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Birthing a Sangha

By Ann G. Moore

Ann and her Sangha; photo by Nell Chevalie

During the 2007 monastic tour at Stone Hill College, Thay sowed the seeds of Sangha building through his encouragement, in the absence of a local Sangha, to start your own. In my case, the gestation period for that Sangha proved to be nine years. Clear Heart Sangha, the closest Sangha to my home in the small state of Connecticut, was a 40-minute drive into neighboring Rhode Island and met in the welcoming home of Dharma teacher Joanne Friday. 

Aside from my commitment to Clear Heart Sangha, two issues prevented me from starting my own Sangha: When would we meet and where would we meet? My largest room could seat no more than six people. With the passing years, however, my aversion to going out at night became an impasse to Sangha attendance. One day, after I rearranged my living room furniture, I saw that a Sangha could meet there and that I had Thursday morning available to welcome people into my home to practice. 

Inspired by Joanne Friday’s encouragement to honor Thay’s Continuation Day every October through a practice commitment, I presented Joanne with a new Sangha for her birthday in 2017 to invite people to meet weekly in my home from 8 AM to 9:30 AM. My lineage name being Skillful Acceptance of the Heart, Accepting Heart Sangha seemed a good name. 

Massive house cleaning preceded our opening Sangha, the Thursday after Joanne’s birthday. As a testimony to the inclusive nature of the practice, I framed a joyful picture of the Dali Lama with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I posted fliers in the local news store and in neighboring libraries, gave meeting information to newspapers that publish meetings as a community service, and shared the news with friends.  

People started attending; each posting brought at least one courageous soul. To my amazement, nearly twenty-five of us fit in my living room for a morning of mindfulness with Joanne. Last March, nine of us met to celebrate our first anniversary with a bell meditation,1 a short YouTube talk by Thay, an extended walking meditation, and snacks.

The format of our meetings has been a forty-five minute period of sitting and walking meditation, followed by a reading from Thay’s Being Peace, Dharma sharing, and a final brief metta circle. Members volunteer to be bell buddies, read, and light the candle. To minimize anxiety, the small bell is invited upon prompting to stretch our legs; for the book, a spare pair of reading glasses is kept handy.

Facilitating a Sangha is a deep practice. Unless I practice, I have nothing to offer. For example, during an early meeting in sitting meditation, I found myself looking ahead to what would come next and identified a sense of shame I would be found wanting. As I sat with the shame, I felt it as warmth spreading through my body. This made me laugh. Was the feeling of shame like drinking a rum punch?

Some internal challenges manifested when I found myself frequently reaching out to fix problems and offer advice. After I saw what I was doing, I made a conscious effort to adhere to the precious guidelines we reviewed before each session. Since most of my experience has been with a Dharma teacher who gives a mini Dharma talk before our sharing, I was also tempted to repeat this practice as a facilitator. However, I quickly realized that I am not a Dharma teacher. Instead, I decided to occasionally present information from teachings relevant to current problems. 

Another challenge is not to feel personally slighted when people fail to return. Practice does require diligent commitment, and those willing to make that commitment would appear to be in the minority. When I feel myself going off the rails, touching base with a senior order member is immensely helpful.  

What I love most about Sangha is Dharma sharing. When I preview each week’s reading, I am sometimes tempted to skip a section as being irrelevant, only to hear several members comment on how it spoke to them, each one in a very different way. I look forward to the time when other members will feel confident enough to facilitate meetings.

1In a bell meditation, each member has a bell that is invited with every third breath. The unity of the music composed of our differences is hauntingly beautiful.

Ann G. Moore, True Collective Response, has been an Order of Interbeing member since 2011. She is a retired teacher and health care professional, mother, and proud grandmother of two young men.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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