Sangha and the Importance of Community

By Florence Scialom

As summer draws to a close with the unwelcome return of cold and torrential rain, my heart has been warmed by re-connecting with my sangha in Rotterdam (or more specifically in Schiedam, in the Netherlands). Sangha is a Buddhist term broadly meaning community of practice. In Buddhism, there are said to be ‘three jewels’: “Buddha, the awakened one; Dharma, the way of understanding and loving; and Sangha, the community that
 lives in harmony and awareness.” I have experienced many benefits from practicing mindfulness together with others in my local sangha. I have also been lucky to experience the same deep connection practicing mindfulness with other groups. Plus, I see that this need for community clearly extends beyond Buddhism or mindfulness, and is something we all need to access in our own way. 

Gratitude for sangha friends – near and far

The sangha I am a part of takes its inspiration from Wake Up, which is, “an active global community of young mindfulness practitioners, inspired by the teachings of Zen Master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.” We usually meet once a week (though there have been some breaks over the summer, while people were away) to practice together at a beautiful house in Schiedam. Our practice involves mindfulness meditation, plus singing together and sharing deeply from the heart with each other.

With my sangha sisters, Sarah and Mirjam

Those who I have met through this sangha – both those who still attend and those who are now far away – have deeply inspired me with their love, kindness and positive intentions to do good in this world. Being in this sangha, I really feel a part of a family with whom I have shared laughter and tears, celebration and deep reflection. Although I have only been a part of this community of practice for a few years, I already feel the deep friendships I have made are lifelong.

Building up my mindfulness practice over time has enabled me to experience deeper connections with other groups and people outside of my local sangha too; for example, through the retreat I attended earlier this year in Chandolin, Switzerland, and through the Slow Change experience I was a part of in Bhutan last year (pictured below). These communities and the close connections I’ve made through them remain deeply important to me. Even though I don’t have the chance to spend time with them on a regular basis, I still think of those I have met through these experiences as a valuable part of my wider sangha.  

Slow Change Experience 2016, Bhutan

The need for connection

I am aware that these types of practices may sound over the top or cheesy to some, but I think we all have a need for deep and transcendent connection with others in our lives, though we may find it in different ways. There are many secular groups and communities which bring people together in a variety of forms. Although formal religion is no longer such a prominent part of many people’s lives, this does not take away from our need to connect.

One brilliant example is the Sunday Assembly. Initially known as a type of ‘atheist church’, the Sunday Assembly brings people together to celebrate life and to support each other. At Sunday Assembly gatherings people listen to inspiring talks, share what’s on their mind and even sing classic pop songs together! These gatherings are clearly striking a chord with people; since it began in the London in 2013 the Sunday Assembly has rapidly grown, and there are now hundreds of Sunday Assembly groups around the world. I enjoyed going to a Sunday Assembly event in Utrecht in the Netherlands last year. I remember singing ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen together with a room full of strangers who quickly felt like new friends. (I also had the opportunity to interview Sunday Assembly co-founder and comedian Sanderson Jones last year, and if you’d like to find out more you can read that interview here.)

Other inspiring organisations which bring people together include Tea with Strangers, Museum of Happiness, Action for Happiness and the Network of Wellbeing (the organisation I work for remotely). I’m sure these are just some of the many examples of projects which bring people together to connect with each other.

I believe that deep connection and community are desperately needed in all of our lives. Being part of a sangha is one important way I have experienced this, and I am very inspired by all of the other organisations, people and projects out there supporting community connection too!

Share your comments

How do you experience deep connection in your life? Which community organisations inspire you to connect with others? Please share in the comments. And thank you for reading! 🙂

Stay in touch

You can stay in touch via Twitter @Flo_Sci or via following the new Mindful Change Instagram account.

Read other posts on Mindful Change

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