Sangha Voices

Issue #1: Sarah Mitchell

July 2019

Guiding Teacher Chris Crotty and Managing Director Sarah Mitchell

Chris: Hi Sarah. Recently I found myself wanting to connect more in-depth with individuals in the Boston Meditation Center community, to hear people’s stories, and then to share those stories with the sangha. That is how Sangha Voices came to be. 

Many people in our community know you already because you occasionally facilitate our Thursday night group and you are the treasurer of the Board of Directors. You also recently became our Managing Director and I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce you to people who may not have met you yet.

Could you share a little bit more about why you have chosen to be involved with BMC? 

Sarah: Being a part of this sangha has been really important to me. I originally started by volunteering to help take care of the space as a way for me to get to know others in the sangha a bit better, while giving back through service. I love being a part of communities that take care of each other – I think that is something this sangha does really well.

When you invited me to facilitate on Thursdays, I was eager to jump at the opportunity (but also a bit nervous!). I see it as a chance to challenge myself and deepen my knowledge of the Dharma, sharing what resonates the most deeply. My hope is that I can help others connect with the Dharma, too.

Professionally, I’ve been working for non-profits for the past decade in various leadership capacities. I took on a leadership role with BMC to offer my skills and experience in this arena because I believe so deeply in the organization. I see a wonderful and fruitful future for this community, especially now that we’ll have a center soon!

Chris: You express an appreciation for sangha, which is the Pali word for community, one of the “three treasures or jewels” in Buddhism. I meet a lot of people who are new to Buddhism or who are interested in meditation but experience some anxiety in groups, or others who like myself are considerably introverted and tend to be restored in solitude rather than in groups. Can you say a little more about how you understand the value of sangha.   

Sarah: I’m absolutely the same – I can experience a fair amount of anxiety around certain social situations. It’s just in my wiring. But the great part about meditation communities like ours is that we’re actually given the tools to work with that. Once I started to notice and label the anxiety, feel it and acknowledge it in the body, it started to soften quite a bit. And this process was definitely supported by the sangha itself because we’re all on this path and practicing together. 

Now I know how much I need the connection of a community to survive and thrive. I’ve found that something phenomenal can happen with introverts like myself when we have a genuine connection with another person. There’s a certain lightness and relief that can wash over when we’re reminded, “I’m not alone in this.” From there, we can give that same kind of connection and acknowledgment back to others. This is the value of sangha for me.

Photo by Katherine Taylor

Chris: What does your practice consist of? What meditation practice(s) are you currently doing? Any retreat plans? Do you have other practices that support the unfolding of Dharma in your life? 

Sarah: I prioritize maintaining a daily home practice. I like to recite the refuges and the precepts in the morning as well, as a sort of reminder to myself of what I’m intending towards for the day. In addition to going to our Thursday night sits every week, I’ll pop into a few other group sits if there’s a teacher I’m interested in sitting with or a community I’d like to connect with. 

Most recently, I went on another 9-day silent residential retreat at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, MA in May to sit with Michele McDonald. I’ve got my eye on a few programs at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies – hopefully, I’ll be able to go there this year as well.

I also recently finished my 200-hour yoga teacher training and have begun teaching! Astanga yoga has been a hugely supportive practice in my life and I’m really excited to take this next step.

Chris: For people who might not know about them, how would you describe the refuges and precepts – the idea of taking refuge is central to early Buddhism, and I think also a very practical tool for people interested in meditation today. 

Sarah: For me, the three refuges (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) all have special meaning. The Buddha to me is the innate Buddhahood which I believe lies in everyone. We all have the potential to wake up. The Dharma is the path and the practice. And the Sangha, as I mentioned above, is the community that supports each other along the way. Reciting the refuges reminds me of the safety and strength that can come from all three. They all come together to create a home.

Reciting the precepts (or commitments to abstaining from unethical conduct) is about setting an intention – whether it’s for the next week, day, hour, or minute. As a person in recovery, it also means for me maintaining a commitment to my sobriety. In recovery communities, we often talk about how you’re less likely to be triggered if you take ownership for your actions and make amends – it helps create a sort of emotional balance and stability. For me, ethical conduct has a similar interplay with my meditation practice. If I’m acting ethically, there’s less self-criticism and anxiety popping into my practice.

Photo by Katherine Taylor – BMC Thursday night sit

Chris: Do you have any advice or encouragement for people new to meditation, or to people who might be curious about the role of spiritual community in their life, but who might also have some reservations? 

Sarah: Just be curious! Find out what’s helpful and what isn’t. Visit different communities, try different practices, and find what works best for you. I’d also encourage people to sit with lots of different teachers. I think finding a teacher you connect with is really important. Even if they don’t teach in your area, many teachers post their dharma talks and guided meditations online at sites like dharmaseed.org. If people want to hear more from Chris, they can go to chriscrotty.podbean.com

And if you have any questions about Boston Meditation Center, you can email us here, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on our programs and other news. Come visit us on a Thursday evening sit or a weekend program and say hi!