Shambhala Art Weekend

A couple of weeks ago I was in Boston for a weekend of Shambhala Art taught by Acharya Arawana Hayashi. I’ve been reading True Perceptions: The Path of Dharma Art since the beginning of the year, and this workshop came just at the right time.

The program was concerned with using our senses to realize our connection with the phenomenal world. The mind is creative and very naturally connects with the world. From the beginning of our lives we connect with our world. Our brains are optimized to establish direct connection with the phenomenal world. It’s what we do.

Human beings also have the ability to assign meaning to phenomena. This is a handy tool but inhibits our ability to directly connect with the world. Assigning meaning is not same as perception, but we tend to treat it the same. During the workshop we practiced separating these two activities by focusing on how each of our senses perceives the world. This is a practice of which I am still unsure. Meaning can be very subtle, and I am continuously finding new levels where I’ve assigned meaning. So during the weekend I was especially interested in these processes.

The first sense we worked with was touch, the way our physical body perceives the world. We began with a breathing meditation, then Acharya Hayashi introduced us to the 20 minute contemplative dance. I noticed how the body’s movements generate space and possibility, how the body perceives gravity, and how curiosity can dissolve fear.

We explored our sense of taste with a mindful lunch. After lunch, we partnered up for an empathic listening walk. As Acharya Hayashi gave the instruction for this type of listening she made an analogy to the Buddhist practice of exchanging self for others.

During the walk, I found myself trying to establish connections with my partner, Dingo Custer, instead of exchanging self for other. When he mentioned where he was from, I found myself wanting to tell him that I was moving to the same region of Colorado. When he mentioned what he studied, I wanted to tell him that I also studied Engineering. That type of listening might be helpful to build community, but it isn’t empathic listening. Eventually I was able to hear him without my own thoughts being interjected, but this took some time and constant effort to come back to the listening.

We also exercised our visual perception, perhaps the most difficult sense to work with because we use our eyes constantly in this culture. When we came back from tea, we sat around a flower arrangement and were given specific instructions from True Perceptions to smell, taste, and feel the flowers with our vision. I think this quote from Georgia O’keeffe captures my experience during that activity:

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”

The weekend was a wonderful introduction to the path of Shambhala art. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have investigated these teachings with the other participants and under the guidance of Acharya Hayashi. In the first chapter of True Perceptions, six basic points of Shambhala art are outlined:


  1. attitude of directness;
  2. the artist embodies the viewer and creator;
  3. study of craft, development of skills, and acquisition of knowledge;
  4. a total sense of confidence;
  5. appreciation of things as they are;
  6. expression without struggle of thoughts or fears.

Over the next year, I’m going blog about these points as a means of enriching my understanding and experience of the teachings. Click here to receive an email of this blog.

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