Shambhala Art: The Art of Living Fully By Jennifer Parde


       Which scenario seems more appealing to you? And which more like your everyday reality?:


Scenario #1:

It’s a gorgeous day outside and so you open your office window to let in the sunlight and the fresh breeze.  You take a moment to close your eyes and to drink in the air deeply, filling your lungs, bathing your mind in calm.  Then you open your eyes and take in the gorgeous view—a canopy of brightly colored fall leaves (some cascading to the ground, some already piled onto the Earth’s ever-thickening autumn quilt, others poised to take the plunge days or weeks from now).

Life is good.  You don’t have time to go outside and enjoy a walk, or immerse yourself more fully in  the experience, just now, but there will be an hour, after leaving work, before sunset–that may be the time.  (You could drop by the park for a brief stroll, on your way home!) In the meantime, you take a few moments to stretch, as you’re learning to listen to the aching pleas of your back and neck.  Then you sit back down to a warm cup of tea, poised and ready to face the drone of the computer once more.  Revitalized, the words–whether written in e-mail, report or story form–come easily now.  If ever you tense up, you take a moment to breathe and come back to your body, as you know the ideas will flow most easily that way, and your experience will be most enjoyable as well.


Scenario #2:

You don’t want to be here right now.  Honestly.  It’s all you can do to keep your mind fixed on the task at hand.  It wants to race away to . . . anywhere.  Tahiti, preferably.  But tonight’s dinner, or last night’s charged conversation with your boyfriend, or tomorrow’s task, or the most recent political debate–any of those will do.  Anything but here.

So, you check the time, you check your e-mail, you check your Facebook account, but the task is still there–not going away on it’s own. <sigh> Well, you’ve just gotta brace yourself and get through it.  You’ve gotta meet this deadline and you’ve got about three hours to go.  Got to get it done, or the it’ll mean staying overtime, and missing the chance to go out tonight.  (Not that I have the energy to go out tonight anyway. . . But I promised Carol weeks ago that I would go out dancing with her.  What will she think if I blow her off again?. . . Wait, Jen.  STOP.  FOCUS.) <sigh>  Let’s try this again.


Indeed, let’s try this again.  Why does life feel so difficult, so often? As people, as workers, as lovers, as artists–Sometimes we get overwhelmed and our vitality seems to dry up.  Our life force feels depleted.  Or maybe the creative impulse is there, but we’re choked by self-doubt and criticism, by impossibly high standards, and so the words never make it out of our mouths.  The colors never manifest on the page.  The body feels too tight and worn-down to dance; the heart feels too constricted to sing.  How depressing.  This isn’t the way to live, and it’s certainly not the way to create.

But there is another way.  Try on these words by Shambhala teacher and founder Chogyam Trungpa (from True Perception, p. 152 + 153):

      “When relaxation develops in us, through letting go of neurosis and experiencing some sense of space and cool fresh air around us, we begin to feel good about ourselves.  We feel that our     existence is worthwhile.  In turn, we feel that our communication with others could also be worthwhile and pure and good.  On the whole we begin to feel that we are not cheating anybody; we are not making anything up on the spot.  We begin to feel that we are fully genuine.  From that point of view, one of the basic principles of a work of art is the absence of lying.  Genuine art tells the truth.”

What Chogyam Trungpa seems to be saying is that the ability to relax, and to connect fully with our experience, is a pre-requisite both for living a full, meaningful life and for producing good art.  Intriguing.  Here’s another passage in which he blurs the boundary between the receptive and expressive, and between the artist and the basic human:

“Being an ‘artist’ is not an occupation, it is your life, your whole being.  From the time you wake up in the morning, when the buzzer in your clock rings to get you up, until you go to bed, every perception you experience is an expression of vision–the light coming through your window, the hot-water kettle boiling to make you tea, the sizzling of the bacon on the stove, the way your children get up with a yawn and your wife comes down in her dressing gown into the kitchen.  If you limit that by saying “I am an artist,” that is terrible.  It is showing disrespect for your discipline.  We could safely say that there is no such thing as an artist, or art-ism, at all.  There is just art–dharma art, hopefully.”



I am a vocalist, a musician.  And a teacher.  A healer and sometimes-writer.  But I am more than these labels, which could easily become chains–binding my life, deeming only certain experiences to be of value.

And so, sometimes, as Chogyam Trungpa suggests, it is necessary to come back to my basic experience.  On the most basic level, I am a human being.  I am sitting here, breathing–open and tender, sharing my mind and heart with you, in hopes that some of these words and feelings and pictures might translate to your experience.  On a basic level, I experience the fatigue of my body (it is past midnight as I write this), and patience of my heart-mind as I endeavor to reach my goal (this finished piece of writing).  On a basic level, I experience my feet resting on the bottom of the chair; I feel the slight tightness of my shoulders, the fullness of my breathe, the ease of these tapping fingers as my mind shifts into an more flowing, communicative state.

I am a human being.  And I am also a creator, as are you.  The desire to create–whether a painting, or a poem, or a table setting, or a coordinated outfit–is always there.  The desire to express ourselves–through words, through e-mails, through gestures and texts and Facebook posts–is also unceasingly (although often interrupted by self-doubt or goaded by self-inflation).  We are creators, each of us.  So, the question is–how we will we express ourselves? What will we create? And how will we create it?

Good question.  And the answer is to be found–where else?–only in your own experience.  In this moment–if you open your eyes, if you dare to connect genuinely with your experience–you can experience joy and vitality.  In this moment–if you take a deep breath (or two, or three) and release your judgements and preconceptions–you can connect with a fundamental sense of relaxation, of contentment and of worthiness.  In this moment, springing from that ground of connection and openness, you can trust that genuine creative impulse that arises–whatever it might be.  You can feel safe to take a risk and to express your voice genuinely, in the way that you’ve always longed to.   You can feel safe to be yourself, fully and completely, and to create–one word, or one note, or brushstroke at a time.  That’s right. . . Just be with your experience, with your creative flow, fully–love it, and feel it, and care for it, and let it go, completely. . . Feel the energy swelling through your body, opening your heart. . . And just stay, and listen, and drink it all in. . . That’s it. . . Perfect.




As a sort of post-script–an offering, if you will, or an illustration–I leave you with this original poem.  Thank you for staying–with me, and with your experience–and I wish you rich blessings in the day, or the night, that you are about to experience <3:


Nature (on 95)

Nature intrudes at the most unexpected of moments,
like when I’m crawling through rush hour traffic on 95
(on a Friday, no less),
and suddenly I notice LEAVES:

blowing across the interstate, pelting mine and the other cars.

My eyes, tickled, snap open now.

So I notice also:

swooping and dancing in twisting Vs
(in contrast to a plane that arches evenly, slowly overhead).


mountains of them, all a thick blue-gray,
piled softly one on top of another,
like folded blankets
(heaviest on bottom, thinnest on top).

Nature intrudes the most unexpected of moments–
and at this moment,
my tight rush-hour heart falls open,
and I am glad.


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