In honor of my 300th post I thought I’d pay homage to my local meditation group, the Be Here Now Sangha, celebrating 13 years together this month! The word sangha is Sanskrit meaning spiritual community in Buddhism.
The above collage shows some of my favorite sangha pics taken over the last 10 months. From our white elephant gift exchange last December to our dinner & a movie night in January, from our monthly open mic nights to participating in the river clean up downtown in the spring, whether we’re hiking the woods, gathering for a potluck & campfire or having fun on the lake at our summer camp out we sure know how to be joyfully together in community :)
I started the Be Here Now Sangha, rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in September of 2002. My husband and I had sat with a meditation group on the east coast, in early 2002, called the Night Sky Sangha. While they have changed their format and tradition since then they continue to meet at the Pebble Hill Church in Doylestown, PA, which I am so delighted to know. When we moved back to Missoula, MT I missed having a group to practice meditation with. So even though I was a novice and did not know much about mindfulness or meditation at the time I did what somehow made sense to me: I started my own group! I knew I didn’t have the resolve to meditate on my own at home. I needed others to practice with. I didn’t presume to have any knowledge or abilities. I simply wanted the support of others to continue my mindfulness and meditation practice with. I knew myself well enough to know that if I started a group I’d follow through with it. I jokingly say, and it’s true, that all I did was show up and turn the lights on for those first few years. While there was a little more involved it wasn’t much. My role at the beginning can be whittled down to four words: I kept showing up.
We started meeting at the public library in one of their free meeting rooms. I borrowed our format from the Night Sky Sangha: 20 minutes of sitting meditation, 10 minutes (or so) of walking meditation, a reading, sharing circle, and a closing circle for gratitude and healing. We met from 7:30-8:30pm once a week, or once every other week depending on when I could reserve the room. As the library room became more difficult to reserve over the course of our first few months I realized we needed a more reliable, consistent space to meet. A woman who was sitting with us suggested I talk with a local dharma teacher, Rowan Conrad, at the Open Way Mindfulness Center in town. She thought maybe he’d be willing to allow us to sit weekly at Open Way. I met with Rowan and was over joyed at his immediate invitation for our group to come and use the space at the mindfulness center every Monday night, for free! What a blessing!
Be Here Now gratefully moved into Open Way. It was such a lovely space. It had meditation cushions and a lovely bell and everything. I was the sole facilitator of the group every week for the first 8 years. On average we had about 7-8 people in attendance. I advertised our group in the local newspaper The Independent, a free, hip weekly publication, in their events calendar. I posted flyers occasionally around the university campus and on coffee shop bulletin boards but mostly word spread by word of mouth. While we started with a relatively small group of folks it was a rotating group every week so the more we continued to meet the more word spread. We had a couple of regulars but new people were coming in and out every week.
At about 8 years in we had a few core members who would come consistently each week. Eventually we moved into having other facilitators, convening a sangha council group, and hosting events and gatherings. Our attendance grew and so did the strength of our community. We meet from 7:30-8:45pm (we extended our time by 15 minutes when we grew in size) every Monday at the Open Way Mindfulness Center. We average about 20 people each week, sometimes swelling upwards of 35 when the dark and cold of winter settles in. Our numbers often fluctuate with the seasons, weather, and university semesters. Back when Be Here Now first started I remember thinking at length about the number of folks we’d have. I used to worry about it and brainstorm ways to have a more diverse crowd or higher attendance. Now whether we have a large group, 25-30, or a smaller group, 10-12, it makes no difference to me. Every week is different and I’ve grown to love and appreciate that about our group.
I’ve come to realize that it’s important to share our story with others. It’s common to over complicate the process of starting a meditation group but it doesn’t have to involve any specific training or accomplishments or fancy gear (we started by using bed and couch pillows to sit on). We can start our own group with the simple intention of wanting to cultivate our own practice by sitting with others for support. Chances are if we show up, and keep showing up, a community will unfold. I didn’t have any expectations or goal in mind when I started Be Here Now other than to develop my own ongoing practice of sitting meditation – and I think that played to my advantage. If you’re drawn to wanting to meditate with others and don’t have access to a group in your town or just want to start your own thing I encourage you to do it! Start simply. Do it for yourself. It might be easier than you think.
P.S And if you have any questions let me know, I’d be super happy to help :)