Creating Community – Insights from our Families

Family Day Nov 2014As the days get longer, and the warmth of the early summer sun draws us outside, it feels like a time to gather with friends and connect, relax, and share. This act of coming together is as important as the projects and paths that we engage in throughout the year – our work activities, our practice, the development of our homes – it nourishes, and creates space within our lives.

For all of us involved in Shambhala we know that there is a strong community feel to our programmes – no matter how intense the practice and study – and we also know that the Shambhala path is not simply one of individual liberation but also about benefiting the whole of society.

So, what could be possible if we allowed ourselves more space to practice creating community itself – just as much as we practice opening to an awake mind and heart? What shape and form would these new kinds of events, projects and programmes take if we did?

These are questions we have been exploring in the Families community in Shambhala.

Firstly, since there was no active Families meditation path at the London Shambhala Centre, our small band of inspired parents, leaders and children had to design our new practice community from the ground up. We ourselves what would enrich us and our children so that it might flourish and grow?

We also asked these questions because we couldn’t avoid the obvious different and diverse needs of the people involved. The children, parents, teachers and leaders, all needed ways to practice separately and yet to not come together as a whole would have been unthinkable!

As a result, one or two of the key insights and experiences gained are not only inspiring for us in the Families community, but may also provide helpful pointers towards a future community development path within the whole of Shambhala .

For example, an initial insight could be described as ‘more space, less activity’.

Quite early on we had committed to running parallel meditation sessions in the morning, then preparing and hosting a shared lunch for the whole community, and then further community events in the afternoon.

This ended up being too heavy a load. It felt like we were mainly working, preparing, co-ordinating, rushing from one room to the next and there wasn’t time to just ‘be’ together.

While still planning to host occasional special events, we’ve now settled into a form of separate practice sessions for half the afternoon, and a more free-play/tea-drinking/catch-up/meeting space for the other half of the afternoon, (depending on your age and preference!).

A second insight is around empowering the community to lead itself.

At first we used a fairly traditional model for our practice sessions. There was one single teacher for the children, who also acted as co-ordinator for the group. However, over time, we’ve developed a much more distributed model of leadership.

We’ve formed a team of co-ordinators who share the co-ordination of the monthly sessions. We’ve extended the children’s teaching model to include a different co-teacher each month who leads an activity based on their specialism or experience, enriching the regular monthly meditation teaching and development.

We are also encouraging the young people to take a lead; from holding roles that support the meditation container and community space, to creating games and exercises that bring the teachings to life for themselves and others in a direct way.

The development of the new Families community continues as we enter our third year, and it remains a warm, playful, dedicated, peaceful, lively place to be each month. I hope the confidence and strength that is growing in this space that we’ve created is of great benefit to our children, our families and to the Shambhala community as a whole.

If you would like to take part in the Families meditation community at the London Shambhala Centre, or know a family who might be interested, please contact Ali at [email protected]Meditation and activities for young people aged 5-9yrs and their parents take place on the first Sunday afternoon of the month.

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