I’ve been doing retreats and spending time at Clear Sky for several years, especially since my root teacher, Cecilie Kwiat, passed away in 2014.
This year, I spent Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend at Clear Sky. While I was there, Sensei Doug gave us each a practice to focus on, based on what he saw, right now, as our most beneficial direction of growth.
Mine was to “Embrace Community.”
In what ways am I doing well in embracing spiritual community, then? And how do I need to improve?
Well, when I think of embracing community at Clear Sky, it feels easy. I just remember back to Karaoke nights along with the teachers, all of us arm in arm singing the Joe Cocker version of the Beatles tune “A Little Help From my Friends”
“What would you think if I sang out of tune?…”
So, while at Clear Sky, I enthusiastically I agreed to my challenge.
Back home in Calgary a few days later, I thought about going to our local community, the Calgary Dharma Hub. The Hub is a place where some Clear Sky members live in community together, host meditations and teachings. It’s had various iterations over the years, and is about to move from Inglewood to another neighborhood with all new members, in fact.
Anyway, it was Thursday after work, when I first thought of going to their weekly evening sit. My feet were sore and I was exhausted…
A month later, I hadn’t made any progress. I guess for some people this is easy, yet for me it’s an area that I have struggled with for many years. It feels like climbing Mount Everest.
So, for a month, I pretended that my teacher hadn’t said what he did. The thought of attending the Dharma Hub came and went.
Kind reminders from true spiritual friends
Back at Clear Sky again a month later, my teacher was there to kindly remind me about the importance of embracing community, particularly for me. My spiritual friends there, too, are always hoping to gently move me along the path to embracing community.
Andy Rogers, content manager for Clear Sky, suggested I write a blog about embracing community. I laughed and replied, “Are you joking? You know I am not very good in that area.”
He smiled. “It would have two-fold benefit, then, you could do it AND write a blog about it.” He stood in front of me, with a gleam in his eyes.
Then the two headed dragon that lives in my head chimed in, one head saying “Brilliant! It’s a great idea!” …and the other giving him the finger. Outwardly, I laughed at the idea, then groaned. Yet, I really do appreciate spiritual community, and how friends will put themselves forward like this for my unfoldment.
In some ways, I do embrace community. I have done several retreats, I enjoy doing service for the teachers and our spiritual community. At Clear Sky, I find it easy to be part of things, because we prepare meals, eat, meditate together, and everything is done in alignment with being a spiritual community. It’s a place where there is unconditional love from the teachers, forgiveness and growth. Embracing spiritual community feels easy there.
However, back in the city I struggle with it. As a kid, I grew up in a complicated family environment and I would retreat within myself. The upside is that as an adult, this made me a good meditator. But I was an anxious child, and this is something I still struggle with as an adult, even with my spiritual family.
I finally make it….kind of
It’s Thursday night again, and I’ve decided to go to the meditation. In rush hour it’s a 30-minute drive to the Hub. That evening, I give myself ten extra minutes to find parking.
Yet, traffic is unusually heavy. I hate being late and I start feeling anxious. I sit in the car, frustrated, and my mind wanders off …the average person walks, 5.0 km per hour, which means I could walk there in 1.94 hours… I start thinking about coming in late, disturbing everyone during their meditation, and I start to get angry, too.
My anxious head spins stories. What happens if I arrive five minutes before the meditation ends, what will they think of me? Will they be angry? Tell me that I don’t value or respect the Dharma or the spiritual community? Will they make comments about my time management? I feel like I have nothing to offer them and nothing valuable to contribute, and resistance pulls on me like an elastic band.
My anxious head tells me that I would be better off just going home. But I’m in the middle of four lanes of traffic and so my anxiety just continues to rise.
It passes 7 p.m. The meditation has already started and I’m still at least another 10-15 minutes away.
Yet, it is a compassionate universe.
I’ve listened to my teacher, and I’m facing my anxiety – despite what’s happening, I am on my way. The point isn’t to “get it right”, of course, it’s to make steps in the direction of growth. Plus, I’m getting a really good look at what comes up for me around community.
And with the right intention, I’m starting to trust that the universe supports us:
Just then, the radio starts playing Breathe, by Mackenzie Ziegler. Yes, really. I’m getting increasingly anxious on the way to a breathing meditation session, and this is what I hear:
♥ So breathe, like you know you should
Yeah, breathe ’til you’ve understood
Until you’re feeling like yourself again
Feel the sunlight on your skin
Keep your heartbeat beatin’
Go on, go on, breathe in ♥
I take a deep breath, and I visualize the Hub’s leaders that night. Christopher, strong and steady, yet gentle, and Ruth, who is light hearted and dances through life. Not the judgmental ogres my anxiety head wants me to believe.
I decide to embrace my spiritual community while I sit in my car, and I start to meditate with them; with a goal to be in a state of strength and grace when I arrive.
15 minutes later, I enter the meditation peacefully and seamlessly.
Here’s to embracing community, and facing our anxieties, step by step.
♦ By Sanjaya Morrison