Sunday, November 13, 2005

Making / Finding Sangha

Been feeling kinda lonely for a while--kinda existentially lonely, kinda lonely because I just don't like hanging out with as many people as I used to, because life gets complex and people often don't live up to your expectations of them (while still expecting you to live up to their expectations, and there's often little room for compromise or communication, which is sad.

So I'm happy to report that this weekend I got a good dose of healthy, soul-sustaining sangha, a Pali word that Buddhists use to describe 'community'. As far as I've seen, the word is used very loosely, which is cool: sangha can be used to refer to a small group of people coming together to meditate regularly, or it can go the opposite extreme and be used to talk about everyone who follows a certain Buddhist tradition, as in the whole spiritual community of Thich Nhat Hanh's United Buddhist Church. I like that the term can be used to describe community in all its different forms, from the intimate to the universal. This word usage of the term sangha reflects why I am drawn to Buddhism, which is all about relativity and the interconnectedness of things, of how small patterns in our lives mirror the larger forces that flow around and through us.

Yesterday, I went to a daylong people of color retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Angel Kyodo Williams and Charlie Johnson led the retreat, which was diverse in a way that can only happen in the Bay Area. Call me crazy but I do my own informal censuses (censii?) at events like this, and it seemed to be about 1/3 African-American, 1/3 Asian-American, and the rest Latino, Middle Eastern and Native American. It was rejuvenating and healing to have a whole day during which to meditate; we did sitting, walking and eating meditation, as well as a little yoga and qigong for some movement meditation.

But the best thing about the retreat yesterday was the sense of community I felt both during and afterwards. There were so many little connections, so many 'small world' a-ha's that I felt like I had finally stumbled, after months if not years of searching, a loose but very real spiritual community upon which I could rely for sustenance and support. It helped that my friend J. decided at the last minute to come with me, so we got to sit together and chat here and there when we weren't supposed to be observing 'noble silence' about how we were liking the retreat. He really enjoyed it and so I hope I get to sit with him again sometime soon. I also met V., who was friends with J., and knew another friend of mine and my boyfriend's (H. went to high school with her).

After the retreat, one of the other participants, Z., whom I had met at a different people of color sangha at the San Francisco Buddhist Center, was headed to the same art exhibit/ web site launch party that I was--it was for Sylvia La, an amazingly fresh and talented painter, and I'm not just saying that because my partner designed her web site (really)! I enjoy her work immensely and wish I had the dough to buy her 'Cousins' Picnic' painting, with its surprising use of color (blue kids' faces! But it works!). I got to hang out with Z. and a few other friends in the Mission beforehand, which was a lot of fun.

At the launch party, I also found out that Sylvia's another meditator, and I ran into another J., whom I've met at more than a couple SF Buddhist Center POC sanghas. She told me she was also involved in an Asian-American political group that I've supported in the past. This was starting to get ridiculous! But I was enjoying seeing the connections between my creative, political and spiritual worlds, which made me understand that they're not that different after all. And usually this might make me feel a little claustrophobic, as if my world was so insular that the same people from all my different networks all go to the same events, retreats, etc. But it didn't. Quite the opposite. These interweavings of relationships and acquaintances and friends made me feel quite expansive and blessed. I'm sure it had something to do with being at a meditation retreat all day, but isn't that the point of meditation? To help us appreciate what we have and realize that things aren't as bad as we make them to be?

And today, I had another big dose of sangha in the form of a Voices of Our Nations (VONA) "writing camp", hosted by the generous and charming Elmaz Abinader, where about 30 writers of color got together to just write, together, for a full day. The sound of laptop keys clicking and notebook pages flipping was music to my ears today, and helped me write twenty-four (24), yup, twenty-four pages for my sci-fi novel. And I ran into so many folks from so many parts of my life---political, literary, academic, spiritual---that I'm not even going to list them here. It was so healing to be in a room of productive, supportive writers of color, quietly helping each other be the writers we were meant to be.

Suffice it to say that this weekend was all about making and finding sangha, and realizing that it's been all around me this entire time, waiting for me to rediscover it.



Anonymous said...

isanghamahal greetings from san diego.

Okir said...

That sounds like a great event, Rona. Please let me know if there's another one like that.