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The Practice of Community at Magnolia Grove

31 Jul 2013 7:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
Recently, Andy Solis, a long-term member of the Florida Community of Mindfulness, was part of group of members who travelled to the Magnolia Grove Practice Center in Mississippi to help with preparations for Thich Nhat Hanh’s upcoming retreat. Andy wrote Fred a letter about his experience there, and especially what he learned about the practice of community.

I would like to share a wonderful experience that several of us recently had at the Magnolia Grove Mindfulness Practice Center in Batesville, Mississippii. Our trip was an effort to create a deeper connection between the Florida Community of Mindfulness and the monastic communities within the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition. On July 11th five FCM Sangha members travelled to Magnolia Grove. Rosaria Pugliese (Miami), Dennis Brown (Naples), Tim Niell (Tampa) and Ned Bellamy (Tampa) travelled with me. Magnolia Grove is the newest of the monastery/practice centers in the US practicing in Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh's (Thay) Plum Village tradition. It is home to approximately 25 monastics. The land for the monastery was originally purchased by a group of five Vietnamese families in the Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama areas.

The monastics and the lay community are working extremely hard to complete the hall prior to Thay's arrival. Most of the heavy framing and detailed stonework had been subcontracted to outside companies. However, the majority of the finish work, painting, and landscaping is being done by the monastics and lay community volunteers. The hall is quite large and will seat 1000 when completed. Needless to say, completion of the Hall by the time Thay arrives will be difficult and the extra hands were greatly appreciated.

The FCM road-trip was successful in establishing a deeper connection with this monastic and lay community close to Florida. They were very enthusiastic about friends visiting from Florida and welcomed us like family members who had been away and recently returned home. We were all touched by the way they immediately included us in their community. After working along side both lay volunteers and monastics for a whole day, we became "Uncle Rick, Aunt Rosaria, Uncle Ned, Uncle Tim and Uncle Andy." This gave us some insight into how the Asian communities practice Sangha. At some level, the Asian meaning of sangha is different than the western understanding of sangha. The lay community is committed to creating a place where lay people and monastics can be together in an open, loving, mindful way, i.e. like a healthy family.

Their commitment amazed us all. Numerous lay members would work all day at their professions or businesses, arrive for dinner, and work until 12 o'clock at night. They did this in a joyous and relaxed way. The lay families spent entire days at the Center working, eating, meditating, and playing together. They were not going to Magnolia Grove just to "do something" or "practice something". The doing and practicing was secondary to "being together in harmony." Each early morning sitting and chanting, each meal, and each period of working meditation was done with a sense of love and openness. The time spent was about being together for the pure enjoyment of being together, rather than to only to accomplish a specific task. There is a massive amount of work to complete prior to Thay's arrival, and yet all of the work was done with a sense of unity and togetherness. Nothing was done in a hurry. Finishing the work seemed less important than being together mindfully and as a family.

Periodic breaks were taken from the meditation hall work. When a break was announced we would all stop, sit in a circle, and mindfully talk and enjoy tea or salted lemonade. During one break, one brother sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulders. He did this without any thought that he didn't know me or that I was a stranger to him. He simply sat down as he would have with a sibling to enjoy a snack. All of the conversations were about being together, the community, or Thay’s visit. No one engaged in a monologue about themselves or attempted to tell everyone their life story. We just enjoyed each other’s presence. This was truly a sangha flowing as a river.

On our return trip, the group talked about what a great experience it was and how beneficial it could be for our FCM community to develop a connection with the Magnolia Grove community. We invited several monastics to visit us in the winter and they were highly enthusiastic. I hope that our new Center will become a place for everyone to just experience “being together” without any separation and “to flow as a river”.

With a smile and a bow,
Andy Solis
True Land of Mindfulness Training
FCM Meditation & Education Center - 6501 N. Nebraska Avenue - Tampa, FL 33604
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