In this article Anna Delacroix discusses an online daily sangha led by two meditation teachers, Linda Modaro (Sati Sangha) and Nelly Kaufer (Pine Street Sangha). During the COVID pandemic, the daily meditation group has provided participants with an opportunity to practice Reflective Meditation as a refuge, and a time for daily connection. For more information, click here.
At the beginning of 2020, I was beginning to think of travel arrangements for my residential retreat in March with Sati Sangha founding teacher Linda Modaro. Having sat many retreats with Linda for over a decade, I looked forward to settling into a period of more intensive meditation practice as well as escaping the typically dreary Seattle winter weather for ten days of California warmth and sunshine. On January 21st, however, the first US case of coronavirus was confirmed in Washington State, with the first cases in California confirmed five days later. The first US deaths from COVID-19 occurred in both states the following month; and in the third week of March—a few days before what would have been the start of my now cancelled retreat—governors of both Washington and California issued statewide stay-at-home orders. As had been true for most of us, life as I thought I knew it was suddenly upended by the pandemic. Meetings of my local weekly meditation group were suspended as were the remaining 2020 retreats with Linda and opportunities for seeing long-time dharma friends from other cities and states who’d also attended year after year.
An online group in response to COVID restrictions
Linda proposed to us disappointed would-be retreatants that we hold the March retreat online during the same time, which we did. But she also had another plan. Not knowing how long the pandemic restrictions would be in place, she and her colleague, Nelly Kaufer (founding teacher of Pine Street Sangha in Portland, whose governor had issued Oregon’s stay-at-home order the same week) had decided to offer a daily online group meeting for their combined meditation communities. It would provide us all with a way to stay connected during the trying times ahead and give tangible support to our individual dharma practices. And so on March 19, 2020, the first meeting of this online group was held: see Responding to the Coronavirus: Reflections from the Pine Street Sangha and Sati Sangha, by Linda Modaro & Nelly Kaufer.
More than a year and a half later, our online meditation group continues. Meeting every morning (PST) for an hour, we have grown into an online sangha of around thirty to forty people, with a committed core of twenty or so showing up most days. For many months, Linda and/or Nelly gave the short (10-minute) dharma talk at the beginning of the hour. But over time other Reflective Meditation teachers they’ve mentored—Erin Harrop, Janet Keyes and Bill Wellhouse—have taken up this role on different days of the week or as needed. After the talk, we meditate for thirty minutes, followed by ten minutes of reflection and/or journaling—these minutes spent with video cameras off and microphones muted, then turned back on for the remaining time. During our final ten minutes, a few individuals who feel so moved will share a brief recollection from a part of their sitting or some sentences from their journal. The teacher may respond with a question or comment that lends support or opens up that person’s meditative experiences while the rest of us listen in communal silence with our own private musings until the hour ends and we bow or wave good-bye.
“Come as you are” is the order of the day—sleepy or alert, present, worried, grumpy, or distracted; seated outdoors in your yard, inside at your desk taking notes, or nestled with eyes closed in a comfy recliner; wearing pajamas or your favorite sweatpants; sipping your tea or cup of coffee; a dog in arms, a cat walking across the keyboard. Viewing each other in small Zoom boxes highlights our individual features and unique personal circumstances, yet each member’s attendance that morning reveals our common intention—to be together with whatever shows up in our inner worlds—however peaceful, easy, difficult, inspiring, or confusing it turns out to be. It’s comforting to see familiar faces (or the familiar names/photos of those who choose not to turn on their videos that morning). Some participants frequently share their meditation experiences at the end, some less frequently or intermittently, others never—each person’s choice is perfectly fine. Linda and Nelly have been selecting a topic-of-the week (or longer) which they introduce in a conversation between them and then elaborate over the coming days. Guest teachers offer their own thoughts on the topic or introduce one of their own, which everyone is free to contemplate or not during the sitting and reflection periods. A few group regulars have taken on helpful manager roles for the teachers—opening the Zoom-room for early arrivers; recording the dharma talks (which are archived on the Sati Sangha and Pine Street Sangha websites); occasionally playing a pre-recorded talk by Linda or Nelly on the occasions they need to be absent; occasionally sorting the whole group into Zoom break-out rooms for two or three people to engage one another during our final ten minutes (with those not wishing to engage free to leave earlier).
Reflective Meditation as practiced and taught by Linda and Nelly encourages an open, gentle receptivity to everything we experience in our sittings, including thoughts, emotions, and stories, but everyone is invited to meditate according to their own traditions or inclinations. The allotting of time after the meditation, however—to recollect, reflect, journal (or take a walk, make tea, contemplate the clouds)—is unique to our group sittings, as is the opportunity to share aloud at the end. The combination of group structure and individual freedom to experiment and explore our meditative experiences has enriched the practices of those of us who attend and provided a sense of continuity and community during difficult times—a time and space in which to feel intimately connected and still autonomous—in ways none of us anticipated when we began. How long our daily online meditation meetings will go on, no one knows. Change is inevitable. But for now, the momentum is still strong, and no ending is in sight. I am immensely grateful to Linda, Nelly, and this online sangha for what we have created together and for the benefits that reverberate out to our families, friends, the other communities to which we belong, and no doubt beyond.