"From where you're seated, you can't see what I'm seeing. What a blessed sight," Rev. Heng Sure opened his talk
last Wednesday, after an hour of collective meditation. Nearly a hundred folks crammed into our "family" room for our Awakin Circle
gathering. Many were in the house for the first time, some were regulars, more than a dozen had come the night before to help with veggie chopping, and all of them felt like family. It was quiet, in a vey still sort of way. And festive. The Christmas tree was lit up on the side, the scent of warm Apple cider was in the air, and after dinner, everyone was gifted hand-made 'wisdom scrolls
' with a quotation.
As one describes it, there's no sound-byte that can carry its magic. Everything was ordinary
. Yet something about the space held a higher possibility.
Against the side wall were 7 chairs from our dining room, lined up for elders; somehow, it was mostly elders who sat in those chairs -- the rest of the crowd organically opted for the far less comfortable floor seating for 2 to 3 hours straight. How did that work without an instruction manual? So many people worked very hard behind the scenes, but didn't receive any credit -- and yet all of them are eager to do even more. What motivates them to serve? A woman in her 50s, who has perhaps attended the Awakin Circle once or twice before, stood the whole time since there was no open seat -- and then out of gratitude, insisted on doing ALL the dishes. How does that logic work?
An offering of space seems doesn't sound like much of a gift. It's like giving someone an empty box for Christmas! Not very exciting. :) Yet, that same undefinable space can unlock boundless potential, if it is held and shared in a skillful way. Then, the tragedy of the commons
doesn't apply to the 7 chairs; self-interest's carrot-and-stick
incentives don't motivate the actions of volunteers; and an overflowing of gratitude
trumps personal discomfort.
Over the last 17 years of hosting such circles, mostly without guest speakers, the strength of such a space becomes evident. On so many occasions, people have shared the most intimate details of their lives, sometimes things they've never (ever) shared -- with a room full of meditating strangers. For the common sense logic, it's utterly baffling. Society teaches us to not trust strangers
, but really, how well do we actually know the people we call friends
? In an Awakin Circle, strangers, all of a sudden, feel like kin, even if you've never had a one-on-one conversation with them. Without any effort to make a space safe or sacred or elevated, it becomes that by the mere virtue of how we show up to greet each other.
Last night, a somewhat reserved cardiovascular surgeon, who didn't know anyone in the circle, went home and wrote: "The evening with Rev. Heng Sure was mind-blowing. Although I have attended lot of spiritual sessions with various organizations, the purity and authenticity of this gathering exceeds any thing I have attended before. I am quite amazed and impressed, and feel very blessed to be a part of such an extraordinary journey with such beautiful souls. If there's ever an opportunity to serve, in any way, I hope you would keep me in mind. I have a 9 month old baby who takes up most of my time but any way I can serve even a little bit , I will be happy to be a part of it."
Awakin Circles continue to teach us about the power of inner transformation that emerges from silence, of deep listening that quiets the ego, of gentle generosity that uplifts the spirit, and of the combination of these three that seems to organically rewrite the rules of engagement.
One can't help but wonder -- what if we held the whole world like a giant Awakin Circle?