Inspired to Engage: a Shambhalian’s Experience of the Women’s March in Los Angeles
Just as in over 670 cities and towns across the globe, Los Angeles held a women’s march. It was the biggest civil demonstration in the history of the city. The Shambhala Center of Los Angeles rented a booth to offer meditation instruction. What follows is a first person account by member Allison Conant.
Before we get started, three definitions:
1. Politics: “the total complex of relations between people living in society.” (Merriam Webster)
2. Enlightened Society: a society in which there is “an unequivocal and deep sense of confidence. This confidence would not be based upon competitiveness or arrogance, nor would it be tinged with paranoia. The society would be awake, and enriched by the most inexhaustible principle.” (The Shambhala Principle)
3. Chaos: good news. (Chögyam Trungpa)
January 21st 2017. Downtown Los Angeles. 750,000(ish) people relating to each other socially. Politics. Chaos. Good news.
I arrived at 7:00 AM to help set up the Shambhala Meditation booth. The aim of the booth was to give meditation instruction on the spot and introduce people to Shambhala. But as soon as the marchers began to filter into and spill out of Pershing Square, it was clear to me that the energy was shifting and with it, my expectations for the day.
My plan was to stay at the booth, but there was too much magnetizing energy in the crowd. Three of us couldn’t help but join the first wave of marchers. We were fortunate enough to catch the send-off speakers, one of whom was a seventeen-year-old poet named Jessica Romoff. She spoke simply, profoundly of the transcendent power in standing in one’s own truth and declaring, “I love myself.” In the midst of her poem, we heard a low rumble coming from what sounded like miles away. The rumble grew to a roar and suddenly we were all cheering, clapping, some of us even crying, shedding glorious, thrilling tears—the rumble was the crowd itself. Fists were raised in solidarity, signs waved, friends clutched one another. It was a physical response to an “unequivocal and deep sense of confidence.” It was magic. It was Basic Goodness. It was, for many of us, a revolution. It was politics.
Shambhalians know this kind of transformative political action and we understand the power of its magic. It’s the manifestation of a feast in an open field to celebrate the close of a program. It’s greeting a group of Level One meditators on their first morning with hot coffee and, yes, hard-boiled eggs. It is the gentle precision of our Kasung managing a busy Sunday morning sitting. It was in the thousands of exchanges between those 750,000(ish) passionate people gathered in downtown Los Angeles. It is politics. It is magic.
I am not sure of much in this world, but I do believe that Enlightened Society cannot be manifested unless we are willing to get out off of our screens, out of our cars, and engage with each other. It is challenging to maintain the view that chaos is indeed good news, but for a few hours on that sunny, bright day in downtown L.A., I do believe that some good will was generated. That day, passionate people all over the world were becoming engaged, some for the first time. We were awake, claiming for ourselves the transcendent power of Basic Goodness.
On January 21st, I shook off my habitual Saturday patterns and became active in political society. Standing in front of our booth, watching fellow marchers listen to music, dance, share food, engage with each other, it occurred to me that this time, right now, is what Shambhala is meant for. If I am a member of Enlightened Society, I need to manifest it wherever I go. Right here, right now in our country we are in need, desperate need, of it. For years the American political system has been one of division, arrogance, and fear. We have been engaged in a “you can’t have yours if I don’t get mine” mentality. The mindset of “arrogance” and “paranoia” has manifested into a country of division. Shambhala can provide an antidote to this bitterness. Now is not the time to shy away from difficult conversations. Now is the time to engage with the spirit of inquiry. The Shambhala teachings offer something the world is in desperate need of: thoughtful, respectful political discourse.
Last night I lay sleepless, thinking of the suffering of Syria’s refugees. I cannot understand why an American life is more valuable than a Syrian life, but I know that millions of Americans see things differently. I need to begin to appreciate why. Enlightened Society begins with “just you and me,” as the Sakyong says. It’s politics. It’s Basic Goodness. And I can no longer look away. It’s time for me to march for Enlightened Society. That march began January 21st. That march will continue every day of my life.