Planting the seeds of a Sangha

*Sangha – means ‘assembly’

I live in the Western Negev, on Kibbutz Nir-Oz. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this location is  remote, far from most cities,  public transportation infrequent and early final buses back to the kibbutz. Also, I don’t drive, I bike.

I also meditate, daily. And I have learned that the more meditation in my day, the better. How especially true this feels – this first week home, after doing a Vipassana retreat. 

The wish to maintain that inner silent place and keep it alive is very strong.

In general, it is suggested that the meditative way begins at home with daily practice. It’s important to augment this by going on retreats whenever possible. But the third branch of the work is equally important and that includes regular meditation practice with others.  The mutual support is empowering. One’s personal group is called a Sangha

So, because I don’t have ready access to a group of meditators, I took a walk to investigate our Open Centre, the building that houses alternative therapies and some sedentary exercise. I opened the doors to the wonderful experience of the smell of brand new parquet flooring and the quietness of the space. Here was a room where in the past I had done some meditation of various sorts with various people.

However, now it’s all brand new. The space has been carefully restored after having taken a direct hit during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. A rocket had crashed through the roof and devastated the entire building. Fortunately, no one had been inside at the time! And that which had been gutted and destroyed, is  completely fixed. The room is  ready for new meditative activity.

On a whim, I walked into our communal laundry facility, and there I spotted C, the one responsible for who does what in the Open Center.

I shared my thoughts about wanting to meditate in the space and she helped me decide to open up a meditation practice and invite those who wanted to sit with me. We decided on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m and she agreed to publicize the practice, giving her own number and mine for those interested in making contact. 

A day later, she announced that one person had called her and was planning on coming. One was fine! My plan was to sit for 45 minutes and meditate and hopefully that one would sit with me!

Thursday came along and surprisingly enough, the Tel Aviv bus brought a visit from my beloved son and his girlfriend. She’s an avid Vipassana goer and was happy to see the Meditation invitation  posted on the Kibbutz Dining Room bulletin board. She was in. So we would be 3. My son wanted to come as well! 4.

At 7:20, I gathered a Tibetan singing bowl, a mallet and my meditation cushion. Off we went, me, my son and his girlfriend.

singingBowl-1433769513

When we arrived at the center, I saw the one who had indicated interest and then I saw S! S is someone who, in my wildest dreams, I’d have never imagined showing up! But there she was. My heart opened. I invited them in, to take mattresses and to get comfortable in the meditation room. I turned on the air conditioner. Someone else turned on the fan and we readied ourselves.

The One told me that 40 years previously, he and another kibbutznik had begun meditation sessions. But that had fizzled out and he, himself, hadn’t been practising. S had never practiced in her life . Okay, I thought, 45 minutes of silence would not really cut it.

I decided to work along the lines of how I teach children – dividing the session into 3 –  meditation lying down, sitting and then standing.

I set my timer and began with a few instructions guiding them through a body scan and then how to notice their breathing. Hoping to keep them relaxed but still aware, I eased them from lying down to sitting. Then someone else showed up at the door and came in to join us noticing the breath. After about 12 minutes of sitting, we transitioned to standing, first checking our balance, and then noticing the breath.

To wrap up, I included some metta towards ourselves, repeating the phrases “May I be safe, be healthy, be happy and live in peace.”

My own meditation had to be carefully included between checking to see if they were breathing, or sleeping, or with me. Instructing is not exactly meditating and that was not what I’d hoped for. But people were there. They wanted to know what meditation was. This was good!

We finished. It was pleasant.

The next day I was approached by 2 others who also have never meditatedbut who wanted to try.

This sangha will be slow in the making. It’s clear that first steps will be to learn about noticing the breath, and how to be aware of thoughts that  come how to allow them to do so and release them.

And how sensations will come and go. And emotions as well.

Letting go. Setting them aside, and coming back to noticing the breath. As Shuli from the Vipassana at Ein Dor had said- when these things fly into our awareness, I offer them a seat in my ‘house’. A good image – noticing them, recognizing them and setting them someplace else while going back to the business of noticing the breath.

I like that. May the house be filled with enough seating!

rumi house

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