Sangha Arana is our home sangha – or more correctly, it’s our sangha-in-the-home. As you may have seen in other photographs, our living room/dining room is the zendo and what constituted the LR/DR is tucked warmly into the “TV” room and kitchen. My non-Buddhist friends (whose numbers diminish by the day) look at me as if I’ve lost my mind but I think it’s only because they miss the weekend long gatherings punctuated by beer, hot dogs, and hamburgers on the BBQ. My Buddhist friends (whose numbers are quite static) also look at me as if I’ve lost my mind – which coming from a bunch of Zennies should be a compliment, I suppose.
And therein lies many a session about form and wholeheartedness, ritual and zealousness.
Sangha Arana started out as a space and time limited to health care professionals so that we could gather and practice mindfulness through meditation (that is worded deliberately). As an experiment in providing a space for us to “be ourselves,” where we could disrobe from our professional obligations, it was a minimal success. The shadow side of prajna kept creeping in and finally absorbed much of the light. We are so highly trained in the “compare and contrast treatment efficacies” that it is hard to leave that judgemental, preferential mind on the elevator. But as the disgruntled fell away, there was left a quiet group of us who have come to appreciate the privilege to have the time and space free to dig deep into our shadow side.
At a point in this evolution of community, however, we stretched the definition of “health care” and open the doors to more “professionals,” eventually throwing them wide open to anyone who wanted to practice in a Zen tradition. That, of course, meant reiterating the ground rules each evening; Thich Nhat Hanh called for deep patience in such times. After all, he said, the airlines always go over the skills of clinching seat belts and finding the emergency exits each time you get on an airplane because even if it is your 100th flight, it’s always someone’s first. So we gently repeated, every evening, the ways in which to practice with us. And, Arana, for a while, became a magnet for people who believed wholeheartedly that the aspiration to find one’s true nature meant doing what came naturally. About the time our evenings became a roundtable on levitation and license of all things sexual, I woke up to the shadow side of patience.
My reaction (and I take full responsibility for this) was to be even more wholehearted about practice. By which I meant a strong adherence to “ritual,” thinly disguised as a means of order and control. These shadow manifestations are fascinating. Being wholehearted about practice slides so easily into an accreted view of how practice should be. Being patient softens the boundaries so that no one knows the edge of practice.
Thank you for practising,