“Alcohol and Shambhala and You” by Dave Garton

Alcohol was simply part of our family routine. I remember a tan leather briefcase that went with us on all road trips. It opened into a full velvet bar complete with glasses hanging from a rack, little crystal holders for the silver stirring accessories, condiment holders for one’s choice of vegetables or fruit in the drinks, and of course the crystal decanter to hold the drug of alcohol in all its myriad of flavors and forms. Probably not too surprising that I began drinking in seventh grade and hit the hard wall of alcoholism in my late twenties.


Flash forward  to step study in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). I had attended ninety meetings in ninety days. The initial withdrawal was difficult and the usual triggers to drink were becoming recognized and avoided through the help of others. At this point a step study (12 steps altogether) brought me to the 11th step that introduced meditation as an important aspect of staying clean. This was the most fortuitous intersection of my path of recovery with the world of Shambhala.


It has been thirty years of an on again/off again relationship with Shambhala. The introduction to meditation was a Level One held on the second floor of the Naropa Institute.  I remember one of the levels where there was a lengthy delay for a talk and when the teachers finally came through they reeked of alcohol. I have read a seminary transcript where the directors were encouraged to drink alcohol before presenting to ‘relax’. For an organization dedicated to feeling the fear this is a strange directive. Yet a three martini lunch was also considered normal in a culture of those times and certainly my own family carried on generational traditions that alcohol was an integral part.


It is with great appreciation and respect that I see our Shambhala  culture willing to change. The last Dathun I staffed was respectful to the recovery community (of any flavor of addiction) and provided a weekly meeting for this group. The final feast eliminated alcohol altogether and of all the final feasts attended over the years, this was the most delightful, fun, elegant and close knit as I have experienced. The directors were very appreciative of the difference and no doubt their future gatherings will not include alcohol. The Denver Shambhala Center recently went ‘dry’ and continues to have community meetings to uncover our deep seated and systemic problems as the path continues to clarify confusion.


It is truly with a broken heart I watch our entire Shambhala community suffer with the consequences of the past. The causes and conditions of the current situation certainly had alcohol and drugs in the forefront. That line between a thought or feeling becoming an action to create non-virtuous situations is never helped with alcohol and the use of alcohol often short circuits our ability to stop. Once habituated into the family lore, rituals and behaviors, it is difficult to give it up. It is courageous to remove oneself for ninety days yet it is not going to work well if you bring the entire entourage of drinking buddies along. My heart certainly aches for the current situation we all find ourselves yet also am somewhat appreciative that the cocoon is breaking open with all its uncomfortable acknowledgments.


“Chaos can be considered very good news”. How is that for a brilliant synopsis of the current situation? Chogyam Trungpa and the Sakyong are certainly not immune to all this yet their brilliance and love for all of us gives us the tools and now maturity as a community to carry on practice and teachings for the benefit of society. Family rituals can change and indeed, I cherish my past for how it has given me the compassion and understanding to be helpful to others in similar suffering. May we all dedicate the merit for each step of this process.



Dave Garton

2 thoughts on ““Alcohol and Shambhala and You” by Dave Garton

  1. Thank you, Dave. It is a pleasure having your association. Your stories are always inspiring.

  2. Where is your location and what time and dates are the alcohol and addicts and meditation meetings