When I began my meditation practice in 1984 at Naropa Institute, I was surrounded — literally in all directions — by meditators. The faculty, students, staff, and Board of Directors of the Institute (now University) had a sitting meditation practice. People would include “sitting” in classes, at the start of meetings, on the lawn, in offices, alone or in circles with colleagues, on picnic tables, and in the centrally located meditation hall. Dialogues across campus, in all departments and on all levels, were informed by one’s personal experience with meditation practice. We were a community, a sangha, of teachers, students, administrators, and leaders. It was one of the most vibrant periods of my life.
From the earliest times of great explorers of the mind to the present day mindfulness movement, the support of other mindfulness practitioners has been considered a jewel which ornaments our personal path. Friendship and community based on a shared mindfulness practice is analogous to a string of pearls, each pearl having been shaped by the natural “irritant” of life’s stresses and challenges. The thread that connects us is the simultaneous joy and sadness about human existence.
Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks of participation in an MBSR course as becoming a part of “an emergent community of goodwill and kindness.” He uses the traditional Buddhist term “sangha” for this type of community and defines it as “everybody who is committed to a life of mindfulness and non-harming.” He goes on further to say, “We are all part of the sangha if we have even the slightest impulse to practice…It is not an organization that you join, it is a community that you are part of by virtue of your commitment and passion and caring.”
As humans we rely on communities. For the mindfulness practitioner who has completed an MBSR or MBCT course, the question of how and where to make a connection to a community of other practitioners, particularly in a non-Buddhist context, naturally arises. This question has been bandied about ever since I started teaching MBSR. Four decades into the universal mindfulness movement, there exist a growing number of opportunities to connect with others in online communities as well as through meditation apps.
Chögyam Trungpa, who espoused the cultivation of enlightened society, said,
“When hundreds of individuals personally commit themselves to developing themselves through the practice of meditation, then, when they’re all put together, it makes an orchestra of group sanity.”
I believe the experience of sangha fulfills a deep longing in all of us.
What does your heart tell you? Do you want to join the orchestra?