by Sharon Rippner
If, like me, you are old enough to remember spinning vinyl records, then you will also remember the player’s needle getting stuck in a groove. I perceive our society as currently stuck in a “dukkha groove,” despite the Buddha’s teaching of impermanence. Reviewing the first paragraph of my column in last quarter’s newsletter, I find the same major external sources of dukkha still looming, i.e., COVID-19, systemic racism and violence, and the environmental issues that threaten life on earth as we know it (see more on Engaged Buddhism).
Due to COVID-19, our meditation center remains closed as we continue to physically isolate and meet together in the Land of Zoom. On August 16 our anticipated annual picnic had to be cancelled. Instead, about 40 of us met online for regular Sunday evening meditation. Afterward, Susan Quinones led a focused discussion on these questions: 1) What Sangha offerings have been supportive to you during this time? 2) How is your practice sustaining you in this time of separation? 3) Is there anything else that the Sangha can offer that you think could be helpful for you? and 4) What will it look like to re-open the center?
The responses to these questions repeatedly emphasized the importance of having Zoom access to our regular Sangha meetings. Every offering we have was mentioned, at least once if not multiple times, as being very important to members. Several members mentioned the new morning sit as being extremely helpful in establishing a regular practice, decreasing isolation, and increasing a sense of Sangha community. For all members who spoke, having the regularity of our practice offerings continue uninterrupted has been most beneficial in keeping their connection with Sangha. Kudos were given for having our retreats moved online. In addition, several members noted that the new Being Mindful of Race class is both timely and helpful.
Several members mentioned enjoying the sociable chat period that is usually offered before and/or after our meditation or other programs, again indicating this has decreased isolation and increased connection with the Sangha community. Some suggestions for additional offerings to further increase community social connection included an occasional film/discussion night, more music offerings and perhaps an art exhibition or program.
In terms of re-opening the Sangha, members expressed a strong desire to continue the Zoom offerings in conjunction with in-person meetings on an indefinite basis. Some members noted that Zoom meetings allow them to participate in events that they would not be able to physically attend. Safety from COVID exposure was the main issue raised by several members and there was recognition that “a return to normal” is a long, long way off.
As we move forward, we are going to need volunteers. Specifically, we need to increase the number of volunteers who are proficient in computer/online technology. We owe a great deal to John Dilworth and Carole Maurer, our “primary techies” as well as to the others on our IT Team. However, our IT Team membership needs to expand. So, if you have some computer expertise and/or a willingness to learn, and if you want to get more involved with the Sangha, now is the time! See John's article here.
If you want to volunteer in other, “non-techy” ways, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Bob Liss (firstname.lastname@example.org) for help in finding your niche!
At the July WHS Board of Directors meeting, Board members discussed the financial prudence of extending our Center’s lease in spite of our continuing inability to physically meet. Although our current lease expires April, 2021, under its terms we had to indicate our intention to renew in July. After discussion, there was agreement that having our Center has been important to the growth of our Sangha, in numbers of attendees, in practice offerings and in community identity. Further, while our current Center does not perfectly meet our needs, we acknowledged it would be very difficult to replace the positives it does provide. So far, the generosity of our Sangha members has allowed us to meet ongoing expenses even in this time of physical distancing. Therefore, the Board has indicated our intention to extend our lease. Given Sangha member feedback on August 16, I am assured that the Board’s intention is appropriate.
I am so grateful for the strength of this Sangha as we navigate COVID. It is my heartfelt wish to be able to see all of you at the Center. In the meantime, I am so glad to see so many of you online.
With deep bows and Metta to all—Sharon
Next article - Fall 2020