Ten Years of Sangha Life

By Joseph Emet This year, the Mindfulness Meditation Centre in Montreal, Canada is celebrating its tenth anniversary. We have, of course, come a long way since the beginning. But when I think back, three Dharma conversations stand out in my mind.

The Lesson of the Barking Dog

The first of those started with Bob, who was new to the group, talking about his weekends: “I get so irritated. My next-door neighbour ties his dog outside and goes off. The dog barks all day long. Here I am, trying to relax and enjoy my backyard in the sun, and all I hear is that dog barking.” After some silence, Maria asked him: “What bothers you most, the dog or your irritation?”

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That was a big moment for me; after seven years, I still remember it. I like to think that if we had been living in twelfth-century China, that exchange might have been immortalized in an anecdote! Its meaning was underscored for me a few weeks later. My partner used to own a health food store downtown. One night in the wee hours, the phone rang. I picked it up. It was the police asking for Suzanne. I woke her up, saying, “What have you been doing, the police want to talk to you!”

The store had been broken into, the plate glass in front had a hole in it, and the cash register was lying open on the floor. The police wanted her to come over right away. “I’ll be there in the morning,” said Suzanne. I was astonished: “Aren’t you going?” I asked her. “What more are they going to do, steal some muffins off the shelves? Let them go right ahead.” With that, she turned over, and was back in profound sleep in about a minute, while I lay awake mulling over the situation.

Real Refuge

The second was a sharing by Gail who has been with the group since the early years. She was talking about her son who had dropped out of college, and seemed to be squandering his life away. One night around 3:00 a.m., she was awakened by the sound effects of computer games once too many times. She bounded out of bed and was about to go give him a piece of her mind, when she remembered the practice. She sat down, got in touch with her breath, and calmed herself. She realized that talking to him right now when she was so angry would only make things worse, and she postponed “the talk” until the next day.

What makes me still remember this sharing after three years is what came after. She said, “I felt at that moment that I was taking refuge in the teachings and in the practice. This refuge was real, more real than taking refuge in a ceremony.” I can no longer think of taking refuge without thinking of her story.

Driving Practice

The third sharing happened just a few weeks ago when we were talking about driving. Sue (unrelated) shared her trick to avoid becoming impatient or angry with other drivers when they do things that get on her nerves: “I imagine that in each of those cars is sitting my daughter. I think Lauren is sitting in each of those cars, and when I do that the annoyance, impatience, and anger drop away. Sometimes when I see drivers driving too fast, cutting people off, I think my daughter is in a very big hurry, she is not being responsible — please keep her safe — and I send her a message to slow down.”

This is the real story of our ten years — ten years of smiles, friendships, and meaningful conversations.

Joseph Emet, Dwelling in Peaceful Concentration, is a Dharma Teacher living in Montreal, Canada. His latest CD, Clear Peaceful Moon (a collection of songs inspired by the poetry of Thich Nhat Hanh) has just been published by Parallax Press.

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