Tonight at my local sangha, Be Here Now, Mike and I, and a few of our sangha friends who recently spent time on retreat at Deer Park, will be offering a Deer Park (DP) retreat sharing panel as part of our format. There will be 5 of us on the panel and we’ll each share for 5 minutes or so about whatever is alive in our heart and our practice in regards to our time at DP. I plan on starting with a short intro and background about DP and then after the panel we’ll open up for Q & A. If there’s time, I also plan on showing a 10-minute DP video montage I put together from footage I took in January during our 3-week stay. And if there’s not time, then it’ll be an addendum after we close the group, for those wanting to stick around to watch it. I’m looking forward to this evening and hearing from my other friends about their retreat stay!
Here’s what I plan on saying for my sharing:
The importance of sangha practice is not new to me but I did delve deeper into this insight when I was at DP this last time. Being in close contact and interaction with my sangha – whether it’s my local home sangha, larger statewide Montana sangha, or the community at DP – is not an additional component of my mindfulness practice, like adding parmesan cheese to the top of a bowl of pasta. Sangha practice is equivalent to the tomatoes needed to make the sauce. It’s a necessary and critical ingredient.
Despite how strong and diligent my practice is with peppering in a variety of mindfulness tools and exercises throughout the day, if I were to stop attending sangha and stop attending retreats, my practice would eventually fall off and take a nose dive. Sangha practice is not just something nice to sprinkle in to my life when I have time or when I’m really craving connection, sangha practice is the center of the wooden wheel, which all the spokes splay out from.
From the brochure on Practicing at Deer Park Monastery:
Practicing as a Sangha
We have come to practice together as a community. We do not encourage isolated practices or solo retreats. We are part of a body – the Sangha body, the community. Our practice is that of Interbeing. Our joy and our sorrow contribute to the collective joy and sorrow of the community. Our transformation and realization on the path can nourish us all. The community can also be of great support if our heart is open. Our insight and development must be realized in the community. There is no individual, separate happiness.
I connected with this analogy while at DP in January, which I think speaks to the common question that people inquire about, which is: Why do you go to DP on retreat? What does it do for you?
Similar to how a doctor or therapist or teacher is required to have ongoing training and education in order to keep current their license and occupation, the same is true for being a Happy Contented Person, or HCP. Ongoing training is necessary. Going to DP for me is that ongoing training.
So, in the same way we’ve experienced or have an understanding that if we want to get our physical bodies in shape we’d exercise and eat healthily and get proper sleep and rest, knowing that these activities need to be ongoing, in order to foster optimal health and well-being. Mental and emotional health and well-being is the same, only our culture does not focus on this particular human component. To cultivate and strengthen any level of self-harmony – whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual – we need to develop an ongoing and continual practice of active engagement, participation, and training.
We know that if we want to do strength training and build up the muscles in our body, we’d need to lift weights, increasing the amount slowly over time of how much we were lifting. We know that if we stopped lifting weights that our muscles would grow weaker over time – and surprisingly in relatively short order. It’s the same with mindfulness practice. Sangha practice and attending retreats is that strength training. Without either element, my practice would become weak and much less effective. The light of my practice would dim rapidly.
My gratitude is thick and strong for my sangha family, near and far away.