I started the Be Here Now Sangha, rooted in the mindfulness tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, in September of 2002, when I was 23 years old. My husband and I had sat with a meditation group on the east coast, earlier that same year, called the Night Sky Sangha.While they have changed their format and tradition since then they continue to meet at the Pebble Hill Church in Doylestown, PA, which makes me very happy to know. When we moved back to Missoula, MT, I missed having a group to practice meditation with. So even though I was a novice and did not know much about mindfulness or meditation, at the time I did what somehow made sense to me: I started my own group!
I knew I didn’t have the resolve to meditate on my own at home. I needed others to practice with. I didn’t presume to have any knowledge or abilities. I simply wanted the support of others to continue my mindfulness and meditation practice with. I knew myself well enough to know that if I started a group I’d follow through with it. I jokingly say, and it’s true, that all I did was show up and turn the lights on for those first few years. While there was a little more involved it wasn’t much. My role at the beginning can be whittled down to four words: I kept showing up.
We started meeting at the public library in one of their free meeting rooms. I borrowed our format from the Night Sky Sangha: 20 minutes of sitting meditation, 10 minutes (or so) of indoor walking meditation, a reading, sharing circle, and a closing circle for gratitude and healing. We met from 7:30-8:30pm once a week, or once every other week depending on when I could reserve the room. As the library room became more difficult to reserve over the course of our first few months I realized we needed a more reliable, consistent space to meet. A woman who was sitting with us suggested I talk with a local Dharma teacher, Rowan Conrad, at the Open Way Mindfulness Center in town. She thought maybe he’d be willing to allow us to sit weekly at the center. I met with Rowan and was overjoyed at his immediate invitation for our group to come and use the space at the mindfulness center every Monday night, for free! What a blessing!
Be Here Now gratefully moved into Open Way. It was (and still is!) such a lovely space. It had meditation cushions and a large bell and everything. I was the sole facilitator of the group every week for the first 8 years. On average we had about 7-8 people in attendance. I advertised our group in the local newspaper The Independent, a free, hip weekly publication, in their events calendar. I posted flyers occasionally around the university campus and on coffee shop bulletin boards but mostly news of our group spread by word of mouth.
At about 8 years in, we had a few core members who would come consistently each week. We started adding other sangha facilitators, convening sangha council meetings, and hosting events and gatherings outside of our weekly meeting time. My own practice grew in tandem with the strength of our community. As we celebrate 13 years of being joyfully together we continue to meet every Monday night, from 7:30-8:45pm, at the Open Way Mindfulness Center in Missoula. Some of my favorite sangha activities that we do are gathering for potlucks at my house, our open mic nights at the mindfulness center once a month through the winter, our white elephant gift exchange in December, and our summer campout on the Flathead Lake. We average about 20 people at sangha each week, sometimes swelling upwards of 35 when the dark and cold of winter settles in. Our numbers often fluctuate with the seasons, weather, and university semesters. ack when Be Here Now first started, I remember thinking at length about the number of folks we’d have. I used to worry about it and brainstorm ways to have a more diverse crowd or higher attendance. Now whether we have a large group, 25-30, or a smaller group, 10-12, it makes no difference to me. Every week is different and I’ve grown to love and appreciate that about our group.
I’ve come to realize that it’s important to share our story with others. It’s common to over complicate the process of starting a meditation group but it doesn’t have to involve any specific training or accomplishments or fancy gear (we started out by using bed and couch pillows to sit on). We can start our own group with the simple intention of wanting to cultivate our own practice by sitting with others for support. Chances are if we show up, and keep showing up, a community will unfold and grow. If you’re drawn to wanting to meditate with others and don’t have access to a group in your town or just want to start your own thing I encourage you to do it! Start simply. Do it for yourself. It might be easier than you think.
P.S And feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about starting your own sangha – I’d be super happy to offer support!
True Wonderful Flower