The 18 House Guests
Dear Friends, I am sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and the solitude. Our 18 house guests from the last week just left, and I am basking in the quiet both outside and inside my mind. Amazingly, tonight will be the first night in 8 months where we won't have any guests staying at our house. I thought that at this moment I would feel exhausted and relieved, which I do, but I will also miss the community and connection that comes when we share our daily lives with others.
I have always considered myself an introvert -- someone who needs a lot of time absolutely alone in order to recharge my energy. And so when I began to practice yoga and mindfulness, I did so in a very self-contained way, doing things in my own way, rarely reaching out to make friends in classes or meditation groups. I didn't feel that I needed to have connections with other yogis, that I could do my practice by myself, alone both at home and in class. When I socialized with other yoga or mindfulness friends, I often felt that I had to "be a yogi," some unattainable idea of a person with a perfect heart, mind, and body. To accomplish that, I had to try to control how I was seen by my new friends, and I had to behave in ways that weren't authentic. No wonder I preferred to practice alone.
So I never really thought of myself as someone who would enjoy having a lot of people staying in our house, eating our food, breaking dishes and moving stuff around, especially given that most of them were Buddhist monks and nuns.The good news was that since they were practicing mindfulness they were mindful guests. The bad news was that since they were practicing mindfulness they triggered my mindfulness insecurities (I noticed how often I slam drawers and doors!) But part of what the practice has taught me is that being with, even living with, others doesn't have to be so difficult. One of the three jewels that the Buddha spoke of, is the sangha, or the community that practices together. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we try to "flow like a river" with the sangha, remembering that we are just one drop in the ocean of life, just like every other person:
With each step, I am aware that I am not a solitary drop of water but am part of a larger river. With mindful breathing and steps, I produce the energy of mindfulness of the Sangha. I open my body and mind so that the collective energy of the Sangha can enter me, protect me, and help me to gently flow along like a river, harmonizing myself with everything that is.
Practicing like a river means letting go of trying to control ourselves and others. We are just one of many drops in this river, and we can see clearly our small part. When we need to let go of something, we can trust that the trillions of other drops will carry us along. If we feel too sick or tired to come to yoga, we stay home, and trust that many other yogis are practicing for us.
A disciple of the Buddha once suggested that half of the holy life was spiritual friendship. The Buddha replied that spiritual friendship is actually the whole of holy life. Having friends who practice with us gives us so much. Having the 18 spiritual friends at our house was a constant bell of mindfulness reminding me to walk mindfully, do the dishes mindfully, and speak mindfully. Having a friend who practices yoga or mindfulness gives us the opportunity to discuss questions we have about our practice and share insights, all of which helps deepen both our practice and our friend's practice.
When we drop our habitual self and other-judgment, then sharing our practice with other yogis is easy and produces a lot of joy. Practicing like a river allows us to truly relax and enjoy each other's company. We don't have to try so hard. Think about the 18 people, or one person, or even one animal, whom you could tolerate moving into your house tonight, and that will help lead you to your true sangha. Do we have community who truly supports our practice? Are there friends at the studio who we consider part of our sangha? As we each create our own small community of practice, together we strengthen the larger sangha, allowing all of us to float easily down the lazy river of life.
with much love to this beautiful sangha,