One morning I was at the Library bookstore donating a couple of books. I noticed that the three people helping out at the store were all volunteers. I asked them about volunteering there. They were of course very helpful giving me information, a volunteer application form, and telling me when exactly the person who interviews potential volunteers comes in. During the conversation, I mentioned that I have been volunteering at London Hospice for two years and have very much enjoyed it. I said that I wanted to volunteer in more places. I said that I love books and have worked in bookstores and for the library in the past. As I left I wished them a good day.
Later, after lunch, I decided to meditate for a bit. During my sit the aforementioned conversation at the bookstore popped up, as did my words about Hospice. I started to think about community. Hospice community. Something that has always been in my awareness from the very first time I walked into the hospice to speak with my friend and fellow meditation leader was the incredible warmth and positive atmosphere. I felt humbled and honored when she asked me to be one of the leaders of a drop-in meditation group.
As I sat there on the cushion, my heart opened wide as the drop-in meditation group came to mind. And then I knew. I had to write a post here about community and what it means to me. With this realization I felt peace. Well-being. I found myself visualizing the people in the group and the quiet, welcoming space where we meditate, the ever-present warm atmosphere, and the sense of safety there. By safety I mean the fact that everyone feels free to share what is real to them, their innermost feelings, their life experiences, and the effect that being part of this group has on them.
So what do we do in this group? It’s simple really. We usually begin with a guided meditation, then take a break to grab a coffee and/or snack from the kitchen area and return to the meditation room for some social time together, usually followed by a bit more meditating or a reading. If we feel so inclined, we share what has arisen for us during the meditation.
Some of these people have been attending for years. This group, as I mentioned, is drop-in: volunteers, staff, those who are dying, their caretakers, and people who are grieving. There is trust here. Complete trust and great caring for each other and for ourselves. To each and every one of us: We matter. And the atmosphere? Positive. Life affirming.
There is only one other time that I have experienced all of this with a group; it was with my Buddhist teacher Yeshe Wangpo’s students many years ago. That is the group that I wrote about in my post: The Retreat. We cared. We trusted. We shared. We went on picnics together, enjoyed pot-luck’s, supported each other through the rough times, and experienced retreats as a group.
During this meditation it was more of a feeling thing. I continued meditating for a little bit and then chose to end the sit. I walked over to my computer, sat down, and began to write:
What is community to me? This drop-in group at Hospice exemplifies what it is all about: caring, trust, honesty, open-heartedness, safety, sharing what is important, and complete acceptance. Our differences only seem to enhance our experience together; there is way more that is the same. If I step on a stone it hurts. Sometimes I feel anger. I need food to live. I want to be happy. So do we all. I guess it’s kind of like the “Ten Thousand Things” spoken of in the ancient, fourth century Chinese text, the Chuang Tzu. We are all our individual selves, but we are also part of the whole. The whole can’t exist without its individual parts and the parts necessarily need to be part of the whole. I guess that another way of putting it is that the parts enhance the whole just as the whole enhances the parts.
Perhaps there is a bit of a message here? What a world we would have if everyone on the planet could be like all of us as we are with each other. A community. The best of what we as human beings can be: Loving. Caring. Sharing. Helping. Compassionate.
Community is about friendly. My neighbourhood feels like that. Where I live it is the norm for people to say good morning as they pass each other. Very special. In other neighbourhoods in the city where I live, the norm is to avert ones eyes, look down, askance, anything but to make eye contact. And to say hello? Umm…lots of strange reactions to that one. Some people can’t get away fast enough when that happens. Some people act as if you’re not there, as if you didn’t say “Good Morning.” Some people speed up the second you have passed. Let me get this straight. I’m definitely not scary looking, unless you’re a mouse or some such thing. And then, go ahead, skitter away. I would too.
I feel blessed to have so many wonderful neighbours. A couple of them I have become very close to over the last few years. I take care of their house and garden when they are away on holidays. I don’t drive. They do things like drive me to the train station when I’m heading out of town for a day of fun, or give me a ride to somewhere I need to go. I don’t do it because I have to. They don’t do it because they have to. We just do it. It’s what neighbours do. Community. Very, very special.
One of our neighbours invites everyone in the community to their house for a giant picnic on Canada Day. How cool is that! It has become quite an event on our street. They drop invitations in mailboxes and post invites throughout the neighbourhood. More than once I have found myself smiling as I walk down our street to catch a bus and notice one of the invitations posted on a pole.
I bumped into Martha awhile ago as she was walking a dog. She doesn’t have a dog; she was helping out another neighbour who was away.
Someone else who lives nearby stopped me one day. She needed to unload. She needed an ear. She had just supported a friend who was going through a very rough time. It hurt her to see her friend in such emotional pain. I could see that she was upset. She shared. The two of us are not close friends. Does that matter? I felt honored and touched by her trust in me.
We currently live in a world where there is much strife. Much anger. Much about being caught up in “me”. Caught up in “me” versus “you”. Duality. There really is no duality. We create it. When we live in community the “me” versus “you” disappears. We become one.