(by Anne-Marie Keppel)
I believe the eleventh hour to be upon us, and perhaps coincidentally, I have witnessed a thrilling shift within Shambhala.
October 2017 was a new dawn in Shambhala for me. Though I have been sitting on cushions since I was five, and gobbling up any available dharma from the teachers, books and open talks at Karmê Chöling since 2005, I could in fact be, the world’s worst Shambhalian.
After twelve years of “being on the Shambhala path” I really should be on Scorpion Seal 64, right? Meh, well, through a variety of reasons including being a single working mother combined with a slight skepticism regarding how much merit actually emanates from shiny pins, I’m now thrilled to be registering for level 3. Don’t laugh, understanding the extent of the cocoon teachings in level 2 is worth spending several years on.
The last reason I have been such a delinquent student is, I have not witnessed a lot of action… I have not witnessed a lot of bold extension by practitioners into the grief zones and confused pockets on the planet. For Shambhala to really pull me in, I have been waiting for the “and now get out there” part of the path. The part where you say, “enough about me!” and organize volunteer groups in your town to scrub out old buildings and create new drop-in meditation centers for teens.
The Growing Brave Shambhala Children and Families Conference in Boulder moved at such a pace I was dizzy with inspiration and motivation. The program was led by Acharya Lobel, Wendy Freidman and Jane Arthur. Yet, the program was run by participants. What. Shambhala doesn’t do that, I know. I had no idea how such a flip in structure would turn out, but holy bananas when the wisdom of the group is allowed to flow out into the program space, is then formed into tangible orbs and the Acharya leads from behind… Well, magic happens.
Eighty participants gathered to discuss children. However, when we all spoke about what we wished to discuss, the topics ranged from media/cell use within Family Camps to bullying, to adults who wanted to discuss feeling that they were unwanted as children and there were many more topics needing to be addressed. As an underlying current we had a powerful, painful and urgent reminder of the importance of our work, from the recent suicide of a beloved teen sangha member. How could each of these diverse topics be explored when each topic is so uniquely and direly important?
With careful planning and foresight, the Growing Brave Council modeled an Open Space conference where participants lead their own topic, combined with similar topics, and broke out into groups. Throughout the weekend participants went from room to room and entered into conversations and plans that vibed most deeply with their hearts’ desire. The only down side was that we all wanted to attend more than the eight break out sessions we had time for. This is good. This means there is much work to be done.
So, what is the ultimate goal we are seeking regarding educating and caring for our children in our sangha and on the planet? The truth is, at present, they need to educate us. Our children are faster than we are. They see more than us, they see differently than us, they use different language than us. The sooner we listen, watch and really delve into the minds and hearts of our young adults, teenagers and children, the sooner we will be able to help guide and care for them.
Presently, we do not know them. They are being raised in a manner in which no one over the age of 25 can understand. Often they are living two lives, one with us on the planet and one within the vast cosmos of their phones. In a world that is increasingly unsafe and uncertain, the space inside their phone is completely within their control. With one swipe they can feel, happy, sad, angry, numb. With each year that technology expands, the children are increasingly losing emotional coping tools. It’s not just generational gaps any more, it’s yearly gaps. Most have been raised with television/media not only in their home as we grew up with, but also in the car, walking down the street, in the forest, while hanging out with friends… And there aren’t even annoying commercials to sit through anymore. Our kids are not being offered the gift of boredom and annoyance and by being able to call for help and receive help at any moment, our kids are not learning how to cope with fear. Why fear when you can look up the answer in your pocket or dial 911 from anywhere? Remember not linking up with your friends at concerts or festivals because they didn’t find the note you left at the port-potties when you said you were going to be late? Yeah, that doesn’t happen to teenagers anymore.
gasp– Because of the fast pace our children are now living, we must work harder than our parents did to understand us. We need to learn about sexual orientation, gender identity and fluidity and preferred pronouns. We need to learn what micro-aggressions are, what “inherently racist” means, about privilege, white privilege, white supremacy, cultural appropriation, ableism and– how about this one– neuro-diversity. And, you should probably know what Snapchat, Instagram and Tumbler are and what a filter is (beware: Snapchat filters are greatly enjoyable and you may find yourself wishing to live inside one of them). If you think I forgot Facebook, ask a teenager how often they hang out on FB. If you don’t know what any of that is, you need to stop everything and look it up. When you feel safe enough to talk to a scary teenager, do it ASAP and ask them to please educate you and to have them bring their friends- the more racial, economic and gender diversity the better. (Note: you will not find all of these teens within your immediate sangha, you’ll have to— go to the public schools…)
Until we learn where our young adults, teenagers and children are at, we cannot begin to share our wisdom. We cannot teach them how to slow down until we know the pace at which they are running. We cannot introduce to them the preciousness of life as we see it until we understand that in their fast paced life, preciousness is a kitten video… and it’s a gif that’s only 2 seconds long.
Now I’m crying. Because that kitten thing was not a joke. This is real.
Despite the vastly different exposure to world issues than you and I grew up with, increasing environmental disasters and the fact that we currently have a man who is anything but a positive role model as president of the United States, our factory style education system has not changed since the 1800’s. The telephone was not yet invented when this model of education was an appropriate design. Two hundred years later, 99% of what your child will learn in the average middle school and high school is available on their phone in their pocket. You know what they are hardly taught at all: 1. empathy; 2. techniques for helping with stress, anxiety and depression; 3. how to engage in healthy emotional conversation and active listening; 4. facts and contemplations about death and dying; 5. what various foods feel like while digesting in your body and how to make adjustments accordingly; 6. what pleasurable touch feels like and what unpleasurable touch feels like; 7. how to apologize on behalf of others, even if you yourself did not do it; 8. what to do with anger.
The path forward with our children, teens and young adults is first to engage with like-minded individuals to discover personal inspiration and get focused. Then, to meet the kids where they are and do whatever possible to fill in the gaps where our traditional education system and society are lacking. This is not an attack on schools or teachers in general. They are symptomatic of a system of broken values that is prevalent throughout the human race at this time. This is a system that values grade point averages, efficiency and productivity over human experience, curiosity and kindness.
Grown ups, the next time you are sitting on your cushions, contemplate my favorite Dorje Kasung slogan: “Not afraid to be a fool.” Lean in to that so deeply that you might as well be wearing your rump on your head and then go ask a group of teenagers to educate you. Listen to them, watch them. Some times they are as hard to find as leprechauns and other times they come up close. Think of it like exploring outer space Martians…. What is their language? How do they communicate? How do they spawn? Oh, and you can usually bait them with food. Get a shi’ton of food and lay it out… you’ll see.
Come degree of higher atmospheric temp or high water, I have the intention of being at the next Growing Brave Conference. If you’re anxious to delve in now, you can always join one of the multiple organizations that have emerged since the conference. I would highly recommend getting with Acharya Lobel’s Awake Society Now programs, and paying special attention to the Sakyong’s work with Chicago’s inner city conflicts. There are positively amazing people doing work but the inner, inner, inner secret is that one does not have to be a Shastri or an Acharya to change the world. The Growing Brave council sprouted from personal clarity and passion regarding the well-being of our children and not by directions that came from the complex workings and hierarchy of Shambhala. Stretch your spines, Shambhalians, we are capable of so much.
And by the way, the drop-in teen meditation centers I was referring to don’t have to be gorgeous. They can be alleyways or garages… Just offer food and couches and a list of ever developing “house rules” that are initiated by them. It’s not rocket science and you don’t need to be the world’s best Shambhalian. wink Also, for your own safety, don’t try to take their phones from them… Just, be more interesting than kitten videos.
Mother of three (billion)