newsletter logo: Sangha Reflections

Winter 2002

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Brakes and Lights

By Susan Hadler
I'm sitting on a brown cushion in the Meditation Hall on 16th Street for the first time and I am worried. Did I put the emergency brake on? Or is the car rolling down the hill crashing into other cars, causing havoc and destruction out in the street in front of the Vihara? I feel an urgent need to find out.

I've come back again to sit with the Sangha. I'm sitting on a brown cushion and worrying. Did I turn out the lights in the car when I parked it at the curb? I can't remember. It was twilight when I drove up. Did I even turn the lights on? I think I did. But did I turn them off? Oh dear. Maybe I should get up quietly and tip toe out to see. Then I could come in and sit peacefully like everyone else. Maybe I could just look out the window. If I've left the lights on, I won't be able to leave.

I lived with the nuns in Plum Village for a month in the spring and felt the extraordinary effects of living mindfully in community; the safety, the awareness of the beauty in every moment, wide open inner space and peace, wholeness and freedom. I saw a new way of relating and being with people, one that isn't filled with competition and self promotion. The sisters created an atmosphere of respect and listening rather than interruption and self-importance. I learned a way of working; not rushing to finish the job, but enjoying the work, the surroundings, the people, a slow way, a way of attention and simplicity.

I want to learn to live this way. I arrive at the Sangha full of hopes and fears. I want to be here, but what if I forget to put the brakes on, harming others and embarrassing myself? I want to be here, but what if this new community depletes my battery and I can't move? What will happen to me here?

At first I worry about speaking. What if I have nothing to say? Will I be seen as worthless and will I then see myself that way? Will I say the wrong thing, crash around and cause damage? It's a relief to be able to leave after the sitting. I am surprised to find that I want to stay. I want to hear Thay and I hope to find a new way of being together with people where silence and listening co-exist and where inner truths have a chance to be spoken.

What I find is almost indescribable. Whether I speak or whether I am silent, it's all right. No judgment. No one dominates. People ask for help. No one pretends to know it all. Vulnerability, tenderness, openness and truth exist here. We sing about pain and laughter. Silence surrounds each person's words. Space to listen. Space to hear. Someone smiles at me. I begin to relax and feel safe and happy.

I notice that the first things that come to mind to say are things that might get people to like me, things that show I'm sensitive or smart. Then I notice that if I wait, sometimes I feel a twitch or tingle inside around my heart or in my stomach. When I speak from that place I am not shy or worried about what people will think of me. It is as if what is in me belongs to the group and is not mine alone. I am part of something more. When others speak from that place, I feel more deeply present, with them, with the Sangha and with myself. Together there is wholeness. Listening deeply I hear wholeness sprouting and growing like a garden. What is said heals divisions inside and outside. Sitting with the Sangha is like coming back to breath, a place of safety and quiet and true being where the heart can open. I'm finding out I can leave my ego on the curb with my car and I can leave my worries at the door with my shoes.R

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