Sangha Profile

Open Way Sangha, Missoula, Montana Contact: Michel Colville 1440 Harrison Street Missoula, MT 59802 USA Tel: (406) 543-6443 Email: darwin@selway.umt.edu

In November 1989, a small group of Missoula residents began sitting together on Sunday evenings inspired by retreats led by Thich Nhat Hanh earlier in the year. Open Way wasn't Open Way then. Nobody had thought up a name. Through that first winter, people thought and sat until the name emerged in the Spring of 1990. The name "Open Way" has become an inspiration for our practice.

The heart of our practice together over the last six years has been Sunday evening meetings. We use three standard formats on an alternating basis. Once a month, we have a single sitting meditation period followed by recitation of the precepts and a discussion. On other Sundays, we have a single sitting period followed by tea meditation and discussion, or we sit for two periods and then have a Plum Village-style service. Approximately 15 to 20 people attend these meetings. We have met in several different locations over the years. Open Way currently meets at the Quaker Meeting House in Missoula, and we are searching for our own zendo for Sunday evening and other events.

We also meet on Thursday evenings. On the first Thursday evening each month, we have a community meeting to discuss Sangha business. We have Dharma discussions on the other Thursday evenings. We usually schedule one special event each month that may be a Day of Mindfulness or an "intersangha event" with local Sanghas from other traditions. The last few years we have held an "Interdependence Day" picnic on the 4th of July featuring volleyball, plastic baseball, and outdoor walking meditation.

For the last four years, Open Way has celebrated Winter Solstice together. This celebration, initiated by Roily Meinholtz, observes the beginning of the sun's return in the midst of the snow, short days, and long nights of a Montana winter. This practice was described in the Winter 1995-96 edition of The Mindfulness Bell.

Open Way took a big step forward when it sponsored its first residential retreat in October 1991. Some dozen meditators attended that retreat led by Dharmacharya Eileen Kiera (True Lamp); Eileen has led many retreats since then and has become our primary Dharma teacher. In April 1992, Sisters Annabel Laity and Jina van Hengel from Plum Village led fifty people in a powerful retreat that firmly established Open Way. Since then, Open Way has brought in Dharmacharyas each spring and fall to lead a residential retreat, including Jack Lawlor, Arnie Kotler, and Therese Fitzgerald. Sister Jina returned to Montana last fall to lead our first retreat that included a children's program.

Our residential retreats have been attended regularly by several Sangha members who live outside of Missoula. Our "retreat Sangha" includes members from throughout western Montana and northern Idaho who join our Missoula members twice each year. The wide open spaces of Montana have given new meaning to our name of Open Way Sangha. Groups of Open Way members sit regularly in Kalispell, Helena, and Grass Range.

Our quarterly newsletter, News and Views, has evolved over the years. Bill Clarke firmly established the newsletter as a quality publication in his more than three years as editor. In the Spring of 1996, Bill passed editorial duties to Suzanne Aboulfadl. News and Views contains Dharma articles, and a schedule of Sangha and local events.

Rowan Conrad, True Dharma Strength, was ordained as a member of the Order of Interbeing in 1992. Rowan has been a mainstay of the Sangha and has inspired many others to become Sangha members through his Eightfold Path class that he has taught many times over the years. In 1995, Open Way Sangha became a religious nonprofit corporation registered in Montana as a local Sangha of the Order of Interbeing. There are currently over 40 registered members and dozens of unregistered/informal members who join us for retreats, sittings, discussions, and other events. Five members are ordained in the Order of Interbeing.

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Today, Open Way Sangha is firmly established in each of its communities: Missoula, Western Montana, the Order of Interbeing, and the community of all beings. May the merits of this practice benefit all beings and bring peace.

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