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What I Learned While Teaching in Colorado

They sell Buddha statues in the liquor stores in Boulder!

They sell Buddha statues in the liquor stores in Boulder!


The last time I was in Colorado, I was drunk, stoned and smoking a lot of strange things while staggering around Breckenridge. That was 1996. This weekend I went to Boulder, Colorado to speak at the Boulder Book store, the Nalanda Center at Naropa University. Next was a trip to Denver to speak at the Denver Shambala Center and at a DUI mandatory education class. It was an amazing and difficult trip for me. When I got to Boulder I stayed in the International Hostel there, very close to the university and many frat houses. You could hear the frat boys yelling, “FUCK YOU” from one house while others yelled back, “NO, fuck YOU!” from another porch filled with drunken pre-adults. It was otherwise pleasant but pretty hard to get some sleep at.
Boulder View

We had webcast teachings going on during the early mornings, which I tuned in to. I try to never miss a teaching.

Travel Altar

Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche

But this made me pretty tired so I really had to be careful to stay on an even keel. I got the the Boulder Book Store and found the room to be set up beautifully and all of the people there very friendly and helpful. The room filled with more friendly faces, about 43 total, as I got started with a guided meditation. The group was comprised of many 12-Steppers, many Buddhists and a good amount of those who practice both. The talk went very well and people purchased many books, which I signed afterward.
Display for the talk.

Display for the talk.

A couple of people from there came by the next day, met up with me at a noon meeting and showed me around Boulder. We went by the Marpa House, where I ran across the mother of the Sakyang Rinpoche – Trungpa’s son and current head of Shambala. Then I got a good history lesson on the Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche legacy during a tour of the original Boulder Shambala Center (Vajradhatu). I looked at many thankas while hearing about the visit from the The 17th Karmapa. There was a small shrine set up with relics from Chogyam Trungpa and a large picture of him. I put my hands together before them and paid respects.

at the Boulder Shambala Center

at the Boulder Shambala Center

That evening I led a group of participants through the first three steps with guided meditations and lecture on Buddhist principles as they relate to 12-Step principles. It went quite well and everyone said they were moved by the experience. The next day I drove to Denver, winding up at a shitty, smelly hostel called the Melbourne in downtown Denver. It wasn’t as noisy, however, as the nicer hostel in Boulder. I got kind of sickly depressed being there, so I took a 16 block walk to the Denver Art Museum and People’s Fair. Denver Art MuseumAfter navigating the noise, dozens of street vendors and crowds, I got to the museum and checked it out. I wasn’t overly impressed. We have a nicer museum in Portland, in my un-art-educated opinion. Red Foxes

I was picked up by a very nice woman to take me to the Denver Shambala Center. They were very nice and the room filled up quickly. Most of these people were fairly experienced practitioners, in recovery and well versed in both Buddhism and the 12 Steps. There were some who’ve participated in the Dharma Punks and related recovery workshops as well. So I wanted to be sure to give them a good workshop. From the number of people and books sold, I’d say it was a smashing success. Many people–and this is pretty typcal–bought 2-3 copies of the book which I signed for the intended recipients.

At that point I felt like my work was done. I had one more talk to give at a counseling center for a group of DUI offenders. I thought it would be easy to find and deliver, but it was neither! So much for expectations. On Sunday morning, exhausted from the talks, the walks, the driving and the fleabag motel, I got lost trying to find the place. I had to ask a cop for directions! I still don’t enjoy talking to cops. So he gave me partial directions and I still couldn’t find the place. When I finally did, I found a hearty, but skeptical welcome waiting for me. I could tell they were a little wary but hopeful that I could help.

So here’s the rub. This was the most fun I had all weekend. There were about 40 “offenders” at the program–not one of which really wanted to be there. I told them that I’m used to dealing with people who are a) already in recovery and b) interested in spiritual topics. So I explained my history, the nature of addiction, the continuum of attachment to addiction, how they don’t have to be an addict to be there, that we can all benefit from meditation and so on. When I looked up during a guided meditation, I found each and every person to be fully engaged and participating. They all had soft expressions on their faces. That’s how it went for the whole time. We did half a dozen different meditations, had some dynamic interactions and a little pop quizzing as we went. They were doing it and I was impressed. At the end they bought the rest of the books I’d carried with me and many stayed after “class” to talk. I was really, pleasantly surprised by all of this.
Colorado Tornadoes

I found the airport pretty quickly and returned the rental car while the Denver skies turned black and hail pounded the windshield. I found out later that no less than five a tornadoes hit Denver, and one touched down not far from where I was. When things like this happen, I feel that there is something to it. Not sure what, exactly, but we have to deal with obstacles sometimes around Dharma events. It’s almost as if the skies reflect a warning from the Dharma Protectors to do it right, and a flash of anger from evil beings who’d rather not see beings freed from suffering. In light of everything, I was kind of glad to be down with it by the time I got on the plane and quite relieved to make it home safely.
But the bit that really blew my mind wasn’t clear until today. Everyone knows Trungpa was a hard core drinker and a super bad-ass teacher. Some say a genius. If he were alive today, I feel that we would have a relationship. I know how to be sober, and many of his students to this day still struggle with addiction. I was told that they misinterpreted Trungpa’s behavior to assume that it was OK to drink and use. In my opinion, a teacher of this caliber may even have been torturing himself to show us our own attachment. I didn’t know him, he died in 1984 – the year I got sober. But I do find it very interesting that on my trip to Boulder, it was all Trungpa all the time. It was practitioners from his lineage who came out and took care of me and offered their support and attention. You may recall when I talked about Reggie Ray’s workshop last year that I said I felt that Trungpa was in the room. Now I feel it on an even deeper level. This is woven in to my experience that as I continue to take teachings, give teachings, visit power spots and do practices I’m affected on very deep levels of body, speech and mind. The Dharma has taken hold, and continues to ripen in my life and, hopefully, in the lives of others as we “trudge the road,” so to speak.

Thank you to everyone for helping me and other suffering addicts in this path.

1 comment to What I Learned While Teaching in Colorado

  • arnie

    Hi Darren,
    Just about half way through your book. Congradulations! I like it a lot and will recommend it to people in my 12 step community here in Victoria, BC. I'm surfing your website toady (which is also very good and packed with material – must have been some work putting it all together) and wanted to respond to a comment.
    The following caught my eye in the article – What I learned While teaching in Colorado, you wrote : "But the bit that really blew my mind wasn’t clear until today. Everyone knows Trungpa was a hard core drinker and a super bad-ass teacher. Some say a genius. If he were alive today, I feel that we would have a relationship. I know how to be sober, and many of his students to this day still struggle with addiction. I was told that they misinterpreted Trungpa’s behavior to assume that it was OK to drink and use. In my opinion, a teacher of this caliber may even have been torturing himself to show us our own attachment."
    I've been around a few spiritual teachers that had active addictions (sometimes very visible). I didn't recognize back then, as I wasn't into recovery myself and didn't have the understanding I do today.
    But, I do think we should not be deluded by the fact that even spiritual persons and teachers (no matter how high we place them on the pantheon of spiritual greatness), can at the same time be utterly human and have addictions that not only harm themselves, but also others. I am a recovering sex/lust addict and I recognize that this is an addiction rampant in many spiritual communities and amongst teachers, just as it in the greater society.  (One could argue Trungpa may of also qualified for an S-program as well.) 
    This get's me to your last line "In my opinion, a teacher of this caliber may even have been torturing himself to show us our own attachment."
    I think this is BS, and just a way to NOT diminish a teacher's place in our imaginary spiritual pantheon. Can't we simple accept that Trungpa's problem was real, it did lead him to an early grave, and that his disease affected the attitudes of those around him.  
    One of my teachers said: "Every saint has a past, ever sinner has a future." I'd like to think of this in relation to each moment, each breath, and of all those I know. We are all utterly human and yet so precious.
    Thanks again Darren… I look forward to meeting you sometime. Arnie