Post #2017: Taking refuge in sangha

My meditation tracker tells me that today marks fifty days in a row that I have sat in meditation – and I can attest that there was no cheating either: I sat in meditation for twenty to sixty minutes first thing in the morning on all of those days – which far surpasses my previous record of nineteen days in a row last summer. I’m not sure how much it matters except that it indicates to me that morning meditation has become such a central part of my daily routine that I do not even skip it on Saturdays anymore (which I frequently used to) – like coffee, it gets my day headed in the right direction. Which isn’t to say that it’s always glorious, or insightful, or restful – but it’s available to me to drop into like a comfortable seat, and who doesn’t want that in their life?

Yesterday I went to the Mountain Rain Zendo for the first time in about a week and a half. Sadly, I couldn’t be there for the half-day retreat, but showed up for the AGM in the afternoon. Being new to this community and practice center, it was important to me that I attend the meeting, if only to understand better the day-to-day operation of the society and its community. I have been a part of many organizations in my life, and have also sat on the boards of non-profits and unions – and far from that being enriching or enjoyable, all that experience has made me somewhat gun shy of joining anything, ever again. Here I am reminded of the time I was encouraged to run for the board of a local media co-operative, and once elected discovered that as a society Director I was at least partially responsible for finding $50,000 in operating funds that the organization was short. Had I known how dire the situation was beforehand, I would have never run for the board (and thus, I learned to pay attention to the financials of things).

But when I sat on the meditation bench at the zendo yesterday, joining a circle of others there to discuss the concrete matters of the organization, I felt myself brimming with strong and positive feelings. Partly I think it’s because I’ve missed going to the Sunday meditation and service, but also because I’ve gotten to know many of the people there over the past several months and it was nice to sit down with them in community discussion. Since the first (very rainy) day last December when I entered the storefront space on Wall Street – I have felt welcomed and encouraged by the people I have met there, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that during that same time, I have developed a much stronger daily practice.

Yesterday we broke into small groups for conversation about the current state of the organization and where we would like to see it go. During the first part of that, I gave my reflections on the zendo as a newcomer – how I had found it to be supportive of my practice and how impressed I was by its self-sustaining nature. One of the other group participants asked me why I thought that was so – and I was honest when I said that I thought that it is because we have so many people who come from various community and social justice background and are open in sharing their own personal stories, knowledge and time. Our teachers are the anchors, but over the months of attending I see how many people shoulder the organization together – with a much higher rate of people participating than I ever saw in my activist and non-profit work (most of which was characterized by a lot of people needing to speak at every meeting but not taking much actual responsibility for getting things done).

I have had a lot of things fall apart for me in communities and I am aware that things always look bright in the beginning – so I’m wary of my own first impressions here. But the material signs are so far good – financial solvency, a physical space that is well taken care of, competent people who take care of one thing or another as their skills permit, an ethics policy designed to deal with harassment and abuse. And the practice of careful listening that we work with each week in tea circle, most obviously carries through to other types of discussions and meetings – with much given for the work that people undertake. It’s because of this that I joined the community council yesterday – the body which takes care of some of the more practical aspects of community life (leases, donations, membership, registrations and more). This may be premature, but I feel drawn to giving my skills to this community so that in some way I can help it to continue being this bright spot in my life and the lives of others.

In Buddhist service we often chant the refuges (sometimes in Pali, sometimes in English) in which we affirm our home and safety in the Buddha (or symbol of enlightenment), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). When I first began going to services, I would simply read from the text and follow along, but lately I’ve noticed that some of the vows, the chants, the offerings have started to resonate inside me, long after the service is over. The notion of taking refuge and the places in which we find them is one of those things that keeps rattling around inside me, and each time I drop into my meditation seat at the zendo I feel at home in the companionship of silence. That is a true refuge, each and every time I seek it and I am so incredibly grateful for it.

* The above photo was taken in 2007 at Storm Bay, BC in a little meditation spot at the top of a hill overlooking the water. I discovered it while reorganizing some photo files and thought it appropriate for this post…..



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