personal stories. It was light, casual, and informative. We also got to sit for a little bit, but I didn’t experience anything I hadn’t before, which was to say, nothing…

By Saturday morning, I was fully ready to experience whatever it was that I was looking for. I parked my car about twenty minutes away, and started listening to music as I walked to the center. What was it that I was looking for? I didn’t know. But, I think it was something transcendental. By this time, I was looking to get some meaning or purpose out my life, and I had gone on a few excursions to different cultures and places in order to find what it is that I am here in this world for. I guess, in a way, I was looking for some kind of validation. I thought meditation would give that to me.

As I walked on the sidewalks of Berkeley to my destination, I looked at people around me and wondered if I would see them differently as I walk back later that day.

Once I got to the center, I sat down and got ready for the long day ahead of us. I don’t think I can fully express my roller coaster of emotions throughout the day, but there were almost two sides of me. The first half of the day, I sat and listened and walked and meditated, but it was painful. It was unpleasant. It was bad. It sucked. No matter what I did, it seemed like I just couldn’t get out of the funk I was in. It was all the feelings I felt during my time in mediation, just increased tenfold, and with a few toppings of lower back pain and restlessness thrown in for good measure.

I started doubting myself and the program. What was I doing there? “It’s clear this isn’t working. I don’t feel anything good. I am spiritually in no better way than I was at home.”

I started cursing to myself. During one of the longer breaks, I sat down with a few people and openly started questioning my being there, as well as the program being available to everyone. I sounded spiteful, and I could feel it. What was I to do? Should I have left? Maybe, but I wanted to see it through.

And then, something clicked.

I don’t know what it was, but I felt myself letting go of everything. All my pain. All my sorrows. Ideas came to me, but they left just as quick and they came, and I had no feeling of holding on to them or digging deeper into things. I just let go. I sat, and I felt a tear running down, but there was no rush for me to wipe it away. It was just a part of my body, and it soon, just like my emotions, would disappear.

I think that’s when it finally came to me. I was expecting mediation to give me ideas, to give me a purpose in this life. But, in reality, mediation isn’t about that. To me, it was about giving me strength to deal with life, however it came to me. And, I needed to know that, before I could feel the effects of it.

As I walked away on Saturday night and then Sunday afternoon, I looked around me, and I saw people going about their business. I realized that I had changed. That I was seeing these folks differently. I saw them as people who were living just like me, people who I could be compassionate towards. People who are a part of me, and part of this world.

Ish HasanAbout Ish Hasan: Ish is all about experiences and journeys that push his mental and physical self to their highest limit. Building a better world is his dream. His experience, so far in life, includes working with unprivileged youth, nonprofits, organizing rallies, volunteering at Burning Man, filming documentaries, and business operations at various places. In his free time, he enjoys watching and making movies, reading books, traveling (or planning for traveling), sailing, learning, watching people, and thinking alone.