To help celebrate our 30th year of practice together, sangha members are sharing their stories. What brought me to the practice? What keeps me coming back? We will be posting them here throughout the year.
“I was brought up a Catholic and when I was a young man, I planned to be a Franciscan. But the Church affirmed that life is a hard and weary journey towards an eternal home. Holiness was to be achieved through renunciation - “offer it up”. When a Catholic life didn’t work out for me, I married and lived for decades as an atheist, but conscious of a spiritual hole. I read many Buddhist books, and thought I understood, but I was only getting it intellectually. I dabbled with meditation over the years, but as a technique to bring me calmness - my sole objective was to become a better meditator. And I couldn’t even achieve that.
“I had a stroke shortly after retiring, and that was the turning point. The stroke forced me to stare death in the eye. The stroke and retirement together led me to re-question the purpose of these minutes, hours, days.
“And so the Washington Mindfulness Community has become a second family. Virtually everything I read and re-read from Thay is an ah-hah moment. Meditating together on Sunday evenings is a turbo-boost. The three jewels - the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha - help me deepen my practice and direct its objective to serving the world as best I can, while enjoying each breath, each step. I am so grateful.”
“Different versions of me have walked in the door to sangha throughout this past year - joyful, distressed, devastated, or even just bored, and there’s always been space for whatever I happen to be experiencing in any particular moment.
“I simultaneously feel accepted for exactly for who I am and where I am, but also inspired to work toward the best version of myself. There is a sense that there is room for everything and everyone, and we’re all in this together. I’m thankful to have found a group of humble practitioners simply striving to experience the sacredness of every step, while offering support to one another along the path.”
“The first time I visited the Washington Mindfulness Community I was newly married and transient in the DC area. When I returned to D.C. after years in foreign countries without a Sangha, I returned to WMC. At first, I only attended the first part of the evening, which is the sitting and walking meditation, and skipped the dharma discussion to get home to my family. But after those first abridged visits, I slept so peacefully, and my then four year old son began to notice the calm that I felt.
“I soon began to stay for the whole evening with this loving and compassionate community. I felt part of a larger Sangha body where I took refuge when life was too difficult to bear alone. The Sangha body helped me through the birth of my second child, the trials and joys of motherhood, job changes, and the death of a loved one. There have been gaps in my attendance, but when I physically cannot be there, I still feel that I am with the Sangha.
“Thay has said that in walking meditation we go together as a river. Last year, when my father-in-law passed away, I had to drive to the Midwest with my two sons to meet my husband and support him and his family. Inclement weather threatened our trip. Conditions were stressful - I was tired, sad, and anxious. A senior member visited my house, sat with me and guided me in deep relaxation. My brothers and sisters at WMC held my children and me in their thoughts during our thirteen hour car ride. Despite the sorrow of our loss, we began felt calm and happy on our journey. Our drive was seamless and easeful, riding on the breath of the Sangha.”“I came to this practice for the same reason that many of us probably do: the way I was living just wasn't working, so I wanted to learn how to be happy and suffer less. I had thought that happiness was based on what you had and that suffering was based on what you didn't have. I chased after external conditions and tried to string together enough of these together to create happiness, but it didn't work. Although I'd read about meditation and tried to do it on my own, I didn't understand how to actually do it. That year I had started reading books by Thich Nhat Hahn and loved the beauty and gentleness of his practice, and as luck would have it he came to D.C. to give a talk that Fall. When I heard him speak that day, I knew I had finally found my teacher and my path. Right after the talk, I connected with members of the Washington Mindfulness Community and had finally found my sangha.
“That was more than 20 years ago and the WMC has played a central role in my life ever since. On Sunday nights, I feel the powerful love and presence of all of you and am so happy that I get to share in it. I also feel lucky to be able to help nurture and care for my sangha for all these years. The practice has been my anchor through both beautiful and turbulent times. The sangha has been my home and you are my friends and family.”
“Fear and inability to steady my mind were what brought me to WMC 24 years ago, as well as wanting to make new like-minded friends in my new city. I stayed because it was the most easy to apply form of meditation for me - ‘Imagine’ I thought, ‘I can meditate while walking my dog, eating my meal,, brushing my teeth, traveling to work! Nirvana here and now :)’”
“Many intersecting threads from my past led me by happy accident to WMC: the moments of silence in my Quaker education, a terrific course taught by Robert Thurman; and a psychologist who had Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Living Buddha Living Christ” on her shelf. When I first visited WMC over ten years ago at the invitation of the founder, Richard Brady, he greeted me with a bow. Armed with my suspicion of all organized religion, I joked: “What, do I have to bow to you now?” He replied, “I am bowing to the Buddha in you.” That floored me.
“What kept me coming back was the absence of a figurehead, and the collaborative structure, which I later learned was modeled on Quaker organizational principles. There was only the practice, based on the Buddha’s teachings, as lucidly explained by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which my confidence grew as I saw the transformation in myself and others. And I finally added to my theoretical attraction to Buddhism an understanding of sangha as I experience the support of a very strong local and worldwide community of practice.”
“I decided to seek out a meditation group a year and a half ago, after a stressful experience left me struggling with anxiety. The first place I tried was the Washington Mindfulness Community—and I’ve gone there weekly ever since. I immediately felt at ease among the warm, inclusive members of this intergenerational sangha. As a queer young woman of color who grew up in a rigidly religious community, I don’t take this feeling for granted. Being able to show up as my full self in a spiritual setting is a rare gift.
“Within months, I found not only that my anxiety had decreased, but also that the chronic pain I’d been dealing with for years due to a knee injury was receding. It was only then that I learned clinical trials have shown that mindfulness meditation can reduce chronic pain.
“Beyond these concrete benefits, what attracts me to the practice of mindfulness is the simplicity of it—especially as articulated by Thich Nhat Hanh. Anyone, anywhere can do this. You don’t have to be a Zen master on a faraway mountaintop. You can follow your breath while washing the dishes. It’s a pragmatic, real-world habit. It doesn’t require faith in any deity. Yet it builds your relationship to your own soul and to other kind souls around you.”
“I came to WMC for the first time in May 1991 because I had found a meditation teacher in Thich Nhat Hanh and loved the community I met on my first retreat with him. What motivated me to seek a meditation community is what keeps me coming back to this day, over 27 years later. For me, mindful living is a matter of life and death.
“Six years before the retreat with Thay, I had become a chronic, “around the clock” alcoholic. I couldn’t stop for more than 10 minutes for the last two years of my drinking. I was killing myself slowly, miserable, hating myself and wanting to die. The 12 step programs helped me stop and led me to daily meditation as one way to stay stopped. With the help of a sponsor, I developed a daily routine of journaling, sitting, praying, reading some inspirational literature. But I missed being part of a spiritual community that practiced together (which I had experienced as a nun). I had long ago rejected religion and was attracted more to a spiritual practice than to anything that mentioned God, papal authority, heaven and hell.
“Today I know that if I miss a day meditating, I forget my connection to you, to everyone I encounter that day. I need other people, the energy of the group to sustain my life, my perspective, the ability to stay right-sized, happy, free, sober and loving. I never want to drift, even for a moment, back to watering that seed of self-destruction, blame, anger and death in my being. Negative feelings can lead me to a drink, and for me to drink is to die. I need you, every day, to sustain life, joy, peace and love in my heart.
“I also desire to do anything I can to strengthen the sangha, to help new people who come on Sunday night to find the same joy and peace I have found in our precious community. I have found life-long friends in WMC and the world-wide sangha of Thay’s students, mindfulness trainings that wake me up and a Buddha within my heart that recognizes the Buddha in you. Why would I ever NOT come back on a regular basis? WMC is my home base, my link to Life.”