Nurturing Community: The Advisory Board Returns to the Sangha

“A Dharma community––a Sangha––is not something one is merely born into or chooses to join, but something one is challenged to create. A Sangha provides a matrix of communal support for people to realize their commitment to a common vision or concern.”  — Stephen Batchelor

During this time in which our community is collectively studying the Eightfold Path––which is a teaching based on our common vision and concern––the Valley Insight Meditation Society (VIMS) Advisory Board is experimenting with holding its monthly meetings at the sitting groups. In September it met with the Tuesday group; October 13 it will be with the Thursday group and November 14 with the Monday group. The board meets for an hour and a half, as do the sitting groups. The plan is to overlap the last half hour of the sitting group with the first half hour of the advisory board. The teacher and the board president will coordinate to make the shared half hour relevant to the meditation and dharma study of the group, even as it deals directly with the issues on its agenda. Those in the sitting group are welcome to leave at the regular 7 p.m. (or 12:30 p.m.) ending time or to stay and participate in the rest of the advisory board meeting. We all hope that this will give people more of an understanding of and connection to our lively Dharma community.

It was the early 1990s when VIMS began to emerge from the rich and fertile soil of the Upper Valley. It arose through and into the lives of a small group of people who had been practicing meditation and going to retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in western Massachusetts. There were five of us, and we wanted to create practice and study opportunities for ourselves here at home. Knowing how transformational the Dharma was becoming in our own lives, we also wanted to make these teachings available to any others in our larger community who might be interested. We five became the teacher, the sangha, and the advisory board, all rolled into one, for the emerging Dharma community. The role of the advisory board aspect of this initial triad was (and has continued to be) to know, listen to, nurture, and guide the organic unfolding of VIMS––just as a wise and caring parent would.

At the outset, the yoga studio in the barn at 14 Green Street became the sangha’s home, and even as the number of people in the group grew to be too large for everyone to be on the advisory board, almost everyone knew one another. Moreover, we had regular VIMS potlucks in which the board shared its activities and concerns with the full group and, in turn, got a sense of the group’s interests. This closeness continued to hold true when VIMS first incorporated and expanded to have a more publicly placed sitting group at the Friend’s meetinghouse, but over time, as our growth as a community has continued and other sitting groups and activities have begun, the initial intimacy has diminished. There are people who don’t understand the VIMS community beyond their experience with a particular sitting group or a particular teacher, and the advisory group has less of an intimate knowing of the sense of the whole. In order to govern wisely––with the correct intentions and energies––an honest, clear, and compassionate understanding is necessary. The aspiration of the experiment of the advisory board’s coming to the sitting groups is to nurture an authentic and relevant community of care.

A flourishing community is both the practice and the expression of the “new home” to which the Eightfold Path is leading us. This is a good time for all of us who are touched by VIMS to ask ourselves: What is our sangha becoming? What does it look like now? How can we best guide and nourish VIMS at this point in its collective life. How can we help it to flourish in ways that support our own flourishing? What is needed? How might you participate with generosity in the life of our sangha? We look forward to a renewed sense of intimacy in this unfolding process, which is called Valley Insight Meditation Society.

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