I wrote this article nearly three years ago for The Yoga Lunchbox, and have dusted it off and updated it in response to two recent articles from Waylon, one called Community Sucks, and another I haven’t seen you smile since I’ve been here, (now unpublished).
In Community Sucks, (the title is somewhat of a misnomer), Waylon says:
“If we can’t work with our fellow brothers and sisters on a path of goodness, we can’t begin to change the world, let alone our spouses or ourselves, for the better.”
So true, in the end yoga, like life, is all about community—communing with other people. So here’s my take on community from three years ago, with an added ending.
In Buddhist practice, the three jewels of life—or the three refugees—are what you turn to for support, for guidance, and for friendship.
- The Buddha nature—the ideal or highest spiritual potential that exists within all beings.
- The Dharma—the teachings of Buddha, or the path one walks in following the teachings.
- And finally, Sangha—the community of other spiritual folk walking that same path, albeit in their own individual way.
While these are Buddhist concepts, they apply equally to those on the yogic path.
Of these three jewels, one can be understood, one can be learned and lived, but the last one—sangha—has to be created. It is the most precious jewel of all. And it was the jewel sparkling in the sun this weekend in Wellington.
Everyone will have had their own experience of sangha this weekend—mine began with my Saturday morning Prana Flow Yoga class. Some 18 yogis, including three newbies, rocked up and gave their heart and soul to the practice. There was laughter and giggles, determination and diligence, flow and freedom.
Afterward, as always, plenty of conversations. The regulars keep coming, and add so much vibrancy to the class. The newbies keep showing up, bringing something different every time. And every week, I feel so blessed to teach for such a wonderful group of people. It was a lovely way to start the weekend, but there was more to come.
Saturday afternoon was dedicated to 350, and if you haven’t yet checked out the website and been blown away by the number of events that happened around the world in honor of advocating for climate change, go take a look. Here in Wellington, I was involved in The Big Stretch—a free outdoor yoga class.
We rocked up to Frank Kitts Park at about 1pm and started setting up. The tunes were soon pumping, and we were warming up on the grass. So much fun to practice outside in a public space! By kick-off time at 3pm, 50 yogis had joined us including a handful of kids—nothing like watching two-year-olds do downward dog to make you smile!
It was such a joy to teach in that environment, and as Marianne, Bridget Kelly and I led everyone through. We even had people spontaneously join us during the class.
Afterwards, people chatted and caught up, made plans and shared smiles, and scooted over to join the huge human sculpture of a giant Kiwi (NZ’s native bird). Plus I met a few of The Yoga Lunchbox readers in person—always a wonderful thing
Yet the yoga wasn’t yet over for the day. It was off to a friend’s house in Hataitai where 39 (!) of us squeezed into a lounge for some Kirtan led by Tyag Fenton and Peter Fernando. Kirtan is a devotional, heart-opening practice and after about 90 minutes of joyous chanting, boy could you feel the love! Plus the best thing about going to a pot luck with other yogis and meditators is that the food rocks. There was a spread worthy of Cuisine Magazine.
It was in his introduction to Kirtan that Tyag spoke about the Three Jewels, and how precious sangha is. Looking around the room, and reflecting on the day I’d had, it was so clear of the truth of his words.
Walking a spiritual path is not easy (at the start anyway, it gets easier and easier). It calls on us to let go of so much of what society holds to be of value. As we change, we can often come into conflict with those nearest and dearest to each other. It can be easy to toss in the towel, but once you’ve opened the door to the possibility of awakening, it can never ever truly be shut. You’ll always know there’s another way to live.
Sangha provides you with support and sustenance through those tough times. Being with people who can understand your changing perspective on life is validating and up-lifting. Those of us who choose to follow this path are currently in the minority. We are swimming up stream against a culture saturated in materialism, indulgence of the senses, repression, binge-drinking, violence, individualism, fear, victimhood and egoism. it’s easy to get caught in the current and start drifting and before you know it, you’re headed out to sea.
Many of us know there must be another way to live.
We know that feeling the way we often do isn’t the way life’s meant to be. We know there must be more to life. But we don’t always know how to get there—or even where there is. Building a spiritual community like the one I’m part of in Wellington is like shining a beacon out into the night. People see the light and they want to know what you’ve got – because they want it too.
That was clear to me on Sunday.
Chilling at the beach with a yogi friend, we had the tunes cranked and spied the perfect place for some spontaneous Prana Flow. So out came the yoga mat for him, and just the wood deck for me and we grooved away to the music, doing our own blend of yoga. The sun was shining, our view was the ocean, the music was soul-warming. We were just feeling the goodness.
People were wandering by at various stages, kids were fascinated and the general comment was:
“Right on, that’s awesome!”
And to me, that’s what community (not yoga community, just community) is all about.
It’s about being part of a heart-warming sangha that provides support, laughter, direction and friendship. It’s about feeling free to take yoga, be yoga, wherever the day calls for it. It’s about living and breathing from the heart and soul, and sharing this with as many people as possible.
Watching the slide show of photos on 350 this morning, my whole body came out in goosebumps. We’re in a new era of mass communication where we can connect to each other through media and the internet in ways never before possible.
An idea, a feeling, a mood can sweep a nation and the globe in a heartbeat—so why not love and connection?
This sangha we’re building here in Wellington, here in New Zealand, it may start small.
It may be 39 people in a lounge.
It may be 50 people at an outdoor yoga class.
It may be two friends grooving it down at the beach.
But people will see it.
And even more powerfully, people will feel it.
We don’t have to say a word, we don’t have to preach, we don’t have to try and convert people.
That way is over.
All we have to do is be our yoga.
Whole-heartedly and soul-singingly be love and connection.
Because who isn’t attracted to love and connection?
Who doesn’t want to feel more love and connection in their life?
Hell, I know I do. Dish me up a double-dollup and load on the cream please!
This is a whole new way to live.
A way of heart, a way of soul, a way of love and laughter.
And it’s a way that’s open to anyone.
Three years ago, I’m still living in Wellington and the sangha feels stronger than ever. Sure, stuff comes up, because we’re people. That’s the nature of coming into contact with each other. Stuff will always come up. It’s knowing how to deal with it that counts.
It’s knowing that we are all human, that we do all have flaws, that sometimes we shut down, that sometimes our shadows come out to play.
I feel a lot of love and connection for what Waylon and the team at elephant journal are creating here. Although here are times when I’m reading the comment threads that I get disillusioned too, because it often does seem to come down to right/wrong, you/me, us/them. I want to experience a different way of communicating, where we can each be acknowledged for what we’re experiencing, where we don’t have to convert another to our way of seeing or thinking.
The only way for that to happen is to model it—is to be it. And so that’s what I do, as best I can, in the comment streams in my articles. Plus I attempt to find the middle way in the articles I write. There’s no doubt that controversial articles get the most readers, but they can also polarise those readers into an us/them—the very thing we’re trying to avoid.
As Waylon says in his article Community Sucks, “It’s all a work in progress.” Creating an enlightened society takes time. Hell, it’s only been in the last 100 years or so that we’ve given women the vote and realized that judging people by the colour of their skin is harmful to all. It takes time to forge new ways of being and relating.
elephant journal is part of that change, as is The Yoga Lunchbox. You are too.
So does the yoga community suck? No, the yoga community, like all communities, is us. And we don’t suck. We’re just learning. And like all learners, sometimes we need encouragement, kindness and positive reinforcement. Sometimes we need to realize how far we’ve come. And sometimes we need to focus on what we do want to experience, in every interaction of our life.
Now that’s community.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta
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