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John Winter

Crestone Sangha member and program director at Dharma Ocean

Interview Conducted by: Kelsey Gustafson on Feb. 26, 2008


John grew up in California, spending his first nine years in Lafayette and then North County San Diego. He describes his upbringing as “the classic upper middle class white suburban lifestyle, somewhat sheltered”.

In college, John studied philosophy and religion and at age 19 realized that there was much more to the human journey than he had ever imagined. “I began to see that the world that I was living in was not operating on the basic principals that I found in the core of my being of respect for human life and respect for the individual”.

This revelation led John to a time of seeking which eventually led him to Naropa University in Boulder, a Buddhist university founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the main teacher of the lineage he now practices. “ I was feeling like I was sort of put through this system that didn’t really have the support that I felt I needed to sort of have an individual journey and that’s something I was looking for at Neropa and found”.

At Neropa John went on a moth long retreat with Reggie Ray, an advanced student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. “He really seemed to embody what I was looking for. I didn’t even know what I was looking for but I knew I had found it when I met him”. John did everything he could to become more a part of his community while in Boulder and when Reggie Ray moved to Crestone, John and some other students decided to move with him. More and more people are moving to Crestone as it is becoming a “home-base” for Reggie Ray and his lineage of Buddhism. John has been living in Crestone for a couple of years where he has worked construction and is now working at Dharma Ocean as a program director.

Q: What is special about Crestone?

A: “I think most of us who live here in Crestone are just really enthralled by these mountains. They just have this sort of energy and stability and yet at the same time they’re always speaking. They’re always saying something different and the energy around them and the cloud formations around them are so unique and every day there’s a different conversation going on up there. And just energetically this place has a sort of clarity, this kind of restfulness, peacefulness. They say that this valley used to be a sacred place for neighboring or even warring tribes of Native Americans. I could defiantly understand why. It kind of radiates that sort of energy.”

Q: Describe your religious community

A: John is a member of a Buddhist community in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche now lead by Reggie Ray and his wife lee ray. They practice meditation in intensives and in retreats when possible and otherwise focus on individual daily practice. According to John, “Really what’s emphasized above all else is these retreats-intensive times of meditating all day long. And we do that to really tap into our fundamental human experience because we always have so many overlays going on we have so many thoughts…that really keep us from being able to settle and gain more insight into who we are and what’s going on really.”

Q: How do you react to misconceptions about your community?

A: “There all a lot of people who just slap on Buddhism because ‘it sounds cool and I kind of agree with what they think so I’m just gonna call myself Buddhist’.

Chögyam Trungpa coined the phrase ‘spiritual materialism’ to refer to this. There really is no one Buddhism and that’s what’s the tricky part.

Buddhism is about finding who you are and living who you are…so Buddhism is going to be different for every practitioner.

The point of meditation is self-scrutiny-seeing what’s going on beneath the surface. So one should hope that a community of practitioners as a whole would be able to do that on a larger scale”

Q: What is the relationship between your community and other spiritual communities in Crestone?

“We’re kind of the new kids on the block and were feeling our way in and kind of getting to know the other communities. I personally don’t know very well many people from the other communities and I think that’s something that I’m hoping is just gonna grow in time. Its hard moving into an area, to Crestone, when there are already people established and then we sort of come in, were subject to all kind of responses from people welcoming us to hating us, the whole range.

My impression is that most of the communities just kind of stick to their own thing and do their own thing. And we get together in the Crestone spiritual alliance. And I hear that in the summer there’s volleyball tournaments in the different communities which I think is way cool. I would like to be a part of that.

There’s a lot of people dong a lot of cool stuff here and there’s a lot of creativity coming from this valley and what is creativity good for but to offer it to the world? And the spiritual dialogue that’s going on around here is amazing.

Q: Could this energy happen in any other location?

A: No. And when you say this energy I’m thinking the uniqueness of this valley and these mountains and this sort of draw, apparently, for spiritual seekers, energetically. I do think there are other places in the world that have similar energy where people can come together, but nothing like this. This is somewhat unique.

Q: How has the proposed gas and oil drilling affected your life?

A: It’s become a big part of our lives for most people in Crestone. It’s a big issue a lot of people have opinions about it. Some are more impassioned than others. I have really mixed feelings about it. I think it would be terrible on the one hand…for them to set up rigs for us to stare at from our quote un-quote sacred mountains. There’s tons of political action going on that I’m sort of on the periphery of.

Q: How would the drilling affect the community?

A: It would affect different communities differently depending on their points of view. Personally, while I think at the base level it’s a problem because its basically harming wildlife and harming the earth, I think there’s another level where I see it as a real blessing, as a wake up call because it’s really easy for those of us who move to Crestone and practice spirituality a lot…to kind of get this mindset where we’re like ‘oh we’re removed from the world, we’re a little bit removed from the violence out there and the way that pretty much our whole culture and society weather or not we live in Crestone is taking advantage of the earth and is taking advantage of other cultures.

And I think its really easy for us to try remove ourselves and think that were sort of above that or better than that and its actually somewhat ironic and I think somewhat poetic that here we are faced with possibly staring out our windows and looking at oil rigs and being able to recognize that we’re not separate from Lexam; we’re not separate from the people coming in and doing this. With the exception of a few people who are living off-grid, and really are walking their talk, most of us are driving around in our little mini SUVs. I use gas, I heat my home, and I’m relying on the oil that we’re extracting from Iraq just as much as anyone else to live the lifestyle that I’m living. And so I think it can be a really positive wake up call; ‘look. This is the sign of your culture and your lifestyle and your time and if you’re going to continue living the way that you’re living, prepare to see oil rigs all over the place. Prepare for the land to be devastated’. It’s not a huge judgment. It’s just a direct result of your actions and just be prepared for that-that’s all.

Q: Do other people share this view?

A: I have not spoken that to the community so far because I don’t think they’re ready to hear it. I might, but I kind of feel like I would get hanged at this point. I mean people are really impassioned…its like there’s this big bad guy out there and we have to present a united front against evil, but the thing is that’s part of us. I mean it’s not really a separate thing and we can’t really confront aggression with the same kind of aggression. Its not gonna work.

Q: Do you see the drilling as a problem or a blessing?

A: I think it’s a problem only insofar as we view it as a problem. And I don’t mean that in an apathetic way, but I think everything that happens in life carries a really important message for most of us and I was just describing to you what the message is in all this for me. It’s offering a way for me to kind of examine myself and my life. I think it’s a problem in the sense that were destroying the earth and I think it’s not a problem in that it’s reminding us that were destroying the earth.

So do I think the general direction of our culture and our world is going in a negative direction? Yeah. By the way that we’re exploiting the earth and its resources and most of all exploiting human beings all over the globe.

Do I think that this whole problem with Lexam coming in and drilling is particularly a problem over and above anything else? No. In fact I think it’s a blessing because its reminding us that just because we moved to Crestone and are ‘spiritual’, doesn’t mean that were above it or outside of it. It’s a call to be engaged.

Q: What is the economic status of your community?

A: I’m not sure about Crestone as a whole but I can speak for our community. Most of us are either students or those who can afford to pay for week long and month long programs. And they’re not entirely cheap so right there it filters out...like for instance we have this humungous Mexican American community in Alamosa but its not represented in our community cuz what were doing costs a bunch. You have to take time off work, you have to arrange your life if you’re lucky to be able to do that. We have scholarships, but to be perfectly honest with you we don’t have the kind of diversity that I hopefully would like to see in the future.