By Dana Gornall
Yes, it’s true I am an introvert.
This word has gained popularity over the last few years with the resurgence of the Myers-Briggs personality test on social media, the plethora of memes such as Anxiety Cat and The Social Awkward Penguin and the research that has been done lately, ironically shining a large spotlight on all those that look to avoid attention.
I am the epitome of an introvert. I shy away from crowds and feel more energized after time spent alone, whether that be reading, walking in the woods with my dog or even just watching TV. I fare so much better with people one-on-one or in small groups, and a party or event invitation can send me reeling with anxiety about how to get out of it and if I can’t get out of it, how to handle said event.
Sangha is a term that means community—specifically a spiritual community.
If you read anything about Buddhism (and being the nerdy bookworm that I am, I have ready many), you will eventually run across this word and the importance that is stressed about finding one. I’m not saying it isn’t important; I certainly find comfort in my “tribe”—which for me is mainly people from all over the world I have met online through writing and writer’s groups. It’s just that the idea of walking into a Buddhist center or temple full of strangers and unfamiliar traditions is akin to a cat being thrown into a swimming pool.
It’s not like I haven’t done it, though. In my quest for spiritual clarity or God or understanding or whatever you want to call it, I have pulled up my big girl pants and awkwardly walked into many unfamiliar places. But it’s never easy and honestly, I just don’t want to. I don’t want to meet new people, I don’t want to step outside of my comfort zone and I don’t want to once again feel like an outsider standing somewhere on the fringe of a room shuffling my feet back and forth and looking around for all of the exit doors. Besides, the whole thing begins to feel kind of “churchy” and that idea alone makes me want to run in the other direction (sorry Father Ols and Sister Genevieve, but it’s true).
Yes, I realize I am whining.
Yes, I know finding support and mentors can be facilitative in personal and spiritual growth. Believe me, I see the irony of my mental whining and the subject of what I am whining about, but that doesn’t make it any easier, either.
The fact is, I feel torn. While a part of me would love the home a community of like-minded people can provide, the rebellious and stubborn part of me hates the idea of going along with any kind of crowd—even if it is Buddhist. And I love people and feel compassion toward them, but I also kind of hate people too (did I just admit that?).
Is Sangha really necessary in Buddhism?
After all, it’s part of the whole Triple Jewel thing that Buddhists are supposed to take refuge in: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Would it make me less spiritual or Buddhist if I chose to ignore that part? Is it like vacuuming only the middle parts of the room and not behind the couch?
I suppose so.
Can I find Sangha online behind the comfort of my computer screen? There are many debates out there on each side of that argument as to whether or not that is the same or as effective.
But, in reality I may be missing the point of my uneasiness surrounding the whole issue. Could it be, perhaps, that at this point—right here and now—that the lesson is less about finding a community and more about facing a few inner demons when it comes to stepping outside of my carefully constructed box?
This is entirely possible.
For now, I will try to quiet the inner whining and bucking about being in unfamiliar territory. I will try to use the mindfulness tools I am desperately attempting to develop so that maybe I can find some kind of equanimity when I am confronted with these things. And maybe I will get up the nerve again to walk into one of those centers or temples or something like that.
Until then, I’ll be sitting back here quietly on the fringes of the room, shuffling my feet back and forth, with a little bit of Sangha envy.
Editor: Ty H. Phillips
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