State of Our Sangha, 2022

By Michael Stoner, president, Valley Insight Board of Directors

As I reflect on our experiences as a Sangha last year, I’m aware of how shifts in our larger society have affected some of our longtime practices. In this brief report, I’ll focus on two important initiatives for Valley Insight last year and share an update on giving.

In 2022, we saw firsthand how valuable our Online Dharma Hall has become, encouraging some of us to change views and expectations about how we can be together as a Sangha. Our challenge now is to take full advantage of this meeting place––and also to create opportunities for us to connect as a Sangha in person. One model may be our Vesak Day celebration last year: about two dozen of us gathered in person at St. Barnabas and another dozen or so joined online. After sharing some experiences led by the teachers, we split and continued to meet as an online group and an in-person group.

Last year, we also began a listening and planning exercise to help us identify ways in which we can create opportunities for our Sangha to provide ways for people to deepen their practice and knowledge of the Dharma as we look toward the future.

The benefits of our Online Dharma Hall come into focus

We all know how, during the Pandemic, we became used to having many of our activities facilitated through our devices. I never imagined that Zoom would become the norm for our Sangha’s gatherings, but, like so many of you, I’ve found meditating with others while we are connected in our Online Dharma Hall to be a profound experience.

After several years of this, some people expressed a longing to return to being together face-to-face. While Doreen has offered an in-person option for the Thursday sit since August 2021 and we implemented a hybrid format at Friends Meetinghouse in Hanover in July, we quickly learned that most people prefer to attend our sits in our Online Dharma Hall.

So let’s embrace the benefits of gathering online. It allows us to step out of our busy daily routines––and rejoin them with greater ease than driving somewhere. Meeting online is safe for those who are worried about health challenges. We don’t have to cancel events because of bad weather or drive to them on icy roads. We can hold events––such as the daily Refuges and Precepts practice––that would be difficult to maintain in person. And Zoom allows many people who don’t live in the Upper Valley or are away from their homes here to attend our events.

As a result, our Sangha is strengthened. For now, we’ll focus on holding the majority of our sits and other events in our Online Dharma Hall. We do offer options to gather in person: the Tuesday sit meets (only) in person at St. Barnabas once a month, and there are dedicated regulars who come to the Barn on Thursdays. And creating a virtual option for the Nature Walks is unlikely!

While I’m grateful for our Online Dharma Hall, I believe we’re missing something in relying on it exclusively. It was wonderful to practice together, in person, with Ajahn Jayanto, who does not offer virtual retreats, and some of us gathered in person to attend the December retreat that Doreen and Subha Srinivasan led. One of our opportunities is to experiment with how we can create in-person experiences for those in the Upper Valley and continue to deepen the connection with our extended Sangha.

Keeping Valley Insight vital into the future

Last year, we also began to explore how our Sangha can remain vital for some time to come. How can we identify and develop a new generation of teachers? How can we discern what our current Sangha needs and help others learn and practice the Dharma? What are the best ways for our Sangha to engage with the community at large?

To begin this process, Valley Insight’s board, teachers and a few invited guests met for a half-day retreat in June. We continued this process in the fall with a series of listening sessions where others could share their thoughts about how Valley Insight can continue to help people strengthen their exploration of the Dharma and deepen their practice.

This spring, we’ll share some of the insights from these sessions and move toward a more structured set of action steps that we can implement in the future.

Our Sangha’s generosity in 2022

We’re really grateful for the generosity of our Sangha year-round, but particularly in the fall. (If you wonder why you got a lot of emails about fundraising in November and December, it’s because our Annual Appeal is now the only source of income we can rely on.) In total, Valley Insight received more than $35,000 in donations from 91 people this year. The above total includes $17,615 given to the sangha in response to our Annual Appeal and $5,930 from people who contribute at other times throughout the year.

It also includes $11,495 in dana for our teachers. This dana goes directly to the teachers, just as it does when it’s paid by cash or personal check sent to them individually.

With deep gratitude

One of the highlights of the year for me is writing this report. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the many people who make our Sangha so vital. And to recall the many people we acknowledge every month in our board and teaching team when we pause to speak our gratitude for our Sangha.

The hard work our teachers put in each week and each month. The board members who continue to consider how to hold the well-being of our group. The responders in the morning Refuges and Precepts meetings. Our Support Sangha. The people who make our retreats happen. The many, many people who give in so many ways to keep Valley Insight vibrant. Thank you! I am deeply moved, and deeply grateful, for your inspiration and your example.

In closing, I want to acknowledge Claudia Brandenburg, who died in December. Claudia practiced with our Sangha for years and was deeply loved; she contributed to Valley Insight in many ways over the years. I didn’t know Claudia well myself, but I remember clearly when I realized that she drove the car with the “MUDITA” license plate. Of course: it made perfect sense to me that this was Claudia’s car! She embodied this, and many other Buddhist virtues, in a life imbued by the Dharma.

with metta,

Michael Stoner
on behalf of Valley Insight board of directors and teachers

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