After my last seasonal job ended, and my house caught fire due to a careless roommate, I needed a job and place to live ASAP! I landed a good position in my career field as a land manager at a Buddhist retreat center in Northern Colorado called Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC). It was complete with an elaborate Buddhist temple and even a resident monk.
The pay and housing was absolutely terrible, but the location was beautiful, pristine and far away from the daily distractions and stressors of modern or city life.
It was exactly what I needed at the time. Not long after being there, someone told me SMC has a way of speeding up healing and bringing things you need to deal with to the surface. He was not wrong. It might have been the sacred land the property sat on, the quiet, the simplistic lifestyle, all the meditating, community living, living with your coworkers and seeing them every day including at all meals, a sudden immersion into an unknown Buddhist community and way of living and working, or a combination of everything. Things kept coming up, one after another, and I dealt with them instead of running away, self-medicating, numbing, or any of the old habits I had of not dealing with things that came up. I didn’t click with everyone, but there were a small handful of beautiful souls there that I could speak honestly and openly with that I knew would keep our conversations confidential. It was a learning curve figuring out who those people were, but that’s what made it worth it. Finding those people meant I had to open up and be honest and vulnerable, which was something I’ve always struggled with. Having those people who were so authentic and real was a divine gift, especially during the harder times when I was dealing with my personal demons and just needed someone to listen, hold space, be present with, and give warm hugs.
Working and living in a Buddhist community was its own kind of challenging. I learned a lot while I was there. I gained so much practice in awareness both in myself, others and my environment. That was the best gift. Awareness is the key to healing – for you can only work with that which you are aware of. I learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I learned to look inward and ask myself the hard questions, and more importantly to be honest with myself, even when it wasn’t pretty. That’s how I grew.
I learned to forgive myself. For everything. I was blaming and punishing myself for mistakes I had made years and years ago. Mistakes that now I do not regret as I learned a lot from them. I heard somewhere to give yourself grace and compassion, like you would a close friend – that you did the best you knew how to given what you knew, the tools you had, and all the other surrounding circumstances at the time. That helped me a lot.
I really started working on gratitude. When most of the people living there didn’t have basic amenities in their home, I learned gratitude for the unreliable wifi I had access to without having to go somewhere for it. I gained gratitude for plumbing – having a shower, sinks, toilet, and running water. I was grateful for a kitchen that didn’t have a stove or oven, heating, having my own place, and so many other things we so often take for granted and never even consider. I started keeping a notebook I would write in everyday a few things I was grateful for. I highly recommend started a gratitude notebook, and don’t forget to write down those things we are very privileged to have – like Wifi, it’s pretty friction’ awesome. In this day and age, there is so much negativity, fear, anger, violence, and hate in the world – and it’s everywhere! Gratitude helps combat all of those negative influences. When I started focusing on what I’m grateful for, all the noise slowly started to fall away. The bitterness in my soul turned into compassion, kindness, love and gratitude. All of these emotions are very high frequency – focusing on gratitude is a shortcut to raising your vibration and starting to feel and live in all the other high vibration emotions such as joy, love and peace. This is why gratitude is all the rage and everyone is talking about it. It’s powerful stuff.
I learned acceptance, to accept where I am and not try to change it. I am where I am meant to be. And so are you. I had a “the grass is always greener over there” mindset and serious FOMO. I learned to be present and to trust in the universe (call it God, Yoda, or whatever feels good for you), and that everything happens for a reason. I learned that things aren’t happening to me they are happening for me – i.e. to get out of that victim mindset and realize you are in whatever position you are in and wherever you are struggling to learn an important lesson. Get dumped? Good! You’re that much closer to someone better and more comparable with you, and also, being single is awesome! Enjoy that bed all to yourself. Lose your job? Try doing the thing you really wanna do. Struggling financially? Take it as a sign to get your shit together. Pay off your debt, change jobs if you need to, go through your finances and figure out where you actually are and where you wanna be – and do something about it. Struggling with your mental health? That is a large dire sign from your body and mind that it needs you to stop running, numbing or whatever you’re doing that is not working. Learn to go towards what ails you rather than away. It is a cry from your inner child to be seen, heard, accepted, and loved. It can be compounding emotional wounds that were never truly acknowledged or felt. Feel it. Consider yourself lucky, that you received the message, and you are now hearing it. You can not move ahead until you have. That’s why so many of us feel stuck, we keep repeating the same cycles and patterns through the people we date, people we hang out with, things we do, how we spend our time, etc. when it’s really a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and what we believe we are worthy of. I’ve had many lessons over the years. One of the biggest was an abusive relationship to teach me to love, value, and respect myself and to awaken me to the parts of myself I had buried deep down that needed attention, love and healing. This took me a really long time to learn what that was truly about, but I’m grateful I finally did or I’d still be chasing around toxic bad boys begging for their love and attention. I want to challenge you to consider your current struggles, and see if you can see what lesson is there for you to learn, usually about yourself and what you really need.
I learned patience and compassion for others. You never know what someone else is going through, experiencing, or the kind of day they are having. Be kind. Even if they do open up and share with you, their hurt is their experience, not yours. It is not for us to judge other people’s experience. If only it were possible to metaphorically walk in someone else shoes. Instead of getting angry or frustrated at things that would’ve sent me into a tizzy, like when people cut you off in traffic, I would take a deep breathe and consider what might be going on in their life for X,Y, or Z to happen, or for someone else to act a certain way.
Another important lesson I learned was that not everything, in fact most things, weren’t about me. What do I mean by this? I mean, when someone isn’t texting or calling you back it isn’t about you. If they leave you on read, don’t take it personally. Chances are, it’s not really about you. They are having their own experience. Allow them to have it. If someone flips you the bird on the highway, shrug it off instead of riding their ass for 5 miles while you huff and puff about what an asshole they are. If you’re dating someone and out of the blue they ghost you, instead of taking it as a hit to the ego and drinking away the sting of rejection, let it go! You have no clue what is really going on with others. There are so many variables in life, and things are constantly changing.
Meditation often comes to mind when Buddhism is brought up, and yes, there was lots of meditating. Having a meditation practice is powerful stuff. It calms anxiety, alleviates depression, clears the mind, and it teaches us to be present and grounded which creates a ripple effect that helps other parts of our lives. How? With regular practice, you become more aware; of yourself, your thoughts, thought patterns, surroundings, others, and you begin to understand yourself better. Awareness is the key to healing. Once you realize what needs work, only then can you begin to work with it. Meditation was such a bit part, I’ve decided to write another post on that alone, so stay tuned!
I’ll be forever grateful for all of the growth and healing I was able to do, for all the alone time I was blessed with to work on myself and for the chance to live deep in the heart of nature. It was truly a grand adventure.
What are some powerful lessons you’ve learned? Do you have any practices that keep your mind healthy? Please share below =)