Thursday, June 17, 2021


I have lapsed in my attendance at what used to be our regular sitting group here in Laguna Beach. Our "sangha", as we used to call it, had been going for many years. I myself joined the group somewhere in the mid-1990s, perhaps 1994 or 1995, in a lovely home surrounded by a lush garden filled with subtropical greenery. We were privileged to have the noted Thanissaro Bhikkhu ("Than Geoff"), abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery down south, as our friend and once-monthly teacher, and it was with his gentle, always humorous guidance that I had my introduction to the dharma.

When the owners of that original location moved, a handful of us--six or eight, or sometimes more--continued to meet every Sunday at another location, in the home of one of our long-time members that overlooked the Pacific Ocean through a cluster of elegant eucapyltus trees. Before Covid, our practice was to convene to sit in silence for an hour, then spend the next hour in conversation--whether profound discussion of some aspect of the dharma or the exchange of purely personal experiences in meditation, or sometimes merely a chat about whatever happened to be on our minds. Sometimes even politics!

With the arrival of the coronavirus, of course, we could no longer meet in person. It was not long before Zoom came to the rescue in the form of a weekly Sunday venue with a half-hour's sit led by Than Geoff and a dharma talk or question-and-answer session that followed. It seemed initially like a good idea, an adequate, if less-than-ideal substitute for "the real thing," and I joined in on my computer for a few weeks before, first, missing a Sunday here and there, and--though I could not help feeling disappointed in myself--finally opting out altogether.

It has been a long time now since I sat with the group. It was now much larger, with people from many different parts of the country, it seemed, all lovely faces in those little rectangular boxes--page after page of them--very few of whom I recognized. I found myself missing the intimacy and the sense of community in our little sangha, the communal act of breathing--if not quite in unison, than at least all together--in a shared present moment. I came to understand that it was this, much more than a serious dedication to the study of the dharma, that attracted me and assured my commitment to those Sunday sits.

More than this, I have come to realize that it was, as much as anything, about love--a profound sense of brotherhood and sisterhood amongst those of us who met each week to share the experience of meditation. The loss has been one of the attendant costs of the plague that has beset us, this past year and more; and I am left wondering, now that the Zoom "parisa"--no longer, now, a "sangha"--is established, whether we shall ever return to what we had before. As I approach my 85th birthday now, in little more than a month, I realize how keenly I am feeling that loss--and how much I treasure the less dharma-oriented group I have assembled in our Los Angeles neighborhood. There, too, we have resorted to Zoom; but I know that, come the fall, we'll make the effort to reassemble in person in our home. Until then, I'll look forward to that moment.

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