Community Care Working Group Report
Caring Community in Action
Presented by the Community Care Working Group
July 8, 2004
“We need to move in a direction where members feel supported. Individuals need to know that in terms of whatever may be occurring in their life, there are others who care and (there are) aspects of the society that will help them traverse their particular dilemma.”
The Community Care Working Group has focused on how our community might better care for its members, how we might establish a “culture of caring” within our sangha. The Shambhala Buddhist teachings acknowledge the ground of all human experience as basic goodness, an indestructible source of compassion and wakefulness that is available to us at every moment. The desire to create a culture of caring is a natural expression of this goodness, a willingness to care for ourselves and others without prejudice or hesitation. Engaging in compassionate activity is part of our personal path, and also the basis for creating an enlightened society.
Obviously, we face many difficulties in life as individuals and as a society. As a spiritual community, we need to inspire, encourage and support each other as we each come to terms with these realities. Ours is a path of personal and societal transformation. By working through our own confusion and chaos, we find the strength and knowledge to help each other.
Our inspiration is to look beyond personal happiness, comfort and security, to the needs of all beings. Everyone is our relative, part of our family. Those are the teachings and the basis for creating a culture of caring. It is a question of actually identifying with others – of feeling others’ pain, bewilderment and confusion and skillfully helping in any way that we can. This is not merely an altruistic ideal. It is the living example of what we see in our lineage teachers and in many of our community members. We are a Mahayana community, warrior-bodhisattvas interested in overcoming personal and societal aggression, and creating enlightened society wherever we live.
In this document, we first identify some of the positive characteristics of a caring person. This is followed by a description of how caring people might manifest in our community.
These characteristics are offered as a starting point. Our individual sangha members represent a wealth of resources; people who have insights and practices in this area. The Community Care Working Group is currently developing a facilitation guide and exploration process to help each Shambhala community identify the needs of their sangha. The goal of the process will be that each practice community can develop a plan to genuinely address community needs in a meaningful way. This guide will be available by the Shambhala Congress 2005. A webpage of community care resources will also be available at that time.
A Caring Person
A caring person is willing:
to experience another person's suffering
to be willing to feel and fully acknowledge one’s own pain
to listen without judgment
to be spacious (respect the other person's experience and not rush in to fix the problem or give advice)
to "hold one's seat" - not become overwhelmed by the other person's experience
to be warm, friendly, ordinary and genuinely interested in the other person
to be uncompromisingly honest
to cultivate a sense of humour, playfulness and lack of self-consciousness
to be inconvenienced, slowed down, and able to put the other person's interests or priorities first
to ask for help of others
to trust oneself and discriminate between idiot and genuine compassion
to risk making mistakes and to continue to learn in one’s willingness to help others
These are the same as the qualities of a friend and are present in our approach to meditation practice, in how we "make friends with ourselves." A caring person is able to care for others because she cares for herself in exactly the same way. Mindfulness awareness practice is caring for our body, speech and mind.
A Community That Cares
The qualities of a caring person listed above already suggest activities such as taking time, listening, giving and asking for help. But many of us have grown up without living in an active, caring community or else we have lived on the edges of a community. That’s why we wanted to describe ordinary activities within a caring dharmic community. In seeking examples of caring in action, we looked to actual things people do or have done. We gathered these real-life activities from many sources—our sangha, urban and suburban neighborhoods, small rural towns, traditional societies, church groups, and from personal experiences. We’re hoping this sparks many other suggestions and ideas.
Being a Dharmic Person Appreciating our own basic goodness, overcoming morning depression Caring for our body by getting sufficient rest, exercise and good nutrition Knowing and respecting one's limits Supporting and practicing disciplines that involve body and movement such as Tai Chi, Chi Qong, Lujong, Shambhala yoga Caring for our speech by practicing right speech, genuine communication, both with ourselves and with others (avoiding listening to or spreading gossip) Caring for our mind by practicing mindfulness awareness meditation daily Caring for others by remembering our commitment to the Mahayana and our Bodhisattva Vows (always putting others first), being willing to explore all the ways that we might help, giving up privacy, be willing to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones Caring for our heritage by appreciating our lineages and teachers for their generosity and wisdom Cultivating fearlessness, gentleness and intelligence by being willing to open to every situation no matter how challenging
Day-to-Day Caring Helping people move—packing up or unpacking and putting away Calling someone to carpool whenever possible Organizing work parties to get a big or community job done Foregoing the temptation to fuel conflicts Introducing yourself to someone new to the center Giving clear signals that one is accessible and friendly Learning and practicing conflict resolution and reconciliation Acknowledging efforts, successes, contributions, beauty, kindness, whenever possible Passing up opportunities to talk about others Practicing civility in dealings with others Announcing and celebrating birthdays Welcoming of new members with acknowledgement in newsletter and a welcome packet of introductory information
Disability, Illness and Old Age Developing an appreciation for illness and old age as part of the cycle of life and as path Joining “Karuna Talk” and helping to educate ourselves and others about taking illness as the path Creating a policy for making Shambhala centers fully accessible to people with disabilities and developing a timeline for its implementation Taking people to appointments Asking for help ourselves Bringing meals Shopping for food Picking up prescriptions For serious and on-going illness, setting up a caring rota or circle Calling to check in Bringing gifts Asking someone to run an errand for you Helping the person to attend social events Giving a back, hand or foot rub Changing linens Washing clothes Letting others know what the situation is and what the person needs Creating a meal sign-up to bring homemade meals to those in need
Mental and Emotional Difficulty Developing an understanding that some people experience extreme mental and emotional states (including anxiety, depression, addiction, mania and psychosis) that may persist over time and can make it difficult for the person to function Recognizing the diversity of views in relation to the cause and treatment of these conditions Assisting the persons to develop an understanding of their own condition and the available treatment options, consistent with their own views and beliefs Recognizing that in extreme cases the person may not be able to make decisions regarding their own care Identifying people in our communities who have expertise in working in the field of mental health care Creating a list of local mental health resources, hotlines, and support groups so that sangha members could have easy access to these resources when in need
Death and Dying Developing an appreciation for the cycle of life, including death as path Creating sane environments in which practitioners can experience death Supporting community development of end-of–life resources such as hospice Tracking sangha members’ sukhavati wishes in a file at the Center Helping sangha members plan to their death and dying Establishing support for spiritual practice from diagnosis through end of life Developing a palliative care hospice manual for sangha (in process) Identifying local resources, agencies, venues, medicare info, visiting nurses associations
Parenting and Raising Young People Starting a baby group Exchanging services like child-minding Becoming an honorary aunt or uncle Setting up child care at sangha events Sharing equipment and strategies for sanity Creating a Children’s Day celebration and tradition Helping put on a big birthday party Caring for someone else’s sick child so the parents can take a break Setting up a carpool to school Being a Big Brother or Big Sister to a child who needs one Talking to teenagers as if they were human beings too Saying hello to children and teens when passing them on the street Welcoming others’ children into one’s home Giving thoughtful gifts to young people Conversing with young people about what they are involved in and care about Establishing a relationship with the neighborhood children Establishing a meal sign-up to bring meals to new parents
Building Community Setting up a neighborhood association or Delek, which brings many benefits Getting to know neighbors by name Holding neighborhood clean-ups and social events Volunteering for the community Participating in civic organizations Making connections Offering know-how Providing resources or information about resources Welcoming newcomers Making referrals to good service providers (doctors, dentists, mechanics) Encouraging a Meditation Instructors network to support center members and build community Introducing newcomers to others in the community Holding a monthly supper club Organizing weekend campouts each summer Organizing weekend trips Putting on formal balls Coordinating group movie nights Starting a Dharma book club Using group processes like spontaneous insight” to make decisions Creating an uplifted home environment, inviting people to our homes, having casual get-togethers where ‘business’ isn’t discussed Helping to clean and keep local centre uplifted Having a Desung or someone equivalent at each Dharma center who looks after the health and well-being, the general harmony of the center Drawing older students back through relevant practice and study Originating a Shambhala Café—one is open 3 hours Saturday mornings with a little sitting and discussion, possibly tapes or books
Business, Finances and Housing Encouraging experienced sangha business people to form resource groups to assist new sangha ventures by: reviewing business plans, suggesting sources of investment capital, discussing potential market demand, looking at management capabilities Encouraging co-housing Sharing housing Renting extra space to sangha members Sharing large purchases (cars, some tools) Exchanging goods and services without cash (bartering) Loaning money directly Exchanging or lending books and other things Putting out the word someone needs work or housing Giving money to support the community Giving money to individuals in need Sharing helpful information, resources, strategies Since poverty and depression are often linked, helping people to develop the necessary financial conditions to practice and lead good lives
Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation Developing and supporting community mechanisms, such as upaya councils, for bringing conflicts to the path (mediation and reconciliation)
Closing: Broadly speaking, caring communities create a strong web of relationships that connect people, meet a variety of needs, and perpetuate the basic human values of the community. Community members act in caring ways as part of the underlying principle of reciprocity—mutual aid and support is what sustains us as individuals, families and a community. So, it is understood that it is in everyone’s enlightened self-interest to help, strengthen and sustain one another. And this means taking action, being willing to make the first move, extending ourselves to make caring manifest.