Sangha Retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery By Sara Becker, True Wonderful Path, with insight from Danielle Rinnier, David Snelbaker, Harold Adams, Jay-Philippe Myerson, Lee Alter, Maria Rodriguez, Compassionate Light of the Heart, Push Mukerji, Gentle Voice of the Heart, Steve Becker, Harmonious Wholeness of the Source, Susan Saltzman, and Tara Swartz.
It’s early morning and the sky is still dark: fresh cold, deep silence. Stars shine on snow. In the great meditation hall, candles and incense are burning. The bell is invited. The Sangha sits together, breathing, as the sun begins to rise.
One winter Friday in 2009, eight members of Peaceful City Sangha in Philadelphia drove up to Blue Cliff Monastery for a three-day weekend. Carpooling was a joyful opportunity to get to know each other better. At Blue Cliff, the women shared a room, the men, a dorm, and we ate breakfast with the nuns and monks respectively. Together we enjoyed other meals, morning sitting, walking meditation in the woods, total body relaxation, touching the earth, Dharma sharing … and also time to rest, or connect over a cup of tea. In the evenings and mornings, we shared silence.
Being engulfed into the practice in this beautiful and conducive setting, surrounded by monks and nuns that embraced with their largest hearts this practice day in and day out, was sublime.
Guy time was cool!
Spending nights in community and hearing each other’s snores, washing up in the early morning, and cleaning the washroom when it was time for working meditation — these experiences foster a tender familiarity.
Time to bond with fellow Sangha members — especially with members you have never talked to or thought you would not be able to connect with — allowed a warm glowing feeling to transpire.
Whether we were feeling deep peace and joy, deprogramming from our lives, or gnarly stuff was surfacing inside us, we experienced this within ourselves, within the body of the larger fourfold Sangha, and within Peaceful City’s own Sangha body.
To look inside and touch my rawness, my bareness, in the presence of our Sangha was so scary! And amazing — you’ve seen part of me that scares me and you still love me as a sister.
The retreat was an exceptional experience of community. One that comes close to my family experience.
Traveling and returning as a Sangha continues the energy.
The retreat taught me how to integrate mindfulness into my everyday life as a way of life and also that the Sangha can be part of that life, not just an isolated few hours each week. I feel as if I am an active participant now rather than just a guest or visitor.
Folks who weren’t able to attend the retreat are also enjoying new vitality and cooperation in our practice sessions. At the same time, the retreat shines light on experiences of separation in ourselves, our Sangha, and society.
I’m happy that many members of our Sangha have been able to attend a retreat together, but I feel sad not to have been able to deepen my practice or connection with the Sangha in this way.
As a result of not taking part in the retreats, I do feel a little like an outsider, part of the group, but not really in it. But I probably would feel that way even if I went. I sort of go through life feeling that way. I think I must like or feel familiar with that feeling — not committed.
Sound of trees in snow. Kiss of cold night air. Silence. In loving community, may the energy of this retreat continue, ﬁnding forms to support and nourish us as a lay city Sangha, ﬂowing, in all our connections, out into the world.
Peaceful City Sangha, Philadelphia, has been meeting since 2005 and offers practice sessions on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, as well as a twice monthly Thich Nhat Hanh Reading Circle (currently reading Old Path, White Clouds). As a group, we tend to enjoy a good meal, cherish companion animals, and care deeply about relieving suffering and offering love in the world.