How Shambhala changed my life (maybe even saved it)




I was a serial self-improver.

I’ve spent more time in the self-help aisles of more bookstores than I will ever admit. I’ve tried – and failed at – affirmations, talk therapy, behavioral-cognitive therapy, Gestalt therapy, inner child work (if I find my inner child, can I use her as a tax deduction?), productivity and self-motivation techniques, chanting, ritual, bodywork, workshops and seminars, and a whole lot of reading.

No matter what I did, my sorry self didn’t seem to be improving much. It’s not that there was anything wrong with any of the things I was doing. In fact most of it was very helpful and very respectable, including years of yoga and meditation. It’s just that, at bottom, no matter how well things were going for me, I still felt like a complete failure at life, like there was something fundamentally deep-down just plain wrong with me and I could never be good enough no matter what I did. I’d wake up every morning with a paralyzing sense of failure and self-loathing before my feet even hit the floor. Every. Single. Day. For YEARS.

It wasn’t until I found (in the self-help aisle) a book called There Is Nothing Wrong with You by a Zen monk named Cheri Huber that it even occurred to me that the only thing actually wrong with me might be nothing more than a distorted view of myself. This book started me on a path that eventually led to Shambhala and the core training program, The Way of Shambhala.

It was this training that finally cracked things wide open for me.

The Shambhala wisdom tradition takes things one step further than there being nothing wrong with you. In the first level training, we learn that our fundamental nature as human beings is that of basic goodness, that there is a core of basic goodness in each and every one of us (yes, you too). We learn that we’re not broken, we don’t need to be fixed, and we don’t need improving – and, more, we learn that becoming the humans we were born to be is simply a matter of uncovering and cultivating the goodness that is already there, the goodness that is at the heart of our capacity for compassion and kindness.

The main tool we use in uncovering and cultivating our goodness, kindness and compassion is the practice of meditation. In the first level retreat weekend, we were given instruction in meditation and in being kind to ourselves. And we practised, discussed, practised some more.

The long periods of meditation practice brought me to a place where I was able to experience a kindness in myself that I hadn’t seen before. Practising intensively with other humans made me feel held and supported as I wandered the halls of my own mind, alone yet not alone, safe in the positive regard of a roomful of people who could see the goodness in me as I could see the goodness in them. I began to think maybe I wasn’t an exception to this basic goodness idea.

By the end of the weekend, it had begun to truly sink in that I was not broken, didn’t need to be fixed, and didn’t need self-improvement. I’d walked in knowing all of that intellectually, but by the time it was over, the knowing had begun to seep into my pores. The physical practice of sitting and walking meditation brought the understanding from my head into my heart, my bones, my spirit.
I no longer wake up suffering every morning, no longer paralyzed with fear, failure, pain, and self-loathing. These days, I bounce out of bed in the morning with joy in my heart, knowing deep down that I too was born with basic goodness – and that that is good enough.

This post originally appeared on the website of the Palm Beach Shambhala meditation centre and is used here by permission of the author.

Want to experience your own basic goodness in a safe and supportive environment? Sign up here for the next weekend retreat, “Finding Peace: A Mindfulness Meditation Retreat” with senior teacher Suzanne Schecter-Côté. It will be a real treat, I promise. (Registration limited, so don’t delay.)