By Nancy Stewart
The Cedar Cabin Sangha in Ithaca, New York came into being in 1999 following the Ascutney, Vermont retreat with Thay. In my Dharma discussion group I was introduced to four people from my community whom I had never met, two actually living right down the road! We organized a regular meditation practice, invited friends to join us, did occasional half-days of mindfulness. In the next couple of years we sponsored two well-received retreats for the general Ithaca community led by delightful Order of Interbeing monks (and we are still so grateful—you know who you are!). We thought all was well; and it was, but impermanence set in.
Sangha members began to come infrequently or dropped out—too busy, new jobs, time conflicts. We put out fliers, used our e-mail list, and got listed on the Sangha directory website. New members came enthusiastically—for a while, then left town or just stopped coming. For many months, regular attendance was down to two of us: Pamela and me. While everyone else had become less committed, Pamela and I began to realize just how helpful the practice was for us and we became more committed.
Week in, week out, we were there with rare exception. I dragged myself there many times when I didn’t feel like it and discovered I was always glad I had come. We were meeting in a friend’s cedar cabin heated by a wood stove. Freezing in winter, stifling in summer, it was difficult to find but had fabulous atmosphere—woodsy decorations, birds chirping, vegetable garden and long tall grass to walk in. We were attached to our cabin, but we knew we needed to let go of our attachment.
A Fortuitous Move
Pamela had the insightful idea of changing our meeting place to our local hospice, right near the cabin. Everyone in town knows where that is. In exchange for the space, and to create goodwill, musical Pamela began to do intermittent singing and dulcimer playing for the hospice patients and staff. We started a collection box (well, a green and red striped can) and the hospice was our first donation recipient.
Pamela journeyed toward the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings; with persistence and long-distance mentoring she became an OI member in 2007. Her mindful energy for keeping in touch with the wider Sangha, generous spirit, and calm tenacity have helped mentor new Sangha members along the way. And new members keep coming. Some come once, some for a while, and some have stayed long-term, but the difference is that now it is rarely just Pamela and me sitting together. And two more of us have started our own aspirant journeys.
Everyone’s favorite part of our weekly meditation (besides getting up for a walking meditation after a long sit!) is our herbal tea ceremony in silence, followed by Dharma discussion. When we share and listen from the heart about our meditation experience or our practice struggles, we deepen our human bonds and inspire one another.
Words of Wisdom
What would I say in a nutshell (or lotus blossom) about Sangha building? Show up even when you think you’re too busy—it will help your busy-ness and add to everyone else’s meditation energy. Be willing to lead meditation and let your mindfulness be a role model—you will help others on the path. Notice new members with love and compassion, and add them to your member listserv. Send a regular mindful message to your members. Choose a known and accessible location and keep a low-key visible presence in your community with fliers, newspaper articles, and online information. Hold a community event occasionally. Look for ways to give back to the community. Get help from the wider Sangha.
But in the end, it is probably not so important to enlarge your Sangha as it is to commit to regular practice—and along the way you will help yourself and others become more attuned to a miraculous way to live!
Nancy Stewart, Meaningful Flower of the Heart, is an aspirant to the Order of Interbeing and a founding member of the Cedar Cabin Sangha in Ithaca, NY. She is a semi-retired integrative family physician. Now that their three children are grown, she and her husband Ray Terepka live with their golden retriever, Bodhi, who reminds them to be in the present moment.