“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That's the only thing you should be trying to control.”― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Meditation has long been an interest of mine. My first real study of meditation began when I started my first BA at the University of Colorado. During my twelve years in Boulder I became quite accustomed to walking over to CU’s main library and picking a subject at random and reading my way through the shelf. It was earlier on when I discovered the vast section on religion and became quite fond of the “Buddhism” shelf. What held me captivated was the works on meditation. In 1996 I read a book called “Walking on Lotus Flowers: Buddhist Women Living, Loving and Meditating” which was a collection of stories from Buddhist women. One story stood out to me and even to this day I still reference it. A woman lived in a cave and was alone with herself and her meditation practice. After reading the book I always questioned myself and if I was strong enough to be able to sit with myself and only myself for any period of time. I was sure that not being around people would not be very difficult but the books, I was desperately afraid that without books I might just go insane. So from the day I read “Walking On Lotus Flowers” I have always kept it somewhere in the back of my mind that I wanted more from my meditation that I wanted to someday sit in a cave and see what I could discover about myself.
It was not until many books and years later that I actually embarked on a mini self-exploration retreat. In September of 2007 I took my first meditation related Reader’s Vacation.
What to read:
Determining what to read on this reader’s vacation was perhaps the hardest part. As I mentioned there are so many books to choose from but a real reader’s vacation is all about immersing yourself in a book and the place around you so you do not want to have too many (no more than two or three books at a time is my preference). Finally I narrowed down my reading choices based on the following:
• Meditation experiences from real people
• Meditation experiences that involved travel
• Meditation experiences… not a how to meditate guide
Based on my very broad guidelines I choose the following book:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
In the book Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert chronicles her journey to find herself after a long divorce. She decided to take a year and spent it in three different places for three different purposes. The book is divided into three books. In Book I Gilbert describes her time in Italy for which she hoped to speak Italian and eat Italian food. In book two Gilbert travels to India to pray at an ashram. In book three Gilbert would return to Indonesia where at first she had no plans what she would do during her stay but a palm reader 2 years before told her she would be back and would stay with him, so in the attempt to experience something different she went on a whim hoping he would remember her. [Read the rest of my review on Goodreads]
Where to go:
“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy's fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure--your perfection--is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the buy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
The possibilities are endless here and the time you will need to perform such a vacation could be a weekend, a week, a year or a lifetime. My Reader’s Vacation took me to the mountains of Colorado over a weekend to a little place called Red Feather Lakes Colorado. Unlike Gilbert I did not feel the need to travel all over the world to find myself. I was positive that I was somewhere in the mountains of Colorado. One day while I was pursuing the free newspaper stands in Boulder I discovered a course curriculum for meditation courses at the Shambhala Mountain Center. There was an advertisement for a free Labor Day weekend retreat. As fate would have it Labor Day was that weekend and we did not have any other plans.
|The Great Stupa at the Shambahala Mountain Center|
Red Feather Lakes Colorado is the home to the Shambhala Mountain Center. While it is not an ashram in India it is a place where you can escape the busy world around you and live for a weekend or longer in a community that meditates, does yoga and together everyone takes care of their surroundings. We spent a weekend at Shambhala and participated in the free workshops their offered during a Labor Day Weekend event. From yoga to Zen poetry we tried everything they had to offer but what stood out to me was the Great Stupa where we could meditate at any time of day. Although it was just a weekend that I sat in the Stupa the experience stood with me to this day. I would sit for hours in front of the large Buddha and just sit. Then we would walk the trails around the Shambhala Mountain Center and listen to the world around us. At meal times we joined the others in the center and ate food that was grown and prepared right there just hours before we were to eat it. All my senses were stimulated while at the same time being relaxed. Just like Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love I had an awakening while in meditation. My life did not change dramatically in that moment but that Reader’s Vacation profoundly changed my life and led to an even longer Yoga Reader’s Vacation four years later.
|The Buddha inside the Great Stupa|
When traveling to Red Feather Lakes Colorado of course you will want to see the Shambhala Mountain Center. Depending on the time of year there are workshops for just about everything. Personally I recommend traveling there sometime in June- August. During those months the weather is absolutely perfect for hiking and outdoor yoga and meditation. Besides participating in the workshops make sure you allot plenty of time to tour and meditate in the Great Stupa. It is North America’s largest Stupa at 108 feet and represents the aspiration for peace, harmony and equanimity for all. Also the area is literally a national forest with tons and tons of hiking trails, lakes and quite little place to sit with your thoughts. Although there are little places to eat when you head into the towns nearby I highly suggest you eat at least one meal at the Shambhala Mountain Center. The last time we were there they green their own veggies and prepared the meals fresh each meal. They ask for money or work donations for the meals.
How much it will cost:
This varies on what you want to do at Shambhala and how long you want to stay. If you just want to go to the Great Stupa for a day and look through the meditation books they have right there in the Stupa it is free (donations are of course always encouraged). If you want to participate in workshops for a weekend the prices range from $300-1000 depending on lodging needs and the workshop. Just a note, there are scholarships available and I met many people who were working to pay off their stay so do not let price deter you from taking the journey if you really want to.
When to Go:
As I mentioned earlier summer months are really a fantastic time to be in the Colorado Mountains (June- August) but the center is open all year long so any time you can fit in should work. Just be sure to pack season appropriate.
More information about Shambhala Mountain Center: http://www.shambhalamountain.org
More information about Walking on Lotus Flowers: http://www.amazon.com/Walking-On-Lotus-Flowers-Meditating/dp/0722532318
More information about meditation: http://www.amandasweeklyzen.com/search/label/Meditation
More information about Eat, Pray, Love: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/112092721
More information about Elizabeth Gilbert: http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/
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