Most of my life (being 6’4” with long hair and a goatee, and a habit of wearing biker jackets and combat boots) I was well accustomed to being judged before people know me. When I was leading the band I worked for into a club at night, my carefully crafted frown did a good job of making me seem mean. Once I smile, though, it’s clear that I’m a softie.
One of the most appealing things about Buddhism to me, when I started out, was that it is, I was taught, a tradition that allegedly was very open and receptive, regardless of your conditions or conditioning. In my day job, I’m fortunate to travel all over the country and beyond, and during my travels I make a point to seek out and visit Buddhist Sanghas in different locations.
During one of my favorite visits I met a very tech savvy girl, Gina, with whom I had been communicating about visiting her Sangha. She was incredibly responsive and helpful, communicating with me instantly by email and text, giving me digital directions, and online calendar dates. When I arrived at her house, where the Sangha met, I knocked on the door expecting to meet maybe a hipster twenty-something. Instead a lovely elderly woman, whom I judged to be her grandmother, greeted me with a warm hug and invited me in without hesitation. (Again, I was dressed in a black hoodie, and I towered over her. I wouldn’t invite me in if I were her!)
She, it turns out, was Gina. Sweet, warm, welcoming, tech savvy, 89 year old Gina. And it happened to be her 90th birthday. The Sangha all welcomed me and made me feel like a celebrity, while managing not to take anything away from Gina’s celebration. And I learned something about letting go of my own preconceived notions.
The best visit for me was the Honey Locust Sangha in Omaha. Mike McMahon there became sort of a mentor to me in the art of Sangha Building. Mike taught me, with regard to trying to “build a Sangha”, that the best thing I could do was to Let Go. Let go of the idea of “BUILDING A SANGHA” and just let it grow.
Letting go…. this image of opening your hands (and mind and heart) and releasing whatever ideas and notions you are grasping…. it leaves you with an open receptive hand… it’s really just another way of saying Acceptance. When we come to this congregation I know my family is welcomed, however we show up.
When I lead the meditation group at UUCG each week, I try to hold these experiences in my heart-mind and practice acceptance for whomever – however – they show up, crossing our threshold.