By Bryony Welch, now in temporary ordination at Gampo Abbey.
I arrived at Dechen Chöling almost a year ago, in mid-October, a bit dried up. Having just completed my degree in London, I was stressed out, disconnected and feeling unsure of what I wanted from life. I came because I trust in the power of meditation practice to settle the mind and because I felt that the way I’d been approaching life recently was not working.
As an ‘MIA’ – somebody in the Meditation In Action programme, you volunteer in of the departments in Dechen Chöling for several hours during the day. I spent what seemed to be the whole of one long autumn raking leaves into huge piles which we’d then transport to the compost on what is optimistically called a ‘tractor’ (a lawnmower with a trailer attached) and then winter constructing a bench from scratch using pallets which I deconstructed and sanded down. Others cook, clean, and help in the boutique.
The Buddhist truths of suffering, impermanence are not escaped from in a spiritual community. In a way, they are highlighted as people come and go, dynamics shift. Living within a community provides its own set of challenges, and sometimes there are disagreements, discord, and frustration.
In Shambhala, there has been a crisis involving the Sakyong, the spiritual leader of the organisation and the teacher of the Vajrayana path. Revelations about his behaviour towards his students and followers came out last year, and have provided a knock to the Shambhala communities across the globe which left some of his students feeling disappointed and disillusioned, as well as impacting the centres financially. This has affected Dechen Chöling.
And yet, it is not just suffering and impermanence which are highlighted, but also that we indeed have a precious human life. As an MIA you become attuned to the power we hold within us for using the always look within, to use the obstacles that we face as fuel for our spiritual growth and transformation.
It’s been wonderful to be at Dechen Chöling. I’ve been nurtured in my practice, and my understanding of Buddhism and meditation has expanded and deepened. I have had a lot of fun, with a lot of great people. Having now left Dechen Chöling, I continue to miss it and recommend it to anyone who is looking to develop their practice in a supportive yet relaxed community.