Name: Madison Hartshorn
Type of Project: Artistic/Creative Endeavors
Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
My STEP experience took place at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. At the SMC, I participated in a five day meditation program called Traditional Chinese Qigong, where I learned breathing and movement techniques to create physical and mental stability and balance.
What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
During my week at the Shambhala Mountain Center, I had a moderate amount of time to examine my internal thoughts and actions. Through my observations of myself and others and the activities that I took place in, I began to understand the reasons behind some of my impulsive and impractical actions. I practiced breaking apart the thoughts that are often formed when certain events occur or certain words are spoken to me. Before my retreat, I found that I would get very agitated, uncomfortable, and upset when things were unexpected or didn’t go as planned. However during my experience, I learned to simply notice the thoughts that were produced during these times and to avoid acting on them right away. Normally emotions would instantly rise up and cause me to get upset and act rashly. Now I can let things happen and observe them for nothing more than they are. This has become an invaluable skill. It has significantly lessened the amount of stress and anxiety I encounter on a daily basis and allowed me to view the people and events around me with less hate and more compassion for the life I am living.
What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
Much of my time at the SMC was spent in my designated program learning and practicing Qigong. When not in my program, I had free time to visit the library, talk with others at the center, or meditate. During my stay, I read several books that taught me about how the human mind and body work. It gave me incredible understanding for the world I live in and how those around me communicate and think. It also gave me insight in my own thoughts and feelings and how and why they come about in certain situations. Talking with other program members was also a great learning experience. I had the opportunity to speak with many experienced people that gave me new awareness into how a peaceful mind thinks and reacts to life. At the SMC, there were people from many different states and countries with whom I had the chance to speak with. They gave me the opportunity to become more knowledgeable about other cultures and lifestyles outside of my own.
The Qigong program I participated in was an incredible experience. It was composed of one lecture class followed by multiple classes of learning and practicing the various body positions and movements with corresponding breathing techniques. I had practiced many different forms of yoga over the years and attempted some meditation, but Qigong was a whole new experience. It was awkward at first to learn this new practice, but after some time I found that it was very therapeutic and meditative for my body and mind. The specific form of Qigong I learned has been passed down through many generations, or lineages, of people who are entrusted to teach and inform those in the program of this sacred practice. Only those who took part in the program are allowed to practice Qigong and they are prohibited from speaking with others of what they learned. I am very honored to have had the opportunity to learn and practice Qigong.
The meditation aspect of my STEP experience was the most profound experience. The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is located on the SMC grounds and was an incredible sight to behold. The stupa serves as an inspiration for peace and compassion throughout the world. The feeling when entering the Stupa is unlike any other. I felt all negative thoughts and feelings free from my mind and be replaced with a comforting feeling of peace and safety. Every morning I hiked to the stupa and spent much of my time sitting to meditate and contemplate. For the first time in my life, I had felt at peace inside my own mind. I felt more connected to my body and experiences than I ever had before. I also used photography as a form of meditation during my retreat. Using my camera that I purchased for my trip, I was able to view landscapes and objects in different lighting and films that gave me a new perspective on what I take in through my eyes. It also allowed me to stop and take in my surroundings, which furthered my sense of peacefulness.
During my stay at the SMC, I kept a journal that I regularly wrote in during program sessions and free time. I kept notes while our program leader was speaking so that I could look back and use what she had said at a later date. I often went back over my notes at the end of the day and wrote my own reactions and comments to what I had discovered during that day. The journal was very useful for me to record my transformation that took place. Looking back through my entries after my retreat, I first came to the center frustrated and uncertain. I then continued to journal about my conversations with my program leader discussing the inability to quiet the constant chaos in my mind. Later, I was excited to write about the peace and silence I had experienced for the first time while sitting to meditate that day. This journal has now been very crucial and beneficial for me to look back through and remind myself the journey I went through. I know now that when I feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the chaos in my mind, it just takes is some patience and less aggression to feel the peace and silence once again.
Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
This change has been so valuable to me in my life. Upon returning home from my retreat at the SMC, I continued practicing Qigong and meditation for some time. Once the school year started, I found less time and motivation for my Qigong practice until I stopped it all together. Though I have neglected my Qigong practice, meditation and the knowledge I gained from my experience have continued to stay with me. Meditation has been incredibly crucial for me to find peace and quiet in the chaos of my mind and everyday life. I have been able to observe my experiences and actions in a different mindset, allowing me to react to them in a much more knowledgeable and calm manner than I would have before. I have found that the little pet peeves and annoyances of everyday life have lessened more and more with each day. The time normally spent annoyed and frustrated has now been replaced with compassion and love for the world and people around me.
Continuing on with my meditation practice will undoubtedly help pave a pathway for success in my future. Meditation creates space in my mind to feel at ease even when there is confusion and disorder all around me. This will be beneficial in all aspects of my life when there are unseen and unwanted events that occur; specifically in my job, relationships, finances, and home. Instead of reacting with anger, frustration, and regret, I can observe the events with a quiet mind, resulting in less pain and negative consequences in my life. Additionally, because meditation has resulted in more compassion in my life, I find it easier to enjoy living. I soon hope to regain the inspiration to continue my Qigong practice. Practicing this sacred art has profound physical and mental benefits that aid in longevity and peacefulness that will farther my spiritual practice.