living into community: capacity, commitment, contribution

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GETTING CLEAR + LOCATING INTENTION

Sangha moved into the first month of our new season with an exercise in beginning anew by shining the light on the essential elements that give shape to our experience of living into community and nurturing spiritual friendship (kalyana-mittata).

We named our individual aspirations and intentions for seeking spiritual connection within a community and clarified the function of sangha — why and how it is formed; what sustains and helps it to thrive. Lastly, I elucidated my history of practice within sangha and how the call to serve as a sangha builder and facilitator has evolved over the years. 


Spirituality is something we can cultivate.
To be spiritual means to be solid, calm, and peaceful,
and to be able to look deeply inside and around us.
It means having the capacity to handle our afflictions–
our anger, craving, despair, and discrimination.
It is being able to see the nature of interbeing
between people, nations, races, and all forms of life.
Spirituality is not a luxury anymore;
we need to be spiritual to overcome the difficulties of our time.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Friends on The Path


IN FRIENDSHIP + WHOLENESS

As one of the three precious jewels we take refuge in, the sangha conjures for me the image of having “a soft place to land” where we find or restore comfort and ease. We touch it in the physical act of sinking onto our cushions and exhaling fully to re-center, ground, and meet ourselves where we are in a given moment. That soft resting place can also be discovered in the warm embrace of peers who offer compassion and understanding.

Building on that imagery, one practitioner shared that for her it is also a springboard! Indeed, we are buoyed by the lessons of the dharma, the collective energy of our spiritual companions, and our steadfast commitment to cultivate awareness where there is neglect or avoidance, harmony where there is discord, and skillfulness where there is suffering.

Awareness gives rise to Insight. Insight makes Transformation possible. Transformation opens us toward the possibility of Reconciliation. Reconciliation gives way to Liberation. Through all of this a strong sangha can help to energize and equip us! How? By supporting us through the self-inquiry process in which we acknowledge and pay close attention to why we keep showing up: what we gain, give, or give up in the practice.

From our discussion, we lifted up three qualities that sangha offers and also depends upon to thrive.

Capacity-building — Sangha is a container that holds the wisdom of the dharma as well as the collective insights and understandings of the practitioners who constitute it. So it becomes a reservoir that we pour into and drink from, fortifying our capacity for spiritual resilience, liberation, stability, skillfulness, compassion, generosity and love, to name a few faculties. The teachings offer “exercises” in embodied actions that we can test out for ourselves and practice together…releasing, refining, renewing.

Each time we gather, we get to enter into (and build) the revelatory space of silence and breath where our skillful understanding and faculties of concentration, diligence, mindfulness, discernment, and faith have room to bloom. We check in with and bear witness to our emotions, thoughts, physical sensations/well-being, and our interdependent relationship to the world (the many intricate ways we impact it and it impacts us).

We exercise our capacity for skillful communication:

Pausing before we speak to make room for awareness, breath, discomfort, and the processing of information into understanding;

Bowing to one another as an expression of our commitment to offer presence, attention, kindness, patience, and understanding when we speak and listen;

Speaking skillfully from our discernment of what is true, well-timed, kind, helpful/beneficial, and with a mind of good will (Vaca Sutta);

Paying attention to ourselves as we speak and as we listen in order to stay attuned to what is arising in body, heart, and mind;

Listening deeply to our peers to enrich our understanding.

We offer gratitude frequently and genuinely, which anchors us to and expands our hearts as it fosters trust, warmth, empathy, and good vibes among us.

Commitment — To build our capacity and sustain the connections that keep sangha thriving requires our diligence and consistency. The commitment is foremost to ourselves and to the practice. Later, as we earn trust and deepen our connections, our commitment extends to each other.

We looked deeply into the notable challenges of sustaining a commitment to ourselves and our practice, by contemplating an observation offered in Christine Pohl’s book:

“While we might want community, it is often community on our own terms, with easy entrances and exits, lots of choices and support, and minimal responsibilities.”

Many practitioners felt that the suchness of our formation fuels their commitment! The ease of participating and the energy that we collectively generate gives way to the stability upon which our commitment is then built. For those among us who felt compressed by jam-packed schedules and then — pierced deep by arrows of guilt, obligation, judgment — deflated and exhausted, there are no quick and easy solutions. All were encouraged to continue reflecting on intention and then choosing sustainable compassionate actions from this place of clear understanding. To test out what it’s like to open up, honor, and protect the space we hold for our spiritual development and friendship.

Contribution — Without presence, without simply showing up, the sangha would not even be possible. And presence can be enough. Sometimes it is all one has to give. There is no judgment in that. We all arrive at different points on the spiritual path, with different levels of experience and capacity. We value the insight of “beginners mind” — seeing with fresh eyes, throwing out ideas/beliefs/teachings — and the depth and breadth wisdom of from experienced practitioners.

We may not be able to give identically nor always equally. Again, it’s important to emphasize: there is no judgment in that. But we can give in ways that are aligned with our current skills and gifts as well as those that will emerge and become strengthened through practice. Here, we lift up the power of paying attention, telling our stories, listening deeply through our own suffering and discomfort, and extending understanding and compassion to ourselves and others.