A visit to Boulder

SMC 3Wednesday was departure day for me after a retreat at Shambhala Mountain Centre. Some 180 participants had spent time together in the slightly rarefied air at 8000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado. With Laramie and Cheyenne evocatively within striking distance to the north, it was not hard to reconcile this hardy yet elegant landscape with the native North Americans of an earlier era. Every day deer would wander among us, and chipmunks occasionally ran through the marquee rifling fruit from the shrine with striking confidence. A pair of swifts constantly perched on the cabling high in the main tent and chirruped to each other engagingly. Humming birds, wrens, gophers and one quite substantial rabbit all made regular appearances.

My flight was not until 8.45pm so I had resolved to get a local bus from the airport and visit Boulder, one of the renowned founding locations of Shambhala, in particular to visit the Shambhala centre.

As I arrived I was drawn by the sight of war veterans in their 40s or maybe 50s, standing at a road junction, each holding a hand-written cardboard that testified to their honourable discharge and good character but also unemployed status. A few others decamped in the downtown tourist strip that marked the highlight of the city’s commercial centre.

The city of Boulder sits well in its landscape, has a population of about 100,000, and strikes a relaxed profile with its mainly low period-feel buildings. Always visible in the background are the Flatirons, mountains with a distinctive look and lean. This was definitely not at all like nearby Denver with its 50 storey buildings and big city urban intensity.

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After a few enquiries I found the Shambhala centre in Spruce Street, no more than 15 minutes from where the bus had dropped me off. It was an impressive four floor building that had previously been a bank. I dragged my heavy suitcase up the stone steps and was greeted in reception area very nicely by a spritely Julia Gibbs. Having quickly established that I was British and basically harmless, she showed me where to safely leave my stuff and gave me carte blanche to wander around, use the facilities, and take pictures.

The building is as magnificent inside as it promises from the outside. There is so much space and has been very smartly furnished and decorated as befits its function. It has multiple shrine rooms, meeting rooms, offices and storage areas. The top floor was entirely given over to the main shrine with subsidiary shrines in measured proximity and all within one enormous bright elegant space spanning the full width and depth of the building. At the far end a throne was partly assembled and it transpired that the Sakyong would be there for the 20th anniversary of his enthronement, some 250 people were expected to attend.

Philip 1I joined a solitary meditator and it felt very good to sit in this great space, we two were soon joined by another quiet sitter. After 25 minutes, including time for a few photos, I wandered down one floor and noticed the director’s office with the door slightly ajar. I caught the eye of Centre Director Melanie Klein and she invited me in. She took up the post about four months earlier and remembered me from a retreat some 6-7 years previous. She obviously had a lot to deal with, particularly with the Sakyong’s visit fast approaching, but she kindly spent 5 minutes. Yes, the roof needed work and that would be a big expense, they owned the building but of course the bills kept rolling in. All the usual practicalities of running a multi-faceted organisation and caring for a big building.

philip 4Leaving my luggage for later collection, I spent an hour in the city centre and visited a shop called ‘Old Tibet’ that was crammed full of every imaginable Eastern object for the serious orientalist and purchased their most popular incense (so I was assured). This was one of several similar shops all apparently doing a good trade within a small area within a city with a population of 1% that of London. The 1960s was alive and well, somewhat older but doing OK, in Boulder.

I caught my bus back to the airport to discover that the flight was delayed for 24 hours. Spare parts needed from London would be flown in on the next solitary daily flight. We out-of-towners were put up in a smart hotel in Denver so I got to explore that city as well, but that’s a whole other story…..


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