How did Project Sunshine come to have a patron saint, St. Joseph?

People continue to say to me how stunned they are that I could have accomplished so much for the Shambhala community in such a short time. They are startled by my bravery and perseverance in the face of all the resistance from Shambhala International and the decades of covering up that has happened around the violence within our community.

I can assure you that I am quite human, and this has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure, too, it will come as no surprise that one person could not accomplish all of this. I have received a lot of help, from people like Judy Lief, Grace Brubaker and Karlene Moore, and also there has been inconceivable spiritual help. I would like to acknowledge one large area of that spiritual help today, in the form of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus.

I was ruthlessly driven out of Shambhala by the Toronto Shambhala leadership – by my friends and meditation instructor. It feels funny to write that, but it seems the time has passed to cover these things up with niceties. There has been a surprising amount of emotional/relational sickness in many Shambhala leaders for a long time.

In the Project Sunshine Phase 1 report, Judy Lief wrote, “Although I myself have not been abused, in my various roles, I have been repeatedly frustrated by the lack of response and even understanding of this problem from the leadership. As you say, it is a deeply entrenched pattern of power, chauvinism, and denial that mirrors the patterns of the larger society… At the institutional level, we are a culture (Shambhala), within a culture (Buddhism), within a culture (USA), within a culture (Tibet), all very patriarchal. ” Judy points to patriarchy, an unhealthy masculine-oriented dominance, as a source of this dsyfunction in Shambhala leadership.

Since I have done years of my own healing, followed by years of study and practice as a therapist and healer, I like to bring these discussions out of concepts in our head and into relatable embodied feelings – things we can explore and eventually come to know in our gut, or perhaps in the center of our chest, in our heart center. So what I am going to share today is from that place, and I hope it will speak to that place in your own chest.

I was alone for years after the Toronto Shambhala leadership forced me out of the community. After a time of grieving, I went in search of other community and visited many Buddhist centers in Toronto – Toronto is rich in Tibetan Buddhism. However, nothing stuck – I really didn’t feel a sense of connection with them. So I continued my Buddhist practice at home on my own, year after year after year. I was alone and miserable, and this is just how it was for a very long time.

Within that extended darkness, there was room for something magical to happen. I had a Christian awakening in late 2010. Believe me, it did not come easily! I was brought up in the Shambhala community in Boulder in the 70’s and 80’s, and I grew up in a fairly anti-Christian environment. My parents were definitely down on Christianity. Trungpa Rinpoche said various negative things about Christians, which seemed to aim at their being too focused on suffering. I was resentful about having to say the pledge of allegiance every weekday morning at school, with my hand over my heart, saying “one nation under God…”. I was equally resentful about the assumption every Christmas for the month of December that everyone was Christian. Basically, I grew up with a big chip on my shoulder about Christianity.

So when this Christian awakening happened, it was gut wrenching. However, I was touched by Christ, and I received healing for a great emotional/relational wound in me, much of it originating from what happened in the Shambhala community. In good conscience, I could not deny this healing from Christ. Every time I started to doubt my connection with Christianity, I remembered this undeniable healing I had received from Christ.

I first started going to a church in lent 2011. I heard, week by week, the story of Jesus and his persecution. I didn’t know the story previously because I’d always pushed Christianity away. In hearing the story, I was touched because it resonated strongly with what I had been through with the Toronto Shambhala leadership. It was step by step, heart breaking, and ultimately my ability to be part of formal Shambhala ended. Although I didn’t have the resurrection experience, I sure could relate with all that led up to his death. I cried and cried and cried. I cried for the first time in many years. It was a cleansing of my spirit and my heart, and it was healing.

I eventually found myself drawn to Catholicism, perhaps because the structure and ritual most resembled what I’m used to in Tibetan Buddhism. In any case, I was baptized a Roman Catholic in 2013. The week after being baptized, I began singing in the choir, and since that time, I have rarely attended a mass without being in the choir. The choir of angels, in my mind, is the best place to be! And to my surprise, every choir I have been part of has embraced me as a valued choir member, even though I am clearly more Buddhist than Christian. My relationship with Christian communities has been very blessed.

Fast forward to late February 2017. I had this idea for Project Sunshine to address the long term problem of sexualized violence in the Shambhala Buddhist community. Most people think of Buddhists as calm and kind. Heck, we like to think of ourselves that way! The truth is, we are still human. And unfortunately there has been a significant problem of sexual violence in the Shambhala community since the beginning of the community in the 1970’s. I grew up in this community, and I was sexually abused as a child, as were almost all the children in my age group.

This was a heavy burden on my heart my whole life, and I decided last year to do something about it. Hence, Project Sunshine.

The weekend before I was going to launch the project, I was VERY afraid!

What I can only describe as the Holy Spirit prompted me to reach out to Fr. Peter Turrone, the paster at the Newman Center in Toronto. This is the parish where I sang in the choir every Sunday. I asked Fr. Peter if he would anoint me with holy oil for launching Project Sunshine. He explained to me that the sacramental oil can only be used in the sacraments. However, he said he had oils of St. Joseph, and he could anoint me with those. I readily accepted. Half way through the initial year of the project, I asked to be anointed again, and Fr. Peter blessed me with the oils again.

When I was moving away from Toronto last November, Fr. Peter surprised me after mass one day saying that he had picked up a bottle of the oils and was sending me to Halifax with them. He taught me how to give the blessing of the oils of St. Joseph to others, and he also said I could continue blessing myself with them. In this way St. Joseph has become a patron saint for Project Sunshine.

The idea of Shambhala leadership providing a good source of father energy, as being something reliable and guiding me in how to be in the world, had long ago crumbled and died. I had to move on without the strong, steady, wise male support I had hoped for and needed, as I grew up. And in fact, Shambhala leadership had become a harmful influence. After all these years, honestly, deciding to deal with such rampant and embedded corruption in the Shambhala faith community has felt like an impossible task.

However, with the support and blessing of a pure and strong father figure in St. Joseph, magical things have happened – both within me, and in the connections I have made with people.

Perhaps the most striking support I feel I’ve received from St. Joseph is a capacity that is beyond the “human me” to keep going, keep reaching out, courageously meet with top Shambhala leaders and insist on their awakening, and then to professionally document everything. When I completed the initial 1-year scope of Project Sunshine, I published a report of my findings. This report prompted the leadership of Shambhala to publicly acknowledge the “abhorrent sexual behavior” by teachers in the community. There have been articles written about this situation since that time, both in blogs and in the general media.

At this point the Shambhala leadership seems to be focusing on managing their image and trying to calm the community, rather than focusing on care and authentic healing – such as exposing the abusers, bringing healing supports to the victims, and helping the community in general to digest what has happened and make responsible, empowered decisions going forward.

I have therefore taken on responsibility for creating an independent initiative, Project Sunshine Phase 2. I’ve prepared a plan of healing for our community. It involves adapting an existing toolkit that was developed by Nova Scotian Mi’qmaq for healing sexualized violence within their communities. The toolkit came highly recommended to me, and in looking at it myself, it looks like a very solid approach for this challenging type of healing.

It seems unusual for one person to conceive of a plan for moving forward for a large worldwide community. The reason this is being done in such a solid way is because it is not just one person. There is a lot of spiritual support from St. Joseph, and other Buddhist spiritual energies. And also, a growing number of responsible and caring citizens are gathering to support this initiative moving forward.

A group of us are currently raising funds for Project Sunshine Phase 2, to adapt the Mi’qmaq toolkit (1) for Buddhist communities and (2) to be used on a global scale. To move this healing initiative forward, we need to raise $55,100.

We received a $600 donation from Ari Goldfield yesterday, with the comment, “We very much support your efforts.” People have been contacting me saying what a respectable and good Buddhist teacher Ari is. Although I suspect Ari has no direct connection with St. Joseph, I experience Ari’s support to be energetically aligned with the positive “enlightened” male energy that is now needed for true healing to happen in Shambhala, and other Buddhist communities, suffering from the impact of sexualized violence.

Healing is possible, even for something as big as what we are facing here. Trungpa Rinpoche taught about how we can take practical steps to clean up any situation, like putting soiled clothes through a washing machine – they can be restored to their clean state.

Project Sunshine is about taking that same approach, with the level of skill, bravery and care demanded for authentic community spiritual/emotional/relational healing for such a serious wound. Please be part of this by connecting, educating yourself, talking with others, sharing on social media and contributing financially to whatever extent you are able to the Project Sunshine fundraising campaign. Even a $5 donation moves us forward, and is a precious contribution to this healing vision.


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