Sangha News

In-Person Sits and Events: Vaccination and Mask Policy

In mid-March 2020, we moved all our sits and other events to Zoom so we could continue to nurture our practice and provide a sense of sangha during lockdown. Many people have taken advantage of our virtual Dharma Hall since then and quite a few regulars live elsewhere and are able to be a part of our sangha through our online connection.

We didn’t want to lose the ability to offer an online experience, even as we planned a return to in-person events. So for months, a small group from our sangha planned how we can offer hybrid events (online + in-person). Earlier in 2021, a generous donor came forth to help to make that vision happen. Our goal is to offer the best experience possible for both those joining via Zoom and those attending in-person, recognizing that a hybrid format will require us all to adapt to a few changes to make it work.

Here’s where things stand right now, as of September 12, 2021:

  • We are experimenting with a hybrid model: some people will be meeting in person and others will join through our online Dharma Hall.
  • The first hybrid meeting of our Thursday sit occurred on August 12 and they are continuing weekly.
  • The Tuesday sit met twice as a hybrid, after which Lee Steppacher, the teacher, and the peer leaders decided to suspend the hybrid format and resume only Zoom sits for the autumn.
  • The Monday sit will meet online for at least the next two months while the Hanover Friends Meeting House, where the sit has been held, is under construction.
  • We plan to hold some events as hybrids; some will be in-person only; and others will be online only. For example, the fall book group, which will begin meeting on September 16, will be held online only.

While we were making our plans for gathering in person once again and exploring configurations of laptops and webcams to allow people to join remotely, the Delta variant emerged. Suddenly it became more challenging to do things in-person. We had to ask how we could help ensure the health and safety of people who attended in-person events while medical professionals and public officials are warning us about a renewed COVID-19 surge. Last week the Valley Insight board and teachers came to an agreement about what we’ll do for the near future, with the understanding that we’ll continue to monitor public advice and respond as we need to.

Vaccination and Mask Policy for Everything We Do in-Person as of August 22, 2021:

Valley Insight Meditation Society requires everyone who attends an in-person sit, retreat, or other Sangha event to be fully vaccinated; to maintain social distancing; and to wear a mask indoors at all times except while eating or drinking. People who are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness (such as cough, nasal congestion, shortness of breath, sore throat, or fever) should not attend in-person sits or other events.

We’re aware that conditions are changing in our region regarding the rapid rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant and In consideration of the policy of not causing harm to our fellow beings, we want our events to be as safe as possible. We follow CDC guidelines and may change our requirements or cancel in-person sits and events if we need to. And we’re committed to re-evaluating our decisions as more information becomes available. We expect everyone to be guided by their concern for others and their own level of comfort when choosing whether or not to attend an in-person event.

Some explanation: We spent a lot of time talking about this policy. We know that there are many people in the sangha who are fully vaccinated. Some people feel comfortable being with others in a closed room for a period of time without masks; others do not. Some people are vaccinated but are very careful gathering with other people because of pre-existing conditions. Others are vaccinated but have children or grandchildren who are too young for vaccinations and they’re concerned about protecting them. Some people don’t want to be vaccinated at all for various reasons. Others can’t be vaccinated.

We also know that right now, the areas of New Hampshire and Vermont where most of our sangha members live are COVID-19 hotspots right now. We all believe that, in light of the precept of not harming others, the least we can all do is ensure that people who attend our in-person events can feel comfortable that others are also vaccinated and, when indoors, are wearing masks. And we are committed to offer a hybrid option for as many of our events as possible, so that people who don’t feel comfortable gathering with others in a group, for whatever reason, can join in.

If you have any questions or concerns about these policies or our approach to sits and other events, please contact one of the teachers or Michael Stoner, board president.

From the Board (Charlene Gates, Joel Lazar, Sue McGilvray, Carol Rougvie, Michael Stoner) and the Teachers (Peg Meyer, Doreen Schweizer, Lee Steppacher, Karen Summer)

And a reminder

May we continue to find refuge in curiosity, kindness, beauty, space, breath, gratitude, and one another. This is a time to practice patience, restraint, and evoke a “settled back” feeling as much as possible. We are all in this together.

Mindful of Race: Update from Gina Sonne

October 2021

by Gina Sonne

In 2018, Valley Insight invited Insight teacher Ruth King to speak to our sangha and to share her newly published book, Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out. With clarity, kindness, and strength as both a writer and speaker, Ruth King inspires all of us who are embarked on this exploration of racism. She identifies racism as a “heart disease” that we must heal from. I know that all of you, as members of the sangha, would find this book invaluable to your practice.

In 2019, a few people from the sangha began an affinity group that met once a month to go through Ruth‘s book. Then, in 2020, Ruth herself launched a new program based on her book. The program consisted of many small groups across the country meeting once a month, on Zoom, for three-hour sessions. We joined the program and followed Ruth’s monthly agendas as we explored our assumptions, experiences, and privilege in a systemically racist culture. We also met quarterly with Ruth on Zoom as part of the larger group.

Jim Bell, Claudia Brandenburg, Geri DeLuca, Doris Hampton, Peg Meyer, Carol Rougvie, Doreen Schweizer, and Gina Sonne all committed to this in-depth program, which offered us the spiritual guidance of the dharma as we opened to our positions in a racist society and nurtured our awareness of how we can help to change the system.

At our last meeting we agreed to continue meeting once a month to keep building on our exploration.

We encourage all of you to read Ruth’s book and to keep it as a guide on your journey toward deeper understanding and fruitful action in a racist world. If you are interested in talking about our experience/ and or the book, we invite you to get in touch with any of us.

Racial Affinity Group Update

August 2021

by Gina Sonne

Valley Insight’s Racial Affinity Group has embarked on its second year with an expanded membership, an expanded range of focus, and a new name. In July, the group agreed to rename itself Mindful of Racial Equity (MoRE). Having grown this summer from three members to eight, MoRE meets monthly, and in September will join with other sanghas throughout the country in a year-long online Racial Affinity Group Development Program (RA-GDP). RA-GDP is a program organized and led by Ruth King, guiding Dharma teacher at Insight Meditation Community in Washington and author of Mindful of Race: Transforming Race from the Inside Out. In June 2018 Valley Insight hosted Ruth in the Upper Valley for a public presentation based on her book.  

Ruth’s book considers the suffering caused by systemic racism from the perspective of the Buddhist Dharma. It also suggests some healing practices, including the “racial affinity group” model. In essence, such a group is made up of people from the same race and is carefully structured so that participants feel safe enough to be vulnerable and challenged. The group’s purpose is to explore individuals’ personal history with racial matters and to work to uncover “unconscious biases” that can limit our relationships with and understanding of people from another race.

The online Group Development Program offers self-formed racial affinity groups like MoRE a virtual immersion “cultivating an intentional shift from racial innocence and distress to racial literacy and harmony within community.” In brief, the program will consist of instructional guidance from Ruth, group coaching, mutual support within our own group (limited to the current eight members), and shared learning from the larger community participating in the program. (For details, see Ruth’s website.) MoRE members are looking forward to joining with other sanghas in examining our racial conditioning and becoming “clearer about how we can lessen the weight of racial ignorance and injustice––internally and externally.” 

In the future, Valley Insight is looking forward to opening other opportunities for the sangha to explore the issue of racial affinity together.

New Guiding Teacher

December 03, 2018

With “great joy,” Karen Summer is stepping fully and wholeheartedly into the role of VIMS Guiding Teacher, a position she and Peg Meyer shared during the past year.

Karen began meditating in 1994 with Tara Brach’s Insight Meditation group in Washington, D.C. She became an active member of VIMS as soon as she arrived in the Upper Valley in 2000. Two years later, she participated in the meetings that resulted in the founding of Valley Insight’s Advisory Board and our subsequent non-profit incorporation. She was a strongly committed and very active member and leader of the board until she continue reading …

Mindful of Race: A Visit from Ruth King

August 04, 2018
On June 25, Valley Insight was honored to have wise and compassionate Insight meditation teacher Ruth King visit our sangha and give a Dharma talk on her new book, Mindful of Race. Ruth’s talk packed the Norwich Congregational Church. Ruth calls racism a “heart disease” that can go unnoticed and continue reading …

Observations from the Intersangha Meeting of 2017: The Past and Future of Secularized Buddhism

By Mindy Schorr
November 5, 2017

In April of this year I had the opportunity and pleasure to attend the 8th annual Intersangha Meeting of the Buddhist Insight Network (BIN) at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California.

The sixty-five attendees were made up of Community Dharma Leaders and sangha board members from Insight communities around the country. The purpose of the annual Intersangha gathering is continue reading…

Peg Meyer Graduates from Spirit Rock’s Community Dharma Leaders Program

We of Valley Insight are blessed to have a teacher as loving, ardent, and wise as Peg Meyer. Her embodiment of the dharma continues to deepen with her years of study and practice, and she joyfully and generously shares her understanding with us. For more than two years, Peg actively participated in the Community Dharma Leaders teacher training program sponsored by Spirit Rock in California. She was one of ninety-three chosen from applicants throughout the U.S. and Europe.  Peg’s formal graduation was marked by a festive ceremony at Spirit Rock in April, 2017.

The program afforded her the opportunity to have a monthly conference with her mentoring teacher, Taraniya Gloria Ambrosia, as well as a regular monthly discussion with her study group. She chose to concentrate much of her time with this group on issues of diversity and inclusivity with the sangha. To meet the program’s requirements, every month Peg submitted essays and/or lesson plans on a full range of topics. She attended two ten-day retreats with the program each year, plus others of her own choosing. This has been a rigorous program. Peg appreciated the depth of teachings and worked diligently, whole-heartedly taking full advantage of the offering.

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