Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Living Fully

One of the reasons I wanted to visit Boulder, Colorado is the vast and spiritually active Tibetan Buddhist community, or sangha, the Sanskrit word that means spiritual community. 

Brief history: Communist China invaded Tibet in 1949. The Chinese soldiers directly and indirectly killed 1.5 million Tibetan people.  The Chinese soldiers destroyed most of Tibet's monasteries and universities in an effort to obliterate Tibetan culture and religion.  Many Tibetans, especially religious leaders, fled the country, finding refuge in India, and eventually around the world.

One of those places was Boulder.  From Boulder, the Tibetan community has shared their religion and spirituality, inseparable from their culture, with the West.   In fact, the Western hemisphere's only Buddhist university, Naropa University, is located in Boulder.  Chogyam Trungpa, a prominent Tibetan Buddhist teacher who was one of the first people to bring Tibetan Buddhism to America through his teachings and books founded the university in 1974.  While in Boulder, my friend Waylon and I walked around the small campus of Naropa University.  It was satisfying for me, a dream come true, to be and breathe at the campus.

On our first evening in Boulder, Waylon and I also meditated at the Boulder Zen Center.  The Boulder Zen Center isn't affiliated with Tibetan Buddhism--Zen is Japanese--but both originate from the same seed, Indian Buddhism.    Zen is the branch of Buddhism I have studied and practiced the most.  We meditated sitting for thirty minutes, meditated walking for ten minutes, and meditated sitting for another thirty minutes.  It was an incredibly peaceful and enjoyable experience.  Meditation grounds us in the moment. Meditation makes us more aware of the moment.  Not only the moments while meditating, but perhaps more importantly, the moments when we aren't meditating.  Meditating fosters mindfulness in our everyday, ordinary activities.  While traveling isn't an everyday, ordinary activity, meditating at the Zen Center brought a mindfulness to the entire journey that made me more aware of and appreciative of the moments the entire time. 

After meditation, we ate at a small restaurant called Tibetan Kitchen.  I've not eaten Tibetan food before, so I was looking forward to this eating experience in Boulder.  The restaurant itself was nothing special, and yet, in its ordinariness, it was special.  The first room where we ordered our food from a menu on the wall had about three small square tables and warm lavender walls.  The one person working, a handsome Tibetan man with a sincerely happy smile, took our order, made our food, and brought it to us.  We ate in another small room behind the first room.  This room had sunshine orange walls, the color of orange you get when you close your eyes and look at the sun during the summer.  I call it Bliss.  I love the the vibrancy and warmth of colors used in Tibetan Buddhism—joyous oranges, yellows, and reds.  Japanese Zen prefers the simplicity and understated colors of black and white.  The meal I ate was delicious. It was an orange colored chicken curry.  The rice was presented in the center of the curry.  He had placed it in a large measuring cup, I assume, and then flipped it upside down, still in the shape of the cup. It looked like a stupa.  Waylon and I shared an appetizer called momo.  They were similar to a potsticker, but stuffed with veggies and potatoes like a samosa.  They are traditionally eaten when people have not seen each other in a long time and come together, which is certainly what Waylon and I had done.  We last saw each other when I visited him in Portland in July.  We  each other again in Boulder for this journey together. 

Enjoying Tibetan Buddhist culture a la Boulder, I've started reading a book, Living Fully: Finding Joy in Every Breath by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Shyalga Tenzin Rinpoche.  I'd classify the wisdom as more positive psychology than Tibetan Buddhism.  Buddhist practice is the foundation of the teaching rather than scientific research,  but the end result is the same--self realization, self actualization, well being, and living life to the fullest.  My journey to Boulder felt like living fully, as travel often allows us to feel.  Travel is out of the ordinary and so we often feel more alive, as if we are doing something extraordinary.  Living Fully, however, emphasizes the majority of our lives is the daily, everyday ordinariness of living sprinkled in and sparkling with moments of  satisfaction and moments of dissatisfaction  By paying attention to the moment, whatever it is, and appreciating the moment, whatever it is, we can live fully.  We can find joy in every breath.