To help celebrate our 30th year of practice together, 2019, members of our community have shared their stories with us. What brought me to the practice? What keeps me coming back? We will be posting them here throughout the year.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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