Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Virtual Sangha?

To practice right mindfulness we need the right environment, and that environment is our Sangha. Without a Sangha, we are very weak. In a society where everyone is rushing, everyone is being carried away by their habit energies, practice is very difficult. That is why our Sangha is our salvation. The Sangha where everyone is practicing mindful walking, mindful speaking, mindful eating seems to be the only chance for us to succeed in ending the vicious cycle.

And what is the Sangha? The Sangha is a community of people who agree with each other that if we do not practice right mindfulness, we will lose all the beautiful things in our soul and all around us. People in the Sangha standing near us, practicing with us, support us so that we are not pulled away from the present moment."

-- Thich Nhat Hanh, from Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities in A Lifetime of Peace edited by Jennifer Schwamm Willis (p. 280)

It is so important to have a community of people who support your practice. Waking up is painful - changing habits you have followed for your whole life is not easy. I fail more than I succeed; time and time again I lost track of the practice. I often long for more of a community to practice with, especially at work. I have friends who practice yoga and meditation, but few I see regularly. I go to yoga classes for the sense of community support, but don't see the other students outside of class, and most of the people I see during the day do not follow the same practices. I know that there are lots of yogis and meditators in San Diego, and that I can go out and find them. But my life is consumed by my work and my studies, and I have another year to go at least before I obtain my MA. It is all I can do just to get all the work done, but I am concerned by the fact that there will always be excuses like this and I really do feel like the more yoga there is in my life, the better I feel.

I don't think it is for everyone to drop everything and go live in an ashram or other practice community. I want to practice engagement in my work, not leave my work behind. Sometimes, I do question my career choice. I wonder if I shouldn't be teaching yoga. But I'm halfway through an expensive degree - and in fact, I'm excited about what I do. I still hope that International Education can contribute positively to the world.

And besides: I'm worried about the illusion behind the idea that changing my career will make my life better. I hear this too much in the world: If I was just doing something different, if I could just find Mr. Right, if I lived somewhere different, I would be happier. I'm suspicious of it. There's lots of stuff to work with, whatever I'm doing, and I suspect that the path will be much the same, no matter which fork I take.

So there's still the question of community - How do I find one? Do I need to? I'm not sure what the answers are, but I do know that the internet has brought an interesting dimension to this search. I hear a lot about the evils of the internet - and I'll be the first to admit that I spend way too much time on it, I allow the internet to bring me out of the present moment every day, to steal attention from the breath, to lull me out of reality and to dull my attention. But like any tool, the internet is not inherently evil, and one gift it has brought me is a kind of virtual sangha. Through this blog, I have discovered a wide-ranging blogging community of like-minded folks - and I thank you for reading, for commenting, for supporting my practice. I hope that I am supporting yours. In the absence of a warm, human, local community, the virtual sangha may be the next best thing.

Now here's the rub: blogging, reading blogs, and commenting is not really practice. Getting practice ideas from the internet is only useful if you follow it up with the actual practice. Talking about yoga and meditation is not at all the same as doing yoga and meditation. I would hate to quit the internet cold turkey - but I would like to learn how to use the internet more constructively and less as a distraction. I'm grateful for and excited about this community, but I'm curious about ways the internet can be a better tool to support my practice in the real world, to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative influence it brings to my life.

I'm putting it to the commmunity. Any ideas?

1 comment:

zebraxing said...

I'm not sure, but I think that some of the blogging, reading and commenting IS a form of meditation . . . I think some times when I read what someone else has thoughtfully written and I am moved to really consider it and then comment, that it is a sort of meditative dialogue, in a way that a face to face conversation seldom is . . . and I find following other thoughtful people's links, (like yours) takes me to truly enlightening places at (sometimes) exactly the right moment, so there is an interesting dimension there as well. peace ~ Paula