Create a Sangha
Until we reach a certain stage in our evolution not only do we need the support of others of like mind, we have a duty to seek that support.
– Adapted from the I Ching
At this particular time in evolution, when there is so much chaos around us, I see a great need for the company of fellow pilgrims on our journey through life. We need to surround ourselves with people who truly meet us, who allow us to speak our truth. People with whom we feel safe, with whom we can be uncertain in our footing and stumble in our speech in the knowledge that we won’t be trashed. We need to fortify ourselves by making sure we choose friends with whom we feel aligned, whom we can trust.
For me, this is the essence of sangha. Sangha is a Buddhist term, and the sangha was originally a group of followers of the Buddha who renounced their worldly life in order to follow him around and assimilate his teachings. Thich Nhat Hanh brilliantly explains it in his Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities:
Sangha is more than a community. It’s a deep spiritual practice. A sangha is a community of friends practising the dharma together in order to bring about and contain awareness. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. When you do not see this in a community it is not a true sangha and you should have the courage to say so. But when you find these elements are present in a community, you know that you have the happiness and fortune of being in a real sangha.
The practice of sangha is about experiencing heart connection with others, with people who light our fire. We feel vibrantly alive in their presence. We rejoice in creative dialogue. Our conversations make us feel that everything is possible and that the trials that we endure have the potential to strengthen us. Sangha is about tuning in and finding those travelling a similar path (wherever they may be) and strengthening that connection.
But sangha is not just about being kind to each other. Rigorous challenge is the essence of a deep relationship – but challenge as opposed to criticism. We need people who compassionately and wisely call us into question when we are deluded. In our sangha, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Ultimately, we need places where we can take off our armour and be who we are. This takes a lot of effort.
Exercise: Invest in your sangha
Commit to the practice of sangha and get conscious about your relationships.
Where do you feel heart connection?
Where can you be honest?
With whom can you be vulnerable?
Decide who in your life you want to invest in, and where
there is a call to expand your circle of friends.
See if you can go deeper with the relationships you want
to nurture. When you meet people who are important to you, make sure you talk about what really matters rather than pass the time. Be willing to release your mask of being “fine” and be daring in your willingness to communicate in a more authentic way.
Could you find one other person who is on your wavelength and who you feel supported by and supportive of? Suggest formalizing that relationship so there is dedicated time given to building a place of depth between you.
If you’re psychologically minded, then perhaps a therapy group, or men’s and women’s groups, may work for you.
If you are creatively minded, maybe you could join an amateur dramatics association, or a pottery, writing or painting group. If you are a physical, hands-on person, a walking and running group could be the scene for your sangha. If you are spiritually minded, a meditation or yoga group could work.
About the Author: Malcolm Stern has worked as a group and individual psychotherapist for nearly 30 years. He is co-founder and co-director of Alternatives at St James’s Church, London's most important spiritual events platform, since 1982. Stern also teaches and runs groups internationally. His first book Falling in Love, Staying in Love was published in 2004. Malcolm also co-presented with Vanessa Lloyd Platt, the Channel 4 series on relationships Made for Each Other in 2003 and 2004.
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