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Sangha of the Month for October 2014: Wake Up Sydney
Who forms Wake Up Sydney?
Tuong-Vi: Basically a few young people got together to form it, but we are open to other ages too if people would like to join us.
How did Wake Up Sydney come about?
Tuong-Vi: It came about quite organically. A few years ago, we were on a retreat with Plum Village monastics in Sydney. They suggested to solidify our practice and that perhaps we should start up a group for young people – a branch of Wake Up in Australia. At that stage it was Minh, Faye, and myself (Vi) who started having regular lessons at one of our teacher’s houses – her name is Co Mai (Dharma name: Chan Luong), a senior member of the sangha in Australia.
She gave us a lot of guidance on how to practice (inviting the bell, facilitating sitting and walking meditation, etc.), and we had meetings every month or so. After 9 months, we decided to start meeting on our own at the Buddhist Library and we eventually invited people from the general community to start joining us. We spread word of our group through other local sanghas, including Khanh who is now helping us as a facilitator.
When and where do you meet?
Richard: We meet at a place called the Buddhist Library in Camperdown, which is also serves as the meeting place for many other meditation groups (including Lotus Buds, our all-ages “sister sangha”). It comes complete with meditation cushions, kneeling stools, bells, a Buddha statue. We meet every 1st and 3rd Sunday from 5pm to 6:30pm.
On average, how many people come to your sangha?
Richard: It varies. We have an average of 5-6 attendees. The most we have ever had was 8 which was very exciting for us.
How are each of your meetings?
Khanh: We recently changed our meeting schedule. It typically looks something like this:
5:00 Welcome – greeting people, chatting a little bit, talking to new members
5:10 Sitting meditation – goes from 20-30 minutes depending on the mood
5:30 Walking meditation – we walk around the outside of the room
5:45 Reading – one of the members will offer a reading
6:00 Tea, sharing – either based on the reading or whatever people are going through that week
It’s quite similar to other meetings and mindfulness days that other sanghas around Sydney are doing
Richard: Our schedule is really flexible. We vary the meetings based on what people like to do and try. For example we will try giving a yoga session for an upcoming meeting
What makes your sangha special to you? What sets apart Wake Up Sydney from other Sanghas?
Tuong-Vi: I haven’t really experienced that many other sanghas, although I did practice with Wake Up London when I was there a few months ago. I think the spirit of Wake Up can be quite similar – you have this sense of peace and happiness when you see your fellow friends come together to do meditation and sharing. I feel that it’s a wonderful way to connect with my practice and connect with the community. I guess that’s why it’s special to me; having a group is a way for me to keep my practice strong and to motivate me. As for what makes Wake Up Sydney special, maybe it’s the fact that we’re still quite new and still establishing ourselves.
Richard: One of the things I like to think we’re good at is our focus on inclusiveness. Early on, our promotional flyers mentioned that Wake Up was for ages 18-35, but over the months we’ve seen a lot of other people join us from outside that age range and we’ve always welcomed them with open arms. I think it’s great because for me, Wake Up is more for people who are young at heart rather than a specific biological age. I recently received an email from a 55-year-old lady enquiring about the sangha and she asked whether it was only for young people or whether she was also allowed to join – I told her that of course she’s more than welcome to join us and that being “young” is really about freshness of mind than anything else.
Khanh: I think Wake Up is really something I look forward to every second weekend, even though I’ve also been to other sanghas in Sydney. I’m of Vietnamese background, so I started out with an all-ages Vietnamese sangha called “Sen Bup” and I also practice with an English speaking sangha called “Lotus Buds”. I’m glad I found out about Wake Up because even though the teaching are the same and everything we do in our mindfulness practice is wonderful, I found that the topics discussed during Dharma sharings didn’t really apply to me, e.g. kids and mortgages and houses.
There was never really a moment where I thought “Yep, I get that, completely.” Now practicing with a younger generation, we have the advantage of going through a similar stage in our lives with careers, studying, relationships. I felt that it was more related to me in that sense. I love the sharing that we have and the fact that we’re all young and less serious – I mean, we’re still serious. But we are free to be silly and goofy and not feel like we’re being supervised.
Richard: One of the things we’ve been trying to do is to give everyone a chance to help facilitate. So we break up our sessions into different sections and we always try to assign sections to different people. Initially, we were a bit worried because not everyone has had formal training around the traditions and form and how to facilitate. But now, I think we can see that it’s more important to give people the opportunity to be involved than to abide strictly to the forms of the practice. This may possibly result in one “bad” Dharma sharing or one “bad” walking meditation session, but that’s okay because it’s not that big a deal. Next time they’ll be better. I like to think that’s one of the valuable things we do well in our sangha.
Faye: Wake Up Sydney is unique because we are all young professionals who are also very committed to living a meaningful life. Balancing our career, studies, family, significant relationships, friendships, and taking refuge in the mindfulness trainings has been our goal. We meet on a fortnightly basis as a way to nourish each other with the practice and the teachings as offered by our beloved Thay.
We sometimes gather outdoors for a nice bushwalk, picnic, or play board games just for fun and laughs! Coming together at the Buddhist Library to breathe, sit, walk, and do some yoga has never failed to rejuvenate us after a long busy week. Personally I look forward to the Dharma sharing sessions, where intimate and often insightful stories of life experiences are brought to the circle. It’s an opportunity where we can safely speak from the heart about areas of our life and practice that is salient to us. The listeners are gently practicing the art of deep listening, embracing the speaker with compassion and understanding. It’s this very process, I believe, that our heart begin to heal and evolve. It’s a lovely practice and one that makes the group unique. We open our hearts to all, so if you are in the Sydney metro area, please feel free to drop in and ‘wake up’ with us 🙂