It is true that over the course of my involvement with GBMG I have had the good fortune to have been the observer and the beneficiary of an enormous amount of hospitality and generosity. That may seem, on one level a rather obvious statement of the operational model that the group has adopted i.e.: each week someone provides a home, someone organizes a program and snacks (at times one person does all of these tasks and other times the duties are shared). Simply put, each week someone(s) give of their time and energy to provide the container for our group to come together, to practice, to share and support each other, and to continue to exist as an entity that we can count on. For me anyway, that’s huge. I mean just ask yourself…..how many things in my life can I count on to be there week after week, year after year?
But, that acknowledgement is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. If the folks in this group did that and only that it would certainly be enough to generate gratitude, but this little group of practitioners goes beyond that….. Way, way beyond that.
Whenever you sit down and endeavour to write out ideas like this you will inevitably commence a process of reflection about people and events in your life that have affected you in some way. That, of course, is what is happening right now. The individuals and events that have been experienced through my involvement with GBMG have left deep and lasting impressions on the psyche of one little Jewish guy from Jersey.
Just for fun, I thought that it may be fruitful to write out a short list of some of the things I have been witness to over the years.
As I mentioned earlier…..Hospitality (with a capital H)…..What is that really?…. people welcoming others into their homes, offering a bit food and drink, reading some lines from a book, perhaps a poem, or offering a piece of audio? Yes certainly!….. but more really, much more. We don’t see the hours of cleaning, food preparation, research, and thought that go into the topics that are offered by the hosts and home providers. That is a gift that is offered over and over …often with little recognition, as we come to almost take for granted its occurring with the regularity and ease that we have become accustomed to.
Just for a moment, reflect with me on the following:
We have our “minister of information” announcing the where and when of our communal lives as well as the various upcoming events which may be of interest to the “groupies.”
We have our “resident Buddhist scholar” whose research and study is offered through reams of prepared offerings. Countless pages of documents, references, and sites….. meant to share the essence of the teachings with those who are searching for clarity and understanding.
We have our “resident midwife” who is there to accompany, support, and assist in the birthing process, and all of the challenges one may encounter along the way.
We have our “resident caregiver” who will aid those in need and sit at the bedside of the aged, sick, and the dying in a loving and compassionate way.
We have our “resident spiritual director” whose knowledge, warmth, and wisdom serves to help those who seek it and help them discover God within themselves.
We have our “resident activist” who heads out to the front lines to petition for change, support those who stand for the rights of the people, the environment, and the greater good.
We have our “resident professor” whose life is a model for education and progressive learning so that the promise of our potential is realized through the youth and students who hold our collective future in their hands.
We have our resident “gal Friday” who is always ready to selflessly help, in any way, and on a moment’s notice.
This is as I mentioned just a “short list” of the qualities exhibited by those in our group. I’ll quickly add senior care, child care, animal sitting and exercising, adopting disenfranchised and those in need, driving, food providing, volunteering, shopping, fundraising and donating, traveling to distant lands to help the less fortunate, offering a kind ear to those who are hurting or just need to be heard, supporting family, friends, and neighbours in just about any way possible….need I go on?
Let’s jump back a bit…. ‘cause this writing started a while ago when I was preparing stuff on the “negativity bias.” A suggested “antidote” to this deeply patterned human tendency was to focus on “gratitude.” And you might suggest: what better way to focus on gratitude than to see the gifts that are right there in front of your eyes? We are after all, as has been stated before “knee deep in grace” and literally drowning in abundance. What prohibits us from seeing and embodying this truth each and every moment of our lives?
Now as I play a little “computer hopscotch” I want to jump forward to our last group at J…’s house when only six were present with seven unable to attend in body, but always held in the “heart mind” of the group. This was a very powerful evening for me personally, one which personifies gratitude, and is the reason I am attempting to share this with everyone, especially those who were unable to attend. It’s down to basics……its fundamentals……”the three refuges”…..”the three jewels!” The Buddha, which is the path…. The Dharma, which is the teachings…. and The Sangha, which is the community. We all have heard this, we all know this, but I don’t think it is something that we can ever tire of reminding ourselves of. Why? You ask?….Because it reminds us that we are held in a tradition that has been practiced by the faithful and those seeking truth since the get go. In one sense this is our practice.
J… lovingly extended her own gratitude to the Sangha, as a way of introducing a reading from the book “Awakening Through Love” by John Makransky about sangha and acknowledging the importance of the group in her own life at this moment. It was a very beautiful, clear, and concise description (I will try to post it later) and lead to a wonderfully lively discussion. As noted earlier it was also a topic which I was already engaged in, contemplating and writing about, and seemed to strike a harmonious chord and resonate with everyone present.
While I have been writing this I keep having Simon and Garfunkel in my head…it’s not December, but I guess it’s time to let them out:
Translation in progress. Please wait…
A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
I think this particular song speaks to many of the things we have been exploring here. We participate in our groups to come to realization that “No Man is an Island.”We are all connected whether we like it or not or whether we are aware of it or not. There is no separate self. Ultimately you could say there is only one sangha and not only we humans are a part of it……everything is a part of it. We could think of every cell, every molecule, and every atom in the universe and every universe as one organism. One miraculous unfolding. Which leads me to the last verse of another song….. by U2:
You got to do what you should
With each other
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
The following quote from Thomas Merton addresses our humanity, our inter-beingness, our connectivity, and adds to our understanding of what sangha is:
“Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and ‘one body,’ will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labors is not my own: for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement. Therefore the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time. “ – from No Man is an Island
Earlier I offered a list of qualities that I have observed during my period of participation in the group. Some represented what we might refer to as “archetypes” and if you are like me certain people came to mind immediately as they were listed. But and this is a big but, I want us all to look again….that’s right a little deeper….keep going….till you see the one who is reading these words right this moment. The qualities that may seem to exemplify one are really qualities I have seen in everyone…..
Please read the list again and see the qualities that we often don’t acknowledge or are unable to see in ourselves…..they are there I promise you. That is something I wanted to address in this writing. J.. was right on the money to celebrate sangha and express gratitude….We all feel it don’t we? But we shouldn’t over look the other maybe not so obvious fact which was also imparted to me, which is our ability to recognize the beauty in another only comes from and is made possible by our own inner beauty.
I will close with a poem that some of you have previously heard. I will share it again because it came directly out of experiences with this group and what this sangha has meant to yours truly:
The spiritual journey is a long
And frequently difficult one
If you find yourself weak
Struggling to continue
Reach out your hand,
I shall hold it
And I will carry you
When I become exhausted
And this body-mind can go no further
I know you will return the favour
As always…with gratitude, appreciation, and love,