(Still) Desperately seeking sangha

I have not yet chronicled my challenge finding a sangha (spiritual community) in the Bloomington area and the learning I’m deriving from it.

Topline take-aways:

I have been challenged to be compassionate and accepting of all folks and their own journeys on the path.I have also learned to be more discriminating and judicious about where I invest my energy and expectations vis-a-vis the Dharma.And I am learning to find fulfillment and ‘enough’ in the only vessel I can truly rely on to be there in my spiritual development — my own.

I don’t include Yoga as a spiritual community at the moment because studio practice as it has evolved in America is a very individual pursuit — a 75 or even 90 minute class, increasingly rare as it is to find, is not a setting in which to dig deep into one’s emotional body nor one in which to share one’s findings.  And I have found a wonderful weekly Ashtanga class at Yoga Mala led by the very sweet and knowledgeable Debby Harris that is inspiring and shorrd up a home practice I combine with meditation.  So we’re good on the Yoga front which is pretty huge.

But since I moved to Bloomington a year ago, I’ve been hoping to find a sangha of dedicated practitioners with whom to meditate regularly, have a discussion about the Dharma and maybe even become friends with.  I was excited about the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in town (monks!), and then by the Sanshin Zen Center also close by (more monks!).  But both have proven disappointing — less because of the lineages, content of the teachings or the teachers themselves and more just because of a certain aspect of living in Bloomington (or is it Boomington?).

I also know there to be a sitting group that’s a kind of offshoot of the Occupy Bloomington movement, but though I introduced myself, I haven’t exactly received an invitation to join them.  Sad face.

But rather than put myself out there over and over again to try to make it in these intentional communities, I’ve decided to step back and find grounding in my own practice.  I can still exercise dharmic principles of compassion and understanding vis-a-vis these groups while practicing in solitude — by looking at my own expectations, reactions and judgements.  I have been sad, lonely, ticked off, judgmental, exasperated and offended.  I’ve also been filled with pleasant feelings that come from the calm of the surroundings and practicing, but that are also tinged perhaps with some condescension.  These are all fuel for my practice and worth sitting with.

Luckily, I am not completely alone and isolated because of geography.  The upside to my isolation is that I have looked harder at communities that are a distance from me — and found resonance there.  And the power of the interwebs has given me a chance to perhaps form a farther flung sangha — in the form of a Precepts Online Study Course led by Shoken Michael Stone of the Centre of Gravity in Toronto.  It’s starting soon!

Through skype chats, conference calls and assigned readings and writings (I presume), we’ll be diving into the 5 to 8 tenants of Buddhist living and practice:

  • Pantipata – non-harming

  • Adinadana – non-stealing

  • Abramacarya – not harming with sexual or creative energy

  • Musavada – refraining from false or harmful speech

  • Sura meraya majapamadattana – refraining from alcohol and intoxicants that cause heedlessness

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and I’m excited — so excited — to be able to dig into with under Shoken’s leadership, as disappointing as it may be not to be able to share the lessons day by day with someone close by me in the flesh.

But here again is something else to sit with in quiet solitude: What do I want out of sangha?  What does it mean to me and what do I expect it to be?  And how can I simply allow myself to resonate with the fact that, in the end, every being living and non-living is interconnected to all others within the boundlessness of space and time?

I think about that and I feel a little less lonely.

Cristina Moon