Story last updated at 10/31/2012 - 2:29 pm
"The path of Shambhala is here to awaken us to the potential of our lives. It teaches us how to live meaningfully and vigorously, with joy. Its ancient but practical wisdom allows us to discover unconditional human confidence. Through the practice of meditation, we discover that goodness, strength and wisdom are inherent in our own mind and being."
-Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, son and spiritual heir to founder of Shambhala, Ch¿gyam Trungpa
It would be hard to know, standing on South Franklin Street in Juneau through a vein of consistent pedestrian activity - wavering intoxicated pedestrians, tourists in matching safari outfits - that on the second story of a building in the pulse of the district is a place designed explicitly for peace and quiet.
The Juneau Shambhala Center (JSC) was founded by Susan Chapman in 1990. It remains the only Shambhala center in the state; there are approximately 170 centers and groups world-wide.
"It's hard to say what the Center is," Helena Fegan, the current director said. "It's easier to explain what we do."
Shambhala teachings are based on two schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In the mid-1970s, Shambhala founder Ch¿gyam Trungpa began to introduce the teachings to a western audience. Both the Shambhala International website as well as Fegan are quick to point out that it's not a religious practice. According to the website, "Buddhism offers methods to clarify our mind, open our heart, and face the realities of human life, while the Shambhala teachings offer practices for rousing our life force and connecting with the natural power and energy of the phenomenal world."
"The teachings are accessible to people of all cultures and religions," Fegan said.
Fegan, 61, began her Shambhala studies in Juneau, before the center had been founded. Chapman had signs up around town offering classes. Fegan took one. Nearly a year later her first husband fell ill. She found that the practice of mediation was the only tool that kept her present. On occasion, she said, he would sense that she wasn't grounded.
"So I would go out to the garden and meditate and return," Fegan said. While he was dying, she explained, she wasn't terrified of life in the future without him.
Five other residents serve on the JSC council with Fegan. They are all volunteers. Fegan is the third or fourth director; Chapman is now a senior Shambhala teacher at a center in Vancouver, B.C. In addition to the council, there are around five trained meditation instructors that work with the JSC and offer free introductory meditation classes as well as a follow-up meeting. Fegan is one of the instructors.
"What I find working with people one-on-one is that people are so hard on themselves," Fegan said. "It's quite a wonderful thing to have them look at how their mind works, how their thinking creates (their) world and see habitual patterns."
She said that by recognizing thought patterns one can learn how significant they are, unburden oneself from some of them.
"The outcome," Fegan said, is that "It allows you to be present in your own life and enjoy it."
The JSC serves to introduce people to meditation, and assist them along their practice, through one-on-one work with a local Shambhala guide, as a place for open meditation and by offering workshops.
"When you're looking to create an enlightened society, you have to do all kinds of things," Fegan said.
The center has offered a body-mind synchronization class and a popular ikebana workshop, which focuses on the fundamentals of Japanese floral arrangements.
"The idea is that you see them and it wakes you up," Fegan said.
There is also unguided open meditation every weekday, from 12:10-12:50 p.m., and on Monday evenings, from 5-5:50 p.m. And there's a local Shambhala book group, which is currently reading "The five keys to mindful communication; using deep listening and mindful speech to strengthen relationships, heal conflicts and accomplish your goals," by Susan Chapman the, JSC founder.
Fegan said that the teachings serve to raise awareness of one's thoughts, and how, through meditation, to recognize one's own goodness.
"The idea is that society is also basically good. We're working on ourselves with gentleness and moving towards fearlessness and being awake," Fegan said. "It also looks a lot at the idea of an enlightened society. If we are each opening our own hearts, and finding our basic goodness and gentleness, then we'd be able to help others. The whole idea is not just to help yourself, but once you can touch in on yourself you can carry that outward too."
Fegan said that one of the main focal points of the JSC is to offer a series of courses. This series is called The Shambhala Training Heart of Warriorship program.
"We talk a lot of warriorship, not as an aggressive word, but how to be a warrior in your own life, and in the world," Fegan said. The course series is divided into five levels: The Art of Being Human, Birth of the Warrior, Warrior in the World, Awakened Heart and Open Sky. The classes are each designed to be taught over an individual weekend. According to the international Shambhala website, they "Provide a strong foundation in mindfulness-awareness meditation practice, emphasizing the development of genuineness, confidence, humor, and dignity within the complexity of daily life."
The JSC brings teachers up to teach the courses.
"The cool thing is that everyone loves to come to Alaska," Fegan said, "So we get amazing senior teachers."
The next senior Shambhala guide to come to the JSC is Matthew Lyon. Lyon will be teaching the Level I course, "The Art of Being Human." Lyon was a student of Ch¿gyam Trungpa, founder of Shambhala, and has been to Juneau to teach several times. He has been the director of Shambhala centers in Burlington, Vt. and Seattle, Wash. In 2010 he was appointment as a Shastri, a senior teacher empowered to cultivate the teachings and local Shambhala communities.
Fegan said that the class, an introduction to meditation, is not about sitting down for long periods of time. Students will be introduced to the Shambhala teachings.
"We start with short segments," she said.
The class will focus on mindfulness and awareness, hopefully showing participants how to become gentler and see their potential to become passionate human beings. "The instructions are simple, but people need guidance to get started," Fegan said.
Participants will receive one-on-one interviews or meetings with Lyon or Fegan, there will be class discussions and Lyon will lead meditation instruction and make sure people have the tools to begin their practice.
"It's open to anybody. We get people who don't know anything about mediation, or who have meditated in a different tradition for a long time," Fegan said. "We have people from different religious backgrounds."
The class will be held at the JSC, at 174 South Franklin Street, in the Emporium Mall, room 206. Registration is limited to the center's capacity, though Fegan said they will try and accommodate anyone interested. It begins on the evening of Nov. 2, and continues with a daylong segment on Nov. 3, concluding that evening. No preparation is necessary, Fegan said, but participants should arrive in comfortable clothes. The suggested donation for the class is $135, though Fegan stressed that it's really a "suggested" donation. The whole JSC is run by volunteers; they welcome larger donations and won't turn people away if they are interested but can't afford the full amount of the class.
To register for The Art of Being Human class, email firstname.lastname@example.org; for more information on the Juneau Shambhala Center, visit www.juneau.shambala.org.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at email@example.com.