At the beginning of the year there was a leader’s meeting and we were asked to come to the meeting with something to share with all the other districts; it could be a poem, members determination or a song. I offered to write a poem and when I got into the car in the morning to drive down to Doncaster, Simon asked me if I had written my poem. I told him I hadn’t written it yet, but not to worry! It would arrive! I told him he should trust me more! Sure enough, during Robert Harrup’s lecture my poem arrived and it was very short! It was about the power of one.
When Simon and I stood up on stage to present my tiny poem, I didnt feel embarrassed at all. Although there were only two of us at the meeting, and the other districts had done very impressive presentations, sporting strong determinations and lots of members, it did feel a bit bare and small, but Simon has taught me to stand up as a leader and to be honest. So we stood up and talked about how we were doing to focus on making our tiny district (really there were only two of us at this stage, plus support from Lynn) really joyful and strong. I should also mention that I met Sri at the meeting and he told me he was also going to be supporting our district. This felt very auspicious.
I was very excited after he meeting and I asked Simon if we could chant together every Friday morning. This involved me going to Simon’s house at 6am as I had to leave for work at 6:30am and I asked Simon to make some big determinations. We asked about how we really needed to challenge ourselves and the few times we met before lockdown felt very unified and gave me an incredible sense of focus and unity. This is the heart of our Buddhism. It doesn’t matter how many people there are, but what matters is what is in our hearts. The third or fourth time we chanted together (by the end of February) Simon told me that his determination that was connected with his acupuncture practice had fallen apart already because of COVID. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck stood up because I knew if the things were so difficult we were definitely heading in the right direction! How fortunate we are to have such strength!
We joked that COVID would not affect our meetings because we never had more than three people attending, but when COVID had put a stop even to that I immediately set up a WhatsApp group for members. I had already set up a Zoom account in China a few years before and I determined that I would really use the district to embrace and support each and every member. The first thing that happened during lockdown was that I reached out to two members, Sarah and Sanjana. I knew that both of them would be very isolated and I chanted with Saran every morning and with Sanjana every evening. This gave me enormous strength. Listening to them every day and their challenges galvanised and inspired me.
At the same time, Michael, whose wife had recently passed away came back too the district. We were so lucky because all the people who I was having regular contact with were incredibly strong in their practice and very knowledgable. Michael was very keen to start study meetings and these meetings have been incredibly focussed and beautiful! A young man called Lucas had also made the decision to move to the district because of COVID and I regularly called the members and we had joyful heart to heart dialogue. I also invited Gina to meetings as although she was living in Majorca, she had been a very strong member the previous year and suddenly she could attend meetings again.
Later on I also invited a member who was living in New Zealand, Kazumi to join the group because she had sent me incredibly guidance every day on Facebook messenger and I knew she would do the same in our WhatsApp group. As it turned out, she came to live in England in October and she visited me in Skipton, as her husband is from Skipton (we went out for a walk together after work by torchlight, just before Christmas) Another two members have appeared by chance; Lec, who was born into the practice in Thailand but she has been living in our district for many years, and another woman called Vicky who has also just moved here.
I can honestly say that our meetings are heartfelt and joyful. We have had up to 10 people regularly attending meetings but also contributing to them. This is not all down to me at all. I have been incredibly supported by Lynn and Sri and now by Momoyo. Also although it has been challenging for Simon as he has a younger family and has been very involved in supporting his teenage daughters (no mean feat!), we have carried on chanting together on Friday mornings when we can. I dont think he realises how much strength this has given me and I am very grateful for his continued support as we move into 2021.
My gut feeling is that 2021 will be even more challenging for us as Budddhists. We have already spoken in our district about our new year wobbles as we go into another lockdown. I spoke to my partner Tim this week (he doesn’t practise but is always willing to listen to me) about how I feel like I have a very important job to do in our own family. We have raised 4 very capable children who have incredible challenges, my youngest has been working on a Covid ward this year as a new apprentice health care worker and she is about to start her nurse training later this year, my son, who had a diagnosis of Addison’s disease only 18 months ago managed to complete an access course and has started a degree at Edinburgh University, but because of lockdown is living alone. My second daughter spent 10 months shielding with grandma, came home before Christmas with plans to move to London and is now applying for jobs. My eldest daughter, who hasn’t spoken to me for more than 6 years, is wanting to change jobs too and I am sure she feels her life is on hold. Tim and I celebrated our 30th anniversary together this year and I am sure that my 10 year Buddhist practice has helped us enormously. I am in my third year of teaching English (I retrained 4and years ago) and am supporting my students in Bradford remotely again, which feels like a big challenge. I feel that 2020 was only a preparation for 2021 but we are up to the task.We have hope in our hearts, thanks to our practice and in particular I can honestly way I am now supported bu a wonderful district!