Are We Crazy? 7 Reasons We're Abandoning Civilization to Live Nowhere on Nothing

The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, Shambhala Mountain Center CC BY-SA 2.5Link

Yesterday, David and I got the call: they accepted our staff applications at Shambhala Mountain Center!

Great news, right?

Here's the rub: As middle-aged American citizens in our 50's and 60's, we'll be giving up decent paychecks and semi-comfortable lives in the 'burbs. We'll even have to say goodbye to our silly, sweet black cat, since the retreat center doesn't allow pets. (Any takers? She says "bless you" when you sneeze. I kid you not. It's hilarious.)

In return, we get 30-40 hours a week at minimum wage, no running water, a remote location prone to severe weather, and living 24-7 with a bunch of 20- 30-somethings.

Are we crazy?

Well, let me tell you the other side of the story, and then you decide:

  1. It's gorgeous. We'll be working near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. It's jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I mean, people pay $200 a night to stay at places like this. I even have some ancestral ties to this part of the country; my great-grandfather was a rancher here in the 1910's.
  2. Value, not just money. Our pay includes room and board (for which we're currently shelling out $1700 per month, soon to increase), generous paid time off for individual retreats, and free access to amazing programs taught by internationally known teachers. This takes us a big step closer to exchanging our time and effort directly for the things we value instead of relying on a worthless fiat currency whose value is dependent on the whim of some bigwig on Wall Street.
  3. No commute. Working at the retreat center will enable us to take a big step away from the fossil-fuel-greedy agricultural and transportation industries. The center already grows much of their own food, and we can walk to work.
  4. Community. We'll be living and working alongside other meditation practitioners (who, yes, are still people with their own dramas and neuroses), in an established intentional community with great leadership.
  5. Appreciation. Said leadership has already welcomed us with open arms and the warmest appreciation we've received in a long time.
  6. Collapse. Said leadership is also aware of what's going on in the world and is making preparations for the upcoming collapse.
  7. Support. Most importantly, we will be giving back to the community that nurtured us for so many years. We'll be supporting visitors in their own journey of awakening. And as some of the more (ahem -- mature?) people on staff, I'm pretty sure we'll find ourselves supporting some of our fellow staffers as well.
So what's your verdict? Have we gone crazy?

Or is it maybe, slightly possible that we could be going sane?


  1. I am following you since a while. I like your posts, and will miss them.

    I read and listened to several Pema Chödrön books/lectures. Also I admire Chögyam Trungpa and his books. As far as I know Shambala retreat is working in their spirit. (I mean the Kagyu lineage's spirit)

    So I think you will be in good company. If I would have this choice I would try it too.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate you following me. I love both Pema and Rinpoche as well -- two of my most beloved teachers.

      I wouldn't say goodbye to my posts just yet :-) I'm kind of addicted to blogging at this point, and as long as there's Internet to be had, I will continue to share things with you, although it may be a little more sporadic, and there might not be as much time to write or cartoon.

      I hope one day that you'll be able to "head for the hills" as well. It would be fun to share experiences with a co-conspirator :-)

      Warmly, Catie

    2. I am sorry for not mentioning my name, I thought Google will do it for me.
      I am happy to hear you will continue your blog.
      May I ask a seemingly silly question? Why are you (and Shambala) so sure about "the upcoming collapse"?
      Kind regards: Zsolt Toth

    3. It's not a silly question at all, Zsolt!

      Of course nobody can actually PREDICT the future, but I've been following some pretty compelling trends since 2000 that tell me "business as usual" is a myth.

      Let me share some of what I know, and then you can draw your own conclusions. Fair enough?

      1. You probably already know this, but our civilization literally runs on fossil fuels. 10 calories of fossil fuels are burned for every calorie of food that we eat. We depend on fossil fuels for transportation, agriculture, electricity, medical care ... basically, everything.

      Now, here is a sobering report from HSBC. You know, the big bank? Ain't no crunchy tree-huggers there, right? Well here's their report on global oil supply:

      2. All civilizations come to an end, usually around 250 years after they began. Of course, there are exceptions, but that's the general timeline. If you go back and look at some of the common characteristics of civilizations on the verge of collapse, you'll see things like:

      - resource depletion
      - overpopulation
      - impossibly complex, indecipherable systems (like the U.S. healthcare system)
      - deterioration of education
      - degradation of culture
      - widening gap between privileged and working classes
      - military overreach and inability to sustain it
      - crumbling infrastructure
      - election of demagogues to high office
      - increased crime rates

      ...and so on.

      Check out John Michael Greer's new book, "Dark Age America". Most comprehensive explanation I've ever read.

      3. Climate change isn't just a buzzword; it's real. And at this point, there's no going back. Even if we all were to stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, too many tipping points have been passed for us to cool the planet back down, or even hold the temperature steady. Check out this video:

      (All seeds stop sprouting at 150 degrees F (66 degrees C) air temperature. Jus' sayin'.)

      Hope that gets you started. The way I figure, even if collapse doesn't happen, it won't hurt us to live better. None of us are guaranteed even an additional minute of life, after all, and it feels good to take care of ourselves and our planet.

    4. Thank you Catie, for collecting all these sources.

      I agree in several points:
      1) it is not good to spend so much of fossil fuels on heating and transportation. This is why I am happy to see that in 2015, renewable energy sources accounted for about 10% of total U.S. energy consumption and about 13% of electricity generation. ( Europe sets a goal to achieve 20% in 2020.

      2) According to Buddha, everything composite has to reach an end. He even predicted the end of Buddhism. Civilizations are no exception to this. However I am convinced that 250 years is not the usual time for that. Here in Europe, most of the countries are older than 1000 years.

      I would add some comments to your bullet points:
      - overpopulation: the US has a population density of 80 per sq mi. The UK has 650 per sq mi. (
      - deteriorating education: "In 1993, the US Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook published that the United States had a 97.9% literacy rate for persons age 15 and over having completed 5 or more years of schooling, and 99.99% in 2008." I see significant improvement here.
      - degradation of culture: in my opinion the fact that we discuss Buddhism over two continents distance without censorship means the thriving of culture. We are not slaves of main stream media anymore.

      3) It is true that climate is changing on Earth. I am not convinced however that it is unstoppable. In my opinion the Gaia theory ( is a better explanation to how Earth really works. I see this theory more in consent with Buddhism also.

      I have to emphasize that these are my opinions, even finding some data on internet which might or might not support them does not mean too much.

      Take care

    5. "finding some data on internet which might or might not support them does not mean too much."

      I couldn't agree with you more. And we are probably both partly right and partly wrong; after all, everyone interprets what they see through their individual lens.

      And I would submit that you and I, who are having a civilized discussion about this, are probably outliers on the bell curve of humanity. However, since I don't have the time to interview 7.6 billion people, I can't actually know that, so I am totally blowing smoke out my ass.

      In the meantime, we live our lives in the ways we find most fulfilling and see what happens. :-)

      Keep in touch, Zsolt!

  2. Thank you for taking this leap. You are helping to pave the way for the rest of us! What a fabulous opportunity to serve and be served and to be a part of the new paradigm. If you are crazy, the I desire to be insane. Blessings and deep gratitude

    1. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, Lyn. It's people like you who keep me inspired.

      Here's to mutual insanity :-)


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