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Category Archives: Sangha building

After meditation, I shared with my husband that I tried the “counting 10 breaths” method during my meditation and kept wandering away with distracting thoughts. He said, “Let’s try it together” and we did. After only a few minutes we opened our eyes, smiled at one another and grinned that we had “done it”! We taught this basic method of concentrating on one’s breath in meditation at our Day of Mindfulness Sunday. Somehow practicing with a sangha, even with our small home sangha is more powerful than any form of mindfulness I can usually practice alone. Of course, the notion that I am ever truly alone seems more an illusion to me today than it did decades ago when I began mindfulness meditation. We are never really alone because all our teachers, our family ancestors, our friends and loved ones are with us and in us when we practice and our efforts at mindfulness nourish everyone on our path.

My husband and I have been leading days of mindfulness for many years, first in the Washington Mindfulness Community and now days that are also open also to people curious about meditation.  We model these days of mindfulness on ones we have enjoyed with Anh Huong and Thu Nguyen at the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax and on retreats with her uncle Thich Nhat Hanh. We gather at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, MD, set up the lovely octagon space with chairs and cushions, soft music and flowers. As people arrive, we greet them and help them settle into a comfortable spot for guided meditation and deep relaxation. We present a variety of mindful practices – Qi Gong, indoor and outdoor walking meditation, mindful eating, deep listening and mindful sharing – so that individuals new to meditation can choose what works best for them in their daily lives. We stress that “you can’t meditate wrong,” that the effort to stop our busy lives, slow down, focus on our breathing and to take each step, speak each word or practice silence in mindfulness brings immediate joy and peace to our lives.

Of course, we are not always physically present with others who are intentionally practicing mindfulness, so we need many “bells” that help us “wake up” and be present to our own bodies, feelings, thoughts and actions. We share some of the bells that work for us – a phone ringing, birds singing in spring, flowers that beckon us to stop and smell them, red lights that urge us to stop and breathe rather than look at cell phones. At each of these bells, we try to remember to stop and take three mindful breaths, to recall the peaceful day that we had Sunday with our brothers and sisters, to practice with them at a distance.

But when we can be together regularly to sit and breathe together, to practice mindful walking, to share our suffering and our joy in a community of practice, what a pleasure! Sangha-building begins to become a necessity for those of us who hunger for peace, harmony, support and joy in the present moment. Like hugging, sangha building benefits us as much as those who come for the first time. As Anh Huong says, “When I take care of a brother or sister in the Sangha, I take care of myself.” (The Mindfulness Bell, 2014)

So, we create community, sometimes in these occasional gatherings, which might include members of meditation groups that meet daily or weekly and also people from other groups in our lives – recovery groups, Qi Gong classes, family members, friends. Some sangha members have created meditation or stress-reduction clubs at work or school, meeting with friends who want to learn mindfulness practices, give and receive support and be “bells” for one another in their regular work/study days.

You can do this too! It is not necessary to become a dharma teacher to gather friends who wish to practice mindfulness. Some of my 15 year old students formed wonderful groups of fellow students who shared their meditation practices with one another, watched tapes, listened to guided meditations, took blankets out on the grass at the back of their large public high school to do deep relaxation in the sunlight, practiced walking meditation back to class.

We are so fortunate, however, in the DC/MD/VA area, to have four “fingers of one hand,” sanghas practicing in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh meeting almost every day of the week, including days of mindfulness on Sat/Sun and retreats throughout the year.

If you are interested in relaxing, bringing mind and body together in the same place at the same time, slowing down a busy life, looking deeply at suffering, gaining support of brothers and sisters who have also suffered and found that all the conditions for happiness are present right here, right now, in this moment, build a sangha to support you!

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