Why Meditate in Community?

By Thomas McConkie, adapted from an episode of the Mindfulness+ podcast.


Readers in Salt Lake City might know of our mindfulness community, named Lower Lights Sangha. We meet at least once a month to practice mindfulness and explore human development.

You might wonder why we do this. Isn’t meditation something you do on a cushion in a quiet room all alone? The answer is that it can be, but it can also be a community practice. 

Ancient Buddhists recognized the power of community early on. They even named the sangha — which is a Sanskrit word for “community” — as one of what they call the three gems of Buddhism. They valued the sangha so highly because they recognized that we all sometimes get stuck in the mud so to speak in our individual practice. They knew that when we come together to practice in community we’re buoyed up by the spirit, vitality, and consciousness of each other. When we come together in practice we meet others who we admire, who we want to emulate. We see those who are farther down the path than we are — and there's always somebody farther down the path than we are.

Community is particularly powerful when we’re struggling. And that’s where the concept of our namesake, “lower lights,” comes from. It’s a beautiful metaphor that has inspired me over the years. In pre-modern times, sailors would navigate the open seas by way of what they called the "upper lights": the sun, the moon, and the stars. These sailors could go a long distance just by the upper lights alone. But by the time they got to shore, there were a lot of dangers involved, particularly if it was stormy, dark, or rocky. In such circumstances, sailors were in danger of being dashed on the rocks, their ships crushed, sinking to a watery grave. 

They needed light to guide them in to safe harbor, and they came to call the lights from the town and lighthouses along the shore the “lower lights.” The lower lights were critical, especially in challenging times. When it was stormy out and visibility was limited, sailors desperately needed these lower lights to guide them those last few hundred meters to shore. 

What this says to me is that as we're practicing mindfulness and as we're developing as human beings, we simply can't fully succeed without one another. Admittedly, we can get very far with the upper lights — by meditating on our own and receiving the light about us. But if we want to get safely into harbor, we need one another. 

That makes us all, by analogy, the lower lights. That makes it our responsibility to burn more brightly, to show up for one another more fully. And that's what the name of our mindfulness community suggests: The Lower Lights Sangha.

Countless mindfulness communities and sanghas throughout the world right now are coming together in wakeful community. Individuals coming together collectively to burn more brightly and guide one another mutually along this glorious path of awakening. 

Let the lower lights be burning.


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