Born in 1951, I was part of the leading charge of baby boomers growing into the sixties. Contrary to the myth of that decade that stated "if you remember it, you couldn't have been there", I still do retain fleeting glimpses of that time. It was nothing if not turbulent. I entered that ten year stretch of my life a starry eyed child of the fifties, filled with my parents ambitions for me. I left it a dark, surly, aging teenager, desperately searching for meaning in life.
I didn't know where I would find it, but I kept peering under rocks, rummaging through rubbish, opening different doors, looking for something to hold onto in the midst of everything that seemed so meaningless. What I did know was that my heart was not inspired by the Middle American dream that surrounded me.
Entering University in the fall of '69 I began to meet others who were picking through the same detritus of society. "What is all this about?", we were asking. It was an explosion of questioning and being introduced to new ideas. Whether it was studying Marxism, reading Nietzsche, Sartre, or a host of others, we felt challenged by new perspectives of being. Personally though, I really did feel bombarded. It often was hard to handle. Truth be told, I didn't handle it very well at all.
There was, however, one corner of my intellectual universe that calmed me, introducing me to the notion of "aha!" I developed an interest in Buddhist philosophy. Through reading the works of Shunryu Suzuki, Daisetz Suzuki, Allan Watts, and others, I found that I was constantly saying to myself "This speaks to me! This makes sense!" Not having been raised in a particularly spiritual home, by the age of twenty I had harshly judged all organized religion. I could not abide the bible-thumping guilt that I heard coming out of so many pulpits. It was adding fuel to our societal discord, splitting us into "us versus them - we are the chosen ones you are not" camps. It was part of the problem.
I heard no words in Buddhism, however, that spoke in such disrespectful tones. It didn't ask us to consider what divided us, but rather, what brought us together. The one phrase I loved from Allan Watts at the time was "As the ocean waves, the universe peoples." We were but points of exquisite light of universal consciousness. This spoke to my sense of uniqueness in experiencing "my" consciousness, whilst simultaneously breathing life and meaning into what was beyond. Yes, I was intimately connected with all that surrounded me. I was embarking, ever so slowly, on a path of appreciation of non-duality.
Over the years I found much debris on this path. I would choose dead end branches heading into the bushes, or leading to swamps. Sometimes the adventure was fun, other times, not so much. I would get lost, and need to confront my aloneness as I tripped and stumbled down a dark road. I was fortunate, however, to meet the occasional guide along the way.
Although I knew meditation to be an integral part of Buddhism, I spent more time reading about it, rather than actually doing it. It was part of the "practice", but that was where I seemed to get stuck. Having totally (and I mean totally) rejected the dogmatism and ritual of organized religion, I found it virtually impossible to integrate into my life the concept of doing something because I was supposed to. I would do what I wanted, thank you very much.
I also, however, had the sense of something missing. Over the years I articulated to myself and close friends my recognition that a religious or spiritual community was greater than its "dogma". It provided community, a sense of connection with others. This was something I did not have in my life.
Recently, I have met another one of those precious guides I spoke of earlier, Dr. Ian Prattis. He was giving a talk at a local community meeting hosted by Interfaith Sandy Hill last fall. In response to a question I posed about the "how" of becoming more engaged in social change he invited me to the Pine Gate Sangha. I really had no idea what to expect, but he seemed like a wonderful individual. I had first heard him speak on CBC radio about two years ago as he discussed his recently published book "Failsafe - Saving the Earth from Ourselves".
What I am discovering is that missing link of "community", or, in Buddhist terms, the Sangha. For me, I feel like I am coming home. Don't get me wrong. It is not that Pine Gate, per se, is home. Community is home, or, once again to switch to the Buddhist term, Sangha is home. Home is a place to nurture the seeds of life. Home is where you garden. Yes, I can garden on my own, without others, but I am finding it so much more enriching as I garden with others. This is what I am learning about at Pine Gate, as I garden and nurture in community, in Sangha. And, believe it or not, I've actually started the process of integrating meditation into my life! Home is where you make it, and, Pine Gate is becoming part of my home.