Alex Wright

Harvest of Peace

September 27, 2004

Yesterday I wandered over to the San Francisco Shambhala Center to attend the Harvest of Peace, an annual celebration that amounts, more or less, to a kind of Buddhist Yom Kippur.

Never having gone to one of these things before, I had no particular idea what to expect, but imagined (based on past experiences) that it would involve sitting practice, someone giving a talk, maybe some light socializing - a comfortable little Sunday afternoon cocoon.

What I did not expect - and certainly I would have bolted right out the door had I had an inkling of what I was in for - was to walk into a room of about 50 people, sit down in a circle and be asked to "speak from the heart."

Like any good emotionally stulted Southern-bred WASP, I find the prospect of sitting in a roomful of near-strangers and holding forth on anything remotely personal to hold about as much appeal as making a special appearance on Oprah.

But there I was, as Buddhist folk like to say, "on the spot."

Sitting around the shrine room, each member of the sangha (roughly, congregation) took turns saying something to the group about how their lives had been going for the past year, while grasping a dorje (a Tibetan icon representing, among other things, a thunderbolt) that served as a kind of Vajra talking stick.

A few minutes after I sat down, the girl to my left took her turn with the dorje. She told a heart-wrenching story of how her relationship was ending, how unexpectedly painful it was, how she was struggling to maintain some kind of relationship with her former partner, how she felt disoriented by the whole process, the acute feeling of impermance and the raw energy of loss that we spend so much of our lives trying to escape. Like a lot of people that day, she cried.

Then she put the dorje in my hand. And sitting there in front of all these people I barely know, I realized that my own story that day amounted to: "Well, ditto for me."

File under: Dharma

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