Am I Creating Chaos or Community?

by Denise Bike 0 Comments

Back in spring, 2009, I did my first weekend retreat. It was with Gina Sharpe, a wonderful teacher whose home sangha is in New York City. One of the ideas she left me with was the practice of examining an action according to whether it would create chaos or community. Before I speak, will what I say, when I say it, how I say it bring us closer to together or split us further apart? Before I act, will what I do, how I do it, when I do it connect or divide? Am I choosing to operate from my ego or from my essence? Because I do have a choice. Always. It’s a powerful practice in its simplicity—it not only illuminates our space to choose based on projected outcome, but it offers the opportunity to examine the intentions we habitually base our choices on.

Gina’s teaching was six years ago. It popped into my mind last night while watching the debate. Does this statement create community or chaos? I grew increasingly disheartened as I digested the extent to which divisiveness was chosen. It may be argued that the speakers were using it to build their group of “good guys.” I began to question the meaning of community. Does community leave anyone out? Can a true community exclude (at best) and target (at worst) people deemed to not merit membership? Isn’t that chaos masquerading as community? Barry Levin reported on Rachel Maddow last night that the FBI average reported hate crimes were 13 per month for the past five years. This number is up to 33 in recent months. Examining the outcome—a recent increase in violent and terrorizing acts aimed at those who don’t belong—appears to evidence the chaos of cultivating such a ‘community.’

If we wish to choose community over chaos, Gina Sharpe’s elegant model shows us how to examine our choices before making them. By anticipating the outcome, we can choose a different action. By making conscious our unexamined motivations, we free ourselves from them in the future.

Perhaps most poignantly, as I continue this practice, I can recognize more and more what is behind my egoic, chaos-creating intentions and discover all the ways that I am just like those fellow humans on stage last night. Further expanding my view of community.

Wk11, Day4: Gina Sharpe

One of my favorite resources is dharmaseed.org, which has hundreds of free dharma talks by many of our favorite teachers. This past week, nearly every night I’ve been listening to a different talk by Gina Sharpe.

I first sat with her 9 months after discovering meditation. It was the spring of 2009. Shortly after beginning a doctoral program in Missouri the previous fall, I’d located the campus agency doing mindfulness work and got myself involved with them. The women there provided an island of sanity for the four years I was there.

It was the employee wellness program, and most of the staff practiced actively in the local sangha. The psychologist I worked with directly organized a non-residential weekend retreat with a woman named Gina Sharpe for March, and she encouraged me to go.

During retreats, the leaders commonly make time to meet with the participants individually or in groups. If a retreat is rather large, as this one was, several community leaders will meet with some of the people or groups as well, to lighten the main teacher’s load. When this happens, the leader usually meets only the more experienced groups of participants. Gina, however, graciously scheduled one of her meetings with our group of novices. There were four of us. I sat observing as Gina spoke with each person in kind, asking about experience with meditation and checking in about how the retreat was going.

I’d become a high strung student in the doctoral program: far from home and thrust into an academic environment in which students appeared open and connected–we were training to become psychologists, after all–but were actually behaving in ways I’d not seen since my time in the corporate world. (Out of eye- and ear-shot of the faculty, of course.) As an example, three years in I was speaking to a mentor about a wonderful opportunity in mindfulness-based CBT at a local hospital. A classmate overheard and texted her friend to quickly call them before I did, which she did by 5 minutes leading the interviewers to initially question my timing until we’d pieced together what actually happened. Another example: a fourth year ordering a first year to go get her printouts two flights up and the first year, cowed, doing it. And another: a student whose friends covered up her taking notes home from the agency for weeks as she lied to her supervisors about it multiple times.

Contrary to the confounding reality I was living, my expectations of doc-level training had been that we would delve deeply, transparently, earnestly together into the art and science of our craft: explore the soul, the psyche, the true inner workings of human beings. Yes, although I was older than most of my classmates, I was clearly more naive. I was also feeling more and more disconnected each day from my long-held dream even as it was becoming a reality.

Thankfully I’d found the wellness women. And there I was in March, 2009, sitting in front of Gina Sharpe, a real meditation teacher whose inner space was palpable. I sat before her so full of self-doubt and frustration, tears streaming down my face. A negative bit of self talk would arise, and I’d literally watch it dissipate as I sat in Gina’s presence. I softly cried, feeling a sense of home in this process; understanding for the first time what meditation could offer at a deep spiritual level. The work she’d done, the space she’d cleared was truly an offering to those of us she was teaching. I experienced it.

The past several nights as I listen to her talks on dharmaseed.org, I once again feel the soft spaciousness she’s cultivated infusing in me. Providing the ground as I, the figure, move about through my day.