I first came to White Heron Sangha a little over two years ago, when I was 35. I was experiencing depression and some life hardships, and I wondered if it would help to put more of my focus into Buddhism and meditation. I had read a few books about Buddhism over the years and dabbled in meditation, and I could see some potential there. I had never been to any kind of meditation center, so I had no particular expectations, but in these past two years of coming to White Heron regularly and becoming more involved with volunteering here, I've come to realize how special it is.
I felt a sense of belonging from my first visit, and I think that's because the people at White Heron are so friendly and open. As someone who likes exploring and thinking critically about what different Buddhist lineages and practices have to offer, WHS's non-lineage status is perfect for me. I have gained some broad knowledge of the whole of Buddhism and have a better sense of what practices can best help me live the dharma. For example, I have deepened my insight meditation practice, but our monthly refuge ceremony also resonates with me.
Since coming to WHS and beginning to meditate more regularly, I am able to face difficulties with a little more equanimity, so I can still experience some joy and community even when life does not go the way I want, like when my chronic ankle pain prevents me from doing the outdoor adventures that have always been so important to me.
At WHS, I have met so many wonderful friends, friends who truly care about me. When they have listened to me with caring attention, given me a kind hug, and included me in activities, I have learned from their example how to be a better friend to others. In this era of texting and social media, when even friends I'm "connected" to may seem far away and busy all the time, my life is better because of the community at WHS, where we meet in person every week and are connected by our shared values of peace and kindness. I really feel like I am a part of something, and I feel like I can be myself here.
Giving back, through volunteering on Sundays and on the Retreat Committee, makes me feel even more connected. Committing some of my time to the sangha has helped me become more consistent with attending Sunday programs and also with my own meditation practice, so that my practice and the sangha are solid parts of my life.
I love the Sunday programs. It feels helpful to be with the group for the thirty-minute meditation, since I usually don't meditate for that long on my own. I like the variety of speakers and program topics; I always learn something new. I also sometimes attend James Coleman's Tuesday evening sitting group and Mick Malotte's Wednesday evening Mindfulness for Everyone group. I find it valuable to hear other people's reflections and experiences in the Tuesday discussion, and I am calmed and inspired by Mick's guided meditations.
Being involved at WHS has deepened my practice exponentially more in two years than reading books on my own for the previous fifteen years did. The Sangha's longtime practitioners are examples for me to follow, in kindness and presence. Without experiencing their example, I would have never known how important it is to have dharma friends and mentors.
Back when I started coming to WHS, I thought meditation would help me, but I did not actually want to meditate, because it was like a difficult and tedious chore. I remember alluding to this in James' discussion group, and he looked at me with confusion, which confused me in turn, because I didn't see how meditation could be a particularly nice experience. But as I've gotten more meditation guidance and practice, I've learned that meditation isn't about sheer effort and trying (futilely) to concentrate hard enough to bring about a boring peace. Instead, I’ve found that meditation is about becoming open to what is out there and accepting that we don't start off knowing what it is and where it will take us.
Through my practice, I've been able to experience moments of deeper compassion and sympathetic joy and joy in existence. I didn’t try for this; it’s just where dharma practice leads if you stop striving towards preconceived notions – which I think I have done for a couple of very, very brief moments here and there.
None of my life-sustaining experience would have been possible without long-term hard work and funding from so many people. Learning how much time goes into simply creating the web pages for retreats, I am in awe of the WHS volunteers who dedicate so much of their time and energy to sustaining this community and its programs. The Sangha really has made my life better and has helped me find more hope for my future, since I have the dharma and sangha to buoy me during hard times that might otherwise feel bottomless. Each person who has contributed to this sangha has made a concrete difference to me.
One time when I was talking with Mick, he framed dharma practice as an adventure, a mental adventure rather than an outdoors or travel adventure. I love adventure and exploration, so this concept gave me insight into both why I am drawn to the dharma and how I could fruitfully approach my practice in the coming months and years, as I experience roadblocks as well as new discoveries. We are all in this adventure both alone and together, and I am deeply thankful that White Heron Sangha has helped me start my journey of exploration.