At the time of writing, it has been about a week since the 9th Annual “Open Your Heart in Paradise” retreat on Maui has ended.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the retreat, it’s hard to do the experience justice with only words. The retreat is more than insightful teachings from some of this era’s most respected teachers or its exotic location. This is a gathering of kindred spirits, which has the capacity to sincerely open one’s heart to that which is essential in life. The insight gained there varies from person to person. Some realize the importance of love and the role it plays in their lives. For others, having their heart blown wide open reveals what is missing.
I had the opportunity to speak to many brothers and sisters at the retreat about their experiences there. While each story was unique, everyone had a few common threads. Person after person expressed joy at the presence of warmth and community that they felt from every man, woman, and child at the retreat. The second most common reaction, however, was a lamentation that this kind of community was absent in their lives outside of the retreat.
“So grateful for all of my teachers and friends on my first retreat. Feeling soooooo blessed. I love you all. My heart broke open. Until we meet again.”
– Linda Rothman
The presence and quality of community at that retreat is not only visible; it is palpable. There is a sense of connection and family between everyone in participation. Even those who are going through hard times, which have closed them off somewhat, are affected by this connection and become opened up in some way.
This kind of community and kinship are known as Satsang in Hindu tradition, also known as Sangha in Buddhism. Satsang means different things to different people. At its core, Satsang is a community that practices Dharma together for the purpose of cultivating awareness, truth, and oneness. Through shared practices and understanding of basic and deeper truths, we create a bond of spirit. This common ground creates a sense of familiarity and trust that further opens our hearts and enriches our practice.
The challenge we are presented with is how to bring this love and community back home with us when we leave paradise.
Something that is important to understand is that the only thing we can bring back are our experiences and what they have taught us… and maybe some great stuff from the auction. What we can do, however, is find the Satsang that already exists around us that we may not even know exists. If that community is not available, then we must create it ourselves. By becoming a beacon, we draw like-minded people towards us, like a moth to the flame. Becoming a light for others means making ourselves available and demonstrating the value of our practice through our actions. Living our practice is a signal to others who may be like us or wish to follow our example.
“When you are first awakening and developing a spiritual perspective, Satsang is especially supportive. Satsang is like having a spiritual family. Satsang is a community of truth seekers. It is a group of people with the shared awareness that there is a spiritual dimension to the universe.”
– Ram Dass
On a small scale, this can be accomplished through the smallest gestures of love and compassion. A larger form of making ourselves a beacon is to create the opportunity for those who are seeking a community to find us.
The old way of doing so was to post meetup classifieds in newspapers or Xeroxed ads on bulletin boards. Today, in our era of interconnectivity, this can be done quickly and easily online. Through meet up groups and social media we can reach exponentially individuals and interact with one another like never before.
“So grateful to our compassionate and generous Teachers and to our beautiful Satsang for another amazing retreat. May we all go forward and practice Loving Everyone just as we have loved one another under Maharaji and Ram Dass’s illuminating gaze in the Aloha Pavilion, Ram Ram”
– Katie Katherine
The process might be slow, but don’t be discouraged. All you need though is to find one other person to create a Satsang near you. Having even one partner in spirit and practice will feed your spirit and practice. Slowly this group will continue to grow. With a little effort and creativity, you will begin to cultivate the community that you are seeking. Eventually, we begin to understand that the community we have been longing for has been around us all along.
If you are ready to find Satsang near you, start with the Meetup Finder at RamDass.org. Check out Meetup.com and the Ram Dass page on Reddit. If you are interested in the upcoming retreats, you can visit the “Spring on Maui” and Winter “Open Your Heart in Paradise” registration pages.
Featured Photo via Bharat Dass, Photo via Sue Neil