Interfaith Work & Sangha Building

I’m currently reaching maximum saturation levels in terms of my usage of time spent on writing projects, events planning, managing meetings and gatherings, and attending a variety of other functions. I’m in the boat right now of practicing to say no when it comes to the question as to whether or not to take something else on – AND it’s going well, too, I might add.

Factoring into all the many lovely things I’ve chosen to do with my time is to: tell a story on stage at the Wilma Theater here in town on May 5th, as part of an interfaith concert and celebration event called Tangible Hope, submit an article to be considered for publication in the Mindfulness Bell for their sangha building issue (slated to come out in the fall), and write a short piece for the Community of Faith section in our local newspaper (for their May 12th edition).

Is interfaith work and sangha building different? Ultimately, no, I think not. When I look and engage through the lens of sangha building, I see clearly that sangha exists wherever I go. It’s all around me. Whether in the setting of my home sangha of Be Here Now or my larger Plum Village family, or my growing relationships and partnerships with local pastors and interfaith members as part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC), which I serve to represent our communities of Be Here Now and Open Way with, sangha is an action verb; it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels me in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood.

From the story I plan on telling as part of the Tangible Hope concert event:

I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport – I had just spent a month on a retreat at a monastery in our tradition in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different. As I was standing in the security line, I had the wonderful insight that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment with grumpy strangers; I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another: from my monastery sangha into my air traveling sangha! This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me – I carry it with me and I actively create it.

If we are truly invested in building sangha – aka spiritual community – then we must practice to envelop it fully into our lives and not relegate it to just our own beloved circles consisting of those whom we share most closely and are most comfortable with. The true spirit of sangha building must be all inclusive; this is the only way we can serve as agents of change in the world and continue beautifully into the future.

On Tuesday this past week, I attended an MIC discernment meeting, to help determine what community service projects we’ll take on next, based on listening sessions that over 15 local congregations participated in with their members over the winter (which tallied almost 1,200 people!). Over 50 people from a variety of faith groups around town were in attendance at this particular meeting. Here’s what came out of our collective meeting:

Continued: Creating access to shelter for families.
1) Creating more access to housing, with an eye toward housing for seniors and formerly incarcerated individuals.
2) At-risk children and youth, with a particular focus on mental health.
3) Combating racism and discrimination.

We can do so much more together as a collective than we are able to do as a individual, or even as a single community, when it comes to working towards affecting systemic change.

Another segment from my story, planned for the Tangible Hope concert event:

Our teacher TNH says that sangha is more than a community, it’s a deep spiritual practice. It involves relationship building, spending time together, learning how to communicate and negotiate with various personalities and ways of doing things, interacting with everyone around us in a way that promotes love and connection. And sometimes it’s not easy. Our very first BHN council meeting was in November of 2010 and there were 7 of us in attendance and it was the first time we were delving into the group becoming more of a collective endeavor, vs. just me holding down the fort. People shared a wealth of feedback and input regarding what changes they wanted to see made; things we could be doing better; format adjustments and things they didn’t like. And what I recall most about this first meeting is getting home afterwards and breaking down crying – I was so overwhelmed, wondering how we would be able to incorporate everyone’s ideas and changes they wanted to see made and I was filled with worry that the simplicity and loveliness of our group was going to be lost. And, while it took some time to adjust and find our way together as a council and we had some growing pains, it was also the best thing we could’ve done to help ensure the health and vibrancy of our group. So while it’s sometimes challenging to do this work of sangha building it’s also incredibly important and beneficial that we do it. And I’m so very grateful to be part of a tradition that ushers us in this direction and that we have the great fortune to be partners with the MIC in this regard, so that we can extend our capacity for sangha building outwards to include our interfaith sangha, which then ripples out to include our Missoula sangha, our statewide Montana sangha, our nationwide American sangha, and our global world sangha – because the good news is that we’re all in this together, truly. There is no separation. And for this reality, for this MIC umbrella that we get to partake in and enjoy, I am so very grateful, because it allows us to continue beautifully into the future.


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