One fourth of July evening when I was 13, my mother, sister and I sat out on a hillside near our house in Virginia. We pretended we had fabulous balcony seats overlooking a phenomenal light show. In front of us was a small forest of bamboo run wild from lack of knowledge about invasive plants. But on that night it was filled with fireflies shining their patterns of light back and forth to each other and to us. They seemed to love the long bamboo fronds and clustered in dense crowds all along them. The magic of all those blinking lights so close together was spectacular, a real-life light show.
My parents had recently separated and we were feeling the intensity of this seismic family shift. It was not an easy time for any of us. But that night we sat together in the grass and quietly watched thousands of sparks winking at us, and were filled with a deep sense of well-being. I felt for the first time in several years that everything would be all right, that we would walk through our troubles together, even if in a new configuration. In the distance we could hear the pops and bangs of fireworks and occasional cheers from the people watching them. Somehow this added to my sense of being part of something bigger, a larger whole.
That was one of the first times that I really understood the power of connection and love. I had a recognition that my family was my Sangha and that we were a part of a larger world community, made up of other people and also of fireflies and bamboo and the grass we were sitting on.
In the last few weeks, I have been very moved by the community response to the illness and death of one of our long-time members, David Martin-McCormick. Although I did not know David very well, the support and love coming from the community has helped me understand and appreciate his unique spirit. All the sharing of vignettes, anecdotes and helpful tools we can use to allay the suffering around us, has been a real celebration of how one person’s life deeply matters, and how each death touches all of us, even if we do not know the person who is dying.
In ‘Cultivating the Mind of Love’ Thich Nhat Hanh writes “A Sangha is a raft that can help you survive in turbulent moments. ‘I take refuge in the Sangha’ is a strong pledge. With a good Sangha, you touch the Buddha, you touch the Dharma, and you touch yourself very deeply. It’s thanks to the Sangha that I survived many difficult moments and continue to be able to help others.”
My first introduction to Buddhism was reading and listening to the Dalai Lama who helped me put a context around the wisdom I had received long ago from the fireflies. In an article on ‘Compassion and the Individual’ he writes:
“Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.
"Inter-dependence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. All phenomena from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surround us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.
"It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.”
So this Thursday night, I invite you to come and help celebrate our interdependence! We will share our experiences of when we first realized the importance of community in our lives and how we continue to cultivate and celebrate our many Sanghas. What role has this crucial part of the practice played in your life?
You are also invited to join us this week for a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Follow Mitchell’s blog as he travels to Scotland and Plum Village here.