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I live in Samayakula community, along with eleven other women, in two adjoining houses, near the London Buddhist Centre. We have not long come back together after the mid-winter/new year break. Some of us have been on the LBC winter retreats and returned with many stories to tell. Others have been to visit family, or stayed at home in the community. On our first community evening of the New Year we launched our ‘rainy season light’ for the month of January. During this time we will go about our normal business, go to work and to classes at the Centre, and fulfil existing commitments. But we will focus on our relationships with one another and plan more activities together, whilst not accepting guests for the month. So far we have launched a meditation club, some de-cluttering activities, and various cultural events, as well as spending more time together at home.
I have lived here for almost seven years and am very happy living with my fellow community members. One of the things I really enjoy about this community is that we have a wide age range. I and Muditasri are in our early 70’s and late 60’s, whilst the youngest are in their early thirties, with others in their 40’s and 50’s. We are also a mix of Order Members, and Mitras. Some of the Order Members have been ordained a long time, whilst some are newly ordained. We are also quite ethnically diverse – African Caribbean, Chinese Malaysian, half-Spanish, Brazilian, Scottish, Irish, South African, Lithuanian and English! Some people have lived in communities for many years, for others it is their first experience. So there is a lot of differing experience in a number of ways, which makes communication stimulating, and sometimes challenging.
Although people are busy with their individual lives - working either for Triratna or at various jobs - there is a strong commitment to community life. There is a morning meditation session and every week we have a community evening where we eat together and spend the evening together in various ways. People sign up to cook on other days so that there is always dinner, and housework is shared and pretty much gets done. We take care of the house in terms of renovations and have learned and practice a consensual decision making process to enable us to make big decisions. My experience is that there is a high level of care for one another in the house both physically and emotionally. For me this was particularly expressed in 2015 when I became suddenly, inexplicably, quite ill. I was very moved by the amount of care and help I received.
We are also a harmonious community, though of course conflicts arise, but for the most part these are well held by others and sorted out. We are hospitable, welcoming guests and friends and family into our midst. So I feel very fortunate to be living here and plan to do so for the foreseeable future.
I have lived communally in some form or other since the early 1970’s. I shared rooms and houses as a student, and then later got married, but I didn’t really want to go down the route of the nuclear family. In the 1960’s communities and communes were part of the zeitgeist and so my partner and I moved into a commune in Brixton for a while with several adults and children. We later became involved in Triratna and from then on I have lived in Triratna communities of various kinds. In the beginning these were mixed and then from about the mid 1970’s I have lived in women’s communities, of various sizes, sometimes completely closed to men, sometimes not. I have lived in various urban communities, and for twelve years I lived in, and was part of the team, at Tiratanaloka retreat centre in Wales. Over those many years of community living I have probably lived in over 25 different places, with probably nearly 100 people. So I have a lot of experience of community living.
I have always enjoyed sharing my Dharma life with others in a day-to-day way. Not just meditating and studying together or working together at a particular Centre, but sharing the everyday ups and downs of life in general and of trying to practice the Dharma in particular. Living with others in this way means there is nowhere to hide, and in my experience this has helped me to know myself more deeply as I am reflected back, and also to get to know others more fully and form long lasting connections and friendships. I have also always enjoyed and been committed to sharing resources and living simply.
So I see community living as being beneficial on a number of levels, and of being a major practice in my Dharma life. I have learned tolerance, patience, understanding, empathy and compassion, self-knowledge, kindness, responsibility, honesty, simplicity, generosity, and so many other qualities. Sitting on a meditation cushion developing Mindfulness and Metta is of course of crucial importance, but being able to put that into practice in daily life, with others who share your ideals is a wonderful opportunity.
Of course living with others is not and has not always been easy. My early experiences of community living were sometimes very difficult as well as being inspiring. People would fall out with each other, including myself, and we didn’t always have the experience to sort out conflict. Much of my early community living was in squats or short life housing so it was difficult to commit to a particular place or group of people long term. We were young and not always good at paying our bills, or cleaning up or washing up and often major conflicts arise in communities over just those sorts of issues.
Nevertheless, just going through all that, - learning to be kind and caring to people other than family, partners and best friends – has led me to where I am today, happily living with a great bunch of women and fellow practitioners.