Our Kalyana Mitta meets again in 2 weeks. The occasion will mark the passage of one year since we began. One year and one month ago, I had never heard of a Kalyana Mitta (KM). You? In Buddhism, there is the encouragement to take refuge in: the Buddha (the awakened state), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). These "Three Refuges" are alternately called the "Three Jewels." Late in the summer of last year, I grew increasingly concerned that the meditation center where I had found refuge for over 3 years was on its way to disbanding. It was an unsettling feeling. I had spent the first 8 months attending weekly, but deliberately adopting a slow pace at getting to know fellow meditators, given my long history of exhausting and premature over-involvement in other communities (religious, social, academic, professional) to deleterious effect. That deliberately slow approach of mine changed in January, 2016, when guiding teacher JoAnna Hardy initiated the monthly People of Color and Their Allies sit and discussion (POC+A) and pointedly asked us to greet each other, as a way of making the space as welcoming to all as possible. I thought, "Yeah, really, that's more like my m.o. anyway." So, I began committing names to memory (served by the notes I jotted down on the aide-mémoire sheets I always carry in my shirt pocket) and even exchanging contact info, if it felt right to do so. Fast forward 2-1/2 years to the rumblings about the possibility of the center's eventual closing, and I was glad I had begun to befriend folks and to collect their email addresses and phone numbers.
"Have you ever heard of Kalyana Mitta?" one of my good meditator-buddies asked me around that time. I had not. She explained a bit and referred me to Spirit Rock Meditation Center's KM webpage. The phrase translates more or less as "spiritual friends" and refers to closed, self-formed groups of dharma students and meditators, that meet to support each other's study and practice. She and I eventually decided to invite some of our mutual meditator-friends to organize one. We followed Spirit Rock's recommendation to limit the number of members to 12. Committed to furthering the aims of the POC+A group, we took care to have as much racial and gender diversity as possible. We easily got our 12 yesses and had our first gathering in late October, 2018. We have met once monthly ever since. We meditate in silence for 20 minutes. Afterward, the member who had previously volunteered to bring a short dharma podcast or reading shares it. And then, each of us shares a reflection about our personal practice, usually launching with something in the dharma talk that resonated. (I should mention, there are snacks.)
How we all treasure this Jewel of ours—this monthly opportunity to experience the refuge of non-judgment, radical acceptance, and kindly company in our suffering, in our joy with people we have come to trust and care for. There's been some talk about promoting the formation of KM groups in the area, even creating some kind of central bank of names and contact information of people who are looking to engage with others in this way. If you read the material from Spirit Rock at the link above and wish to find your way into a KM, feel free to let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll do what I can to connect you to others.