Friday, June 29, 2018

An Open Letter to the Shambhala Sangha: Sexual Misconduct and the Buddhist Project Sunshine

Dear Sangha,
I am writing this letter in light of Buddhist Project Sunshine, a healing initiative started by Andrea Winn to address sexual abuse in the Shambhala Community. 
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Angela MacKay.  I am a clinical psychologist working in private practice in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As a sexual abuse survivor myself, my psychotherapy practice has naturally focused on working with sexual abuse survivors and healing sexual trauma. 
  I have been involved with the Shambhala community since 2005. While I am a student of Her Eminence Mindrolling Jets√ľn Khandro Rinpoche, I have always considered the Shambhala Sangha my Sangha as well, my spiritual community when I am not able to be with my teacher and her practitioners in Virginia, USA. 
In my experiences with Shambhala, I have never personally experienced any sexual abuse, harassment, or inappropriate behaviour of any kind. But I had heard stories of those who did. Just whispers of abuse, always told in past tense. 
“It’s not happening anymore,” I told myself.  “It’s safe now.”
And then I read Project Sunshine’s Phase I Report. And those whispers of abuse turned into screams. Screams of the unheard survivors. 
  They said, “It’s still happening. It is not safe. “They” know about it. And they’re trying to cover it up.”
I was mortified. I felt betrayed. And I was angry, angry at a religious organization that continued to open its arms to the public, allowing me and countless others into the Sangha, knowing full well that abuse was happening behind closed doors, putting more people at risk for almost fifty years. 
When reading the survivors’ stories, I couldn’t help but wonder: Which teacher sexually assaulted them? Have I ever been alone with that person? Did I attend that program? Did I have that meditation instructor? Was I ever in danger? Am I in danger now? Is my five year old son?
Sexual abuse has no place in a spiritual community, or anywhere, for that matter. Not only is abuse unethical and illegal, but it goes against the very Buddhist teachings that we try so hard uphold. The karmic effects of abuse are all-pervasive and last a lifetime, harming so many more people than just those abused. Like a weed, abuse must be pulled out and destroyed, allowing the full potential of the Buddhadharma to grow and flourish.
After reading the Sakyong’s “apology” letter and Project Sunshine’s Phase II Report detailing the sexual misconduct of the Sakyong, I felt sick. My heart broke. 
The voices, they quietly said, “Yes, the Sakyong, too. The Sakyong did it, too.”
Thank you, brave survivors, for breaking the silence and speaking up. You are true Shambhala Warriors. Thank you, Andrea Winn, and all collaborators on Project Sunshine, for your immense courage and commitment to uncovering the truth.
While I support Project Sunshine’s vision of an abuse-free Shambhala, this vision takes time. Right now, Shambhala is not abuse-free. 
Perpetrators are largely unnamed, untreated, and not held accountable. Survivors are largely unsupported, ostracized, and abandoned. And because perpetrators still hold positions of power and authority in the Shambhala hierarchy, the abuse continues, hidden under the cloak of patriarchy, tradition, and spiritual practice. 
While attempts have been made through Shambhala Care and Conduct to support abuse survivors in the community and deal with perpetrators appropriately, these measures, like Project Sunshine’s vision, take time to implement. 
So what am I going to do in the interim? What are you going to do?
After much contemplation, I have decided that until perpetrators in the Shambhala Sangha, including the Sakyong, take ownership and apologize for their actions, receive treatment, and step down or are removed from positions of power, I cannot, in good conscience, continue on with Shambhala as I have. I no longer feel safe for myself or my family to attend any Shambhala programs or events. I will no longer support Shambhala International financially in any way, as I refuse to support an Old Boy’s Club, no matter how regal its appearance. 
If you haven’t read them already, I encourage you all to read the Project Sunshine reports (Phase I and Phase II) and see the evidence for yourselves. A word of warning—they are quite disturbing. Reflect and contemplate on their contents. And then, once your mind has settled, once confusion has dawned as wisdom and clarity has come, then and only then, take action. 
What you do now matters. You have more power than you think. You, we, are the Sangha. We are Shambhala.
It is not too late to do the right thing. Perpetrators—Fess up, step down, and get help. Survivors—Be brave, speak up, and get the support you deserve. 
And the rest of us? Believe the survivors. They are not lying. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Use the teachings and practices that you have been given, use them as skillfully as you can—we need them, and each other, now more than ever. The Dharma is the only weapon we have to dispel passion, aggression, and ignorance, the root causes of abuse. So wield your weapon carefully, with compassion and wisdom, but decisively, with skill and precision. 
Rise up, Sangha, and take a stand. This is your community. Protect it. Protect the Sangha and all sentient beings, as you have vowed to do. Share this letter with others. Pass it on. Abuse thrives in silence—do not be its accomplice.

With love in Dharma,


        Here is a link to a fundraiser I created for Project Sunshine, an art piece entitled “The Truth”, pictured above, inspired by a quote by the Buddha. Fifty percent of the profits will go to Andrea Winn and Project Sunshine.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Artist Talk: Come Learn About Celtic Knotwork and Possibly Win Some Art

To preview displayed artwork and purchase prints, canvas prints, and more, please visit the Knotted Words Celtic Art webpage at

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Celebrate Poetry Month - Come to the Knotted Words Celtic Art Show

April is poetry month! Come celebrate poetry and the arts at my art show at the Keshen Goodman Library. Bask in the wisdom of the great writers, from T. S. Eliot to Mother Goose to Edgar Allan Poe.

To preview displayed artwork and purchase prints, canvas prints, and more, please visit the Knotted Words Celtic Art webpage at

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Dystopia? How Dystopic Fiction Can Help You Improve Your Relationships, Gain Perspective, and Appreciate Your Precious Life

So last spring, when I was eight months pregnant, I had picked up this book, The Passage, by Justin Cronin, at a used book sale. I bought it because Stephen King had reviewed it, saying "Read this book and the outside world disappears." As a lifelong Stephen King fan, I trust him, and if he says it's good, then it's got to be. And so I purchased The Passage without a second thought.

But Stephen King's endorsement was not the only thing about The Passage that had caught my attention. The back cover blurb was utterly intriguing, one of the best I had ever read, so good, in fact, that I just have to include it here:

Deep in the jungles of eastern Colombia, Professor Jonas Lear has finally found what he's been searching for - and wishes to God he hadn't. 

In Memphis, Tennessee, a six-year-old girl called Amy is left at the convent of the Sisters of Mercy and wonders why her mother has abandoned her. 

In a maximum security jail in Nevada, a convicted murderer called Giles Babcock has the same strange nightmare, over and over again, while he waits for a lethal injection.

In a remote community in the California mountains, a young man called Peter waits for his beloved brother to return home, so he can kill him. 

Bound together in ways they cannot comprehend, for each of them a door is about to open into a future they could not have imagined. And a journey is about to begin. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man's darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human.

Pretty catchy, eh? It really lured me in, making me want to turn to the first page. But alas, I was eight months pregnant, and had more pressing matters on my mind. The Passage would just have to wait.

Time passed, I went into labour, and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. For a couple of months, my life consisted of sleeping, breastfeeding, and diaper-changing, but The Passage still sat the bookshelf outside my bedroom door, just waiting for me to pick it up. Every time I passed by and glanced at its dark cover, I looked at it longingly, the emotional impact of the author's words still haunting me.

Finally, I could take it no longer—the pull of The Passage was just too strong. And so, one dark and scary summer night, while my three month old babe slept soundly, I picked up The Passage and started to read. From the very first page, Cronin had me hooked. It was terrifying—brilliant, beautiful, ambitious, and utterly terrifying. 

As a writer, I was captivated by Cronin's words and the world he created—strong characters, eloquent prose, wicked plot, I read on, knowing I had a lot to learn from this man, this Justin Cronin. With my heart racing and breaking at the same time, I reluctantly put the book down, knowing that I was supposed to sleep when the baby slept and that in reading The Passage into the wee hours of the morning, I was breaking a cardinal rule.

But once I started, I could not abandon ship, so to speak, and every night, when I collapsed into bed while my baby slept or my husband was caring for him, I entered Cronin's world. My husband had given The Passage a nick-name—"Scary Book" he called it, because that's what it was—a future so horrifying, that at times, I could barely bare it.  

I will admit to having mixed feelings about the book—I would look at it on my night table and ask myself—Can I go there tonight, to that very, scary place? And sometimes the answer would be no, and I would pick up another book, and try to escape from Cronin's world, but part of my psyche was always stuck there, wondering what would happen next. Within minutes, I would put down whatever book I was reading, and pick up Scary Book once again.

Cronin's characters are so strong that I did, at times, find myself weeping at the thought of raising children in the dark future that he had envisioned.  In those moments, I had to stop reading, and go and find my beloved husband and child and smother them with kisses and express my love and gratitude for them over and over.  Although my husband appreciated the frequent displays of affection that were the result of entering Cronin's world, he discouraged me from reading Scary Book, saying that maybe it was just too scary for me right now, and that maybe I might do better if I read something a just little lighter.

I agreed that maybe he was right, that maybe a dystopic literary thriller might be too intense for a sleep-deprived, breast-feeding, hormonal new mother, and for a two week period, I didn't read Scary Book at all.  

But did my psyche leave Cronin's world, you might ask? 

No, never.

His characters were always in my heart. They entered my dreams. I thought about them while I was in the shower. No, I had already entered Cronin's world—not reading Scary Book was not going to change that. I soon realized the only way out of The Passage was to finish it.

And so I dove in full force, letting the gravity of the tale propel me forward. In the end, I was wrong—The Passage was just the beginning of Cronin's world—of course, there is a second book, The Twelve, and a third to follow.

While I have read Keith Oatley's Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction and knew that there is evidence to suggest that reading fiction increases the reader's social skills and their ability to empathize, my experience with Cronin's work deepened my understanding of just how much one work of fiction can affect an individual. For even though it has been several months since I have finished it,  The Passage has left its mark, changing my perspective about my life, my relationships, and my world like no other book has. 

Cronin shows me what could be, putting into words humanity's worst nightmare, painting a picture so clear and so real and so plausible that you swear that it's already happening. By showing me the horrors of what the future might hold, Cronin has helped me appreciate my life as it is, reminding me that as bad as things might appear to be when my luck seems low and my perspective is small, there is no way they could be as bad as they are in The Passage, and for that I am grateful. 

So if you are feeling particularly brave, I dare you to read The Passage.  I double dog dare you. See what you are made of. Read The Passage and change your life.

P.S. My Christmas present to myself was, you guessed it—The Twelve. I'm only on page 28, but so far, I'm impressed. And, get this, I'm still scared to read it—maybe I should call it Scary Book 2.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gothic Christmas Photos

Well, my first art show and sale at the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas has come and gone. It was very fruitful—I met lots of amazing artisans and crafters, received positive feedback about my own work, and even sold a few pieces, which was very encouraging.

Here are some shots of me at my booth.

For more pictures of the whole gothic affair, please go to Jen Holtom's Facebook page and check them out. 

Have a Merry Gothic Christmas/Happy Holidays.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knotted Words Celtic Art's Debut Art Show and Sale

So here it is, my first official art show and sale, and the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas Craft Fair is just the perfect venue for my work.

Held at Maritime Hall at the Halifax Forum on Nov. 30/Dec. 1/2013 from 11am to 7pm on Saturday and 11am to 6 pm on Sunday, the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas Craft Fair and Sale is home to all things medieval, gothic, fairytale, and steampunk inspired. Hope to see you there, enjoying your gothic Christmas shopping spree. 

To view some of my inspirational celtic artwork, please visit my main website at Knotted Words Celtic Art or check out my profile page at Pixels/

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Gothic Art? How the Dark Arts Can Lighten Your Heart and Your Life

So right before the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, I posted a new piece of artwork entitled Spinning Celtic Skulls (pictured above), my vision of a glimpse into the mind of Lewis' Carroll's Queen of Hearts. When I pointed my artwork out to my mother, she took at quick glance at the image on my facebook page and her sarcasm was very detectable through the phone when she said, "Very nice, Ange. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too." 

Now, while my mother has always been very supportive of my artwork, she has never really understood my darker side. "Ange," she has said in the past. "I don't understand why you draw and write such dark things. You are so cheerful and happy. You are a nice person. How can someone with such a pleasant disposition create such dark, depressing things?"

And so, Mom, this post is for you—my attempt to answer your question and to go a little further, arguing that it is because I create such dark and depressing things that I am so happy and cheerful. 
This post is for anyone who does not understand gothic art, culture, and philosophy, for all the mothers out there who don't understand why all their teenager wants to do is wear black and listen to death metal, for all the people who would rather focus on the nicer, prettier aspects of life rather than acknowledging the harsh realities of death and impermanence.

But first, I have a confession to make. I am a closet Goth. I have always appreciated the Goth aesthetic, the dark hair and eyes contrasting with pale skin and dark, elegant clothing. I have never had the courage to dress that way, mainly for professional reasons—I don't want to scare my clients away. :-) But while I may not look Goth on the outside, I am definitely one on the inside and this is why.

For me, one of the appeals of gothic art and culture is the acknowledgment of life in all its aspects, its horrors as well as its beauty. Gothic artists and writers possess the ability to see the beauty within the horror. All these images of skulls and blood and death are just an acknowledgment of the truth of the human condition—we are born, we live, and we die. When we can honour the truth of death as gothic artists do, then we can truly appreciate life. In some sense, Buddhists do the same thing, contemplating death in meditations on emptiness of the body and impermanence. Why, one of the major tenants of Buddhist thought is the first noble truth, which states quite frankly that "Life is suffering." So for me, gothic art and Buddhist thought go hand in hand.

"But how does this acknowledgement of suffering and death make you happy?" you might ask.

Because it is a relief to acknowledge the truth. When I remember my mortality, when I remind myself that I, too, will die someday, I can finally relax and enjoy life with a lighter heart, an appreciation for every bittersweet moment as it is. It is kind of like when you were a little kid and you were afraid of what was under your bed and you couldn't go to sleep until you checked to see what kind of horrors lived amongst those cobwebs and dust bunnies and old comic books. When you finally saw what was there and what wasn't there, then and only then could you take a deep breath, and curl up under a pile of heavy blankets and snuggle off to sleep.

It is not until we acknowledge these horrors, both real and imagined, see them face to face and look them in the eye, that we get to know them and realize that they aren't as scary as we initially thought them to be, and that, my friends, brings a great sense of relief, to be able to think, "Ahhh, I will die someday," to never forget that fact, because we never know when that someday is. Maybe it's tomorrow, maybe it's today, and maybe it's 30 years from now.

And so when you look under your bed and your imagination plays tricks on you, and you swear you saw a monster under there, at least now you know what your dealing with, even if your mind has made it up to fill the space, to fill the terror of not knowing, at least now, your mind has given form to the worst case scenario, and believe it or not, my friends, knowing always makes us feel better.

The gothic art that takes us further into the dark side, the images of demons, vampires, and the like, things that the recesses of our mind like to dream up in their spare time, these images give form to the formless frights of our lives, our existential angst. And like the child in the night peering under the bed, in viewing these images, we can relax, and think "Ahhh, its only a blood-sucking vampire—I can deal with that. Ahhh, its only a brain-eating zombie—I can deal with that." But what we can't deal with is the all-pervasive anxiety that gnaws at our minds, chomping and chewing away every little bit of sanity we have left.

Creating gothic art makes me happy because it gives form to my greatest fears, allows me to see them for what they are, imaginary in some cases, the truth of the human condition in others. And being able to make the distinction between things as they appear and things as they are gives me a clarity and a knowing that cuts through any confusion that I have and lets me sit on the honey-coated razor's edge of the present moment, balancing precariously between light and dark, good and evil, resting in the here and now beyond labels, beyond form, beyond conceptualization of any kind.

It is here, in this bardo, this neverland of time, that true happiness resides, happiness without causes or conditions, contentment pure and true. So join me in that space beyond the niceities and horrors of the mind and see what you experience there. Visit the virtual homes of other gothic/fantasy artists, such as Myka Jelina, Charlene Murray ZatloukalJasmine Becket-Griffith and, of course, the infamous Tim Burton, and notice your own reaction to the dark arts. 

To view more of my artwork, please visit my main website at Knotted Words Celtic Art or check out my profile page at Pixels/ If you are interested in learning more about gothic art and culture, you can check out Gothic Beauty Magazine, sold locally at The Paper Chase on Blowers Street in Halifax.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.