L is for Heart of London Sangha

In 2010 at a retreat in Nottingham I formally received the five mindfulness trainings. Listening to the dharma talk later that morning I heard Thay speak of the importance of belonging to a sangha to support us in our practice. I heard the request that if we didn’t live within reach of a sangha we should start one.

‘In 2013’ I silently replied.

2013 because I knew that I was heavily committed as co-clerk of my local Quaker meeting until the end of 2012.

In the meantime I did look to see if there were Community of Interbeing sanghas meeting within reach of my home, and think about how possible it would be to start one in Watford, who might join it, what it would involve. At Nottingham in 2012 I inquired about other groups and also tried to contact others practising in the same tradition in my locality. The only people living near me seemed to be those I’d travelled to the retreat with. They were not looking to join a sangha in Watford at that time.

Of the groups meeting near to my home, the most accessible to me was Heart of London Sangha, meeting at Westminster Quaker meeting house on Saturday mornings. The timing and the accessibility by public transport made this more practical for me than other groups apparently nearer.

So it was in the back of my mind that come 2013 I might go there, perhaps to join, perhaps just to learn more about what setting up and running a local sangha may involve.

Then a facebook friend posted in his status that he’d been to the Heart of London sangha at Westminster meeting house, so I responded ‘that’s where I want to go’. A conversation ensued resulting in an agreement that we’d both go on an agreed day, and then have lunch together afterwards. This was a classic case of refinding a friend via social media, we hadn’t met for about thirty years. It was also the motivation I needed to actually make the journey into central London on a Saturday morning for the sangha meeting.

The re-establishment of the friendship has been a great delight, but that is not the point of this blog post.

This post is about my relationship with the Heart of London sangha.

I had looked at the website beforehand; I’d been to weekends at Woodbrooke led by a dharma teacher from the Community of Interbeing; I’d been on retreats led by Thay and monastics from Plum village; I’d tried to keep up some of the practise on my own; as a Quaker I’d even been to Westminster meeting House before (though a very long time before). So little in the morning of mindfulness was totally unfamiliar, though describing how I felt that morning using the weather as a metaphor was a little unusual.

On the whole I liked it. I was happy to go back another morning. I resolved to about once a month if I could (the sangha meets every week). Sometimes I would meet my friend, but my attendance at sangha meetings did not depend on that friendship.

Part of me really wants to get more involved, to get to know people a bit more. The logistics make it difficult. I am not good at standing around to drink tea and talk. By 1pm I am hungry and if I don’t eat fairly soon I get ratty and irritable. Part of me itches to learn to be a facilitator in this tradition (I do a lot of that sort of thing as a Quaker). My health limits how much commitment I can make, how reliable I can be. Some Saturdays when I don’t go, I feel a desire to be there and I may sit on my cushion to join the meditation for a while, to have the effect of being part of the sangha although I am not physically there. It is remarkably supportive. Other Saturdays I am busy with Quaker commitments and I am enjoying what I’m doing, fully involved in that and don’t miss the sangha meeting much at all.

So I remain a bit uncertain about my relationship with the Heart of London sangha. That isn’t meant as criticism, it’s just me trying to honestly explore my own position.

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