One more sangha

This is a little bit of follow-up after the big post from earlier this month.

First off, I've been floored by the response to it. I've been happiest of all that very little of the reaction has been to how it was written, much as I like having my ego stroked. The focus instead has mostly been on what I was writing about, and that's where I'd hoped it would be. Some of you have shared that it even sparked some reevaluation, and I'm humbled and grateful to be a part of that. I've even been encouraged to submit it to a Buddhist publication, so I've done just that. Fingers crossed.

On a side note, one or two of you asked how to follow this blog, since I've bailed on Twitter and Facebook. It sounds quaint to hear it in the era of social media silos (if only AOL had hung in there a little longer!) but I'm a proud and stubborn advocate of using RSS news readers to follow the sites I like. NewsBlur is my current favorite reader.

But if you don't use a feed reader and don't want to start, there are services out there that will allow you to subscribe to sites' feeds and get simple email alerts when they update. They're pretty simple. You add my site, I make a post, you get an email. BlogTrottr, which is freemium, appears to be big, and internet Swiss army knife IFTTT has an RSS-to-email script too.

One other thing I want to share:


We did belt testing at Unity Martial Arts last Saturday. Cuong Nhu's Grand Master came to town personally to oversee the testing. I got my first stripe, and my wife got her second. We busted our asses to show what we'd learned, and then we went back later that night for a party.

One of the things that drew me to the dojo and to this discipline is that it it's not just blocks and punches. They aim for development of the whole person, not just the body. You're asked to learn philosophical and moral principles and discuss them at every test. When you test up to the next full belt color, you are required to give a short speech to the dojo.

Jo gave her speech on Saturday. Jo is a fellow laser nerd and a delightful woman who is leaving us soon to study and teach in Japan. She talked a lot about the impact of our community on her life, and she shared her story with an honesty and vulnerability that I almost never see outside of a recovery meeting. Hers is a story of being abused and cast out, of losing trust in other people and faith in herself. Then she found Unity Martial Arts, and there she found another way. She worked with her mind and body. She built herself up. Now she's going to Japan.

Most of us were in tears by the end of her speech. We cheered. I hugged her and told her how grateful I was to have gotten there just in time to know her.

At the party, Sensei Tanner, who runs the dojo, asked her and the departing seniors to share what they'd learned from their experiences there. I heard young men and women less than half my age share wisdom that it took me four decades and addiction recovery to learn. They spoke of wanting to be better, not just for themselves but for the rest of us. They figured that if they could be better for us, that would help us be better too.

They weren't merely parroting things that they'd been told. Hundreds of recovery meetings have finely attuned my ears to the difference between sharing and reciting. These kids were sharing from their bones. How did they know this stuff?

I thought back to what I previously wrote about Unity: I know that I have at least three Sanghas now: My family, my recovery family, and my church. I wonder if the dojo is a fourth.

I don't wonder anymore.

I'm still in my own way there. It'll take time for me, as it always does. But it's a home. I saw it reflected in the floodwaters of a dozen pairs of eyes that night. And when I saw that, I knew I had to tell Gaylan.

Sensei Gaylan mostly teaches the kids. He's amazing at it. Before I left, I told him. I thanked him for being so good with my children. I told him of how they love him, how he's changed them. I told him that it mattered. "This is a good place," I said, my own eyes threatening to well up yet again, and I walked away before I made either of us feel too awkward. Then I herded my kids toward the van and bedtime.

We have a lot of slogans and cliches in recovery, but probably the most prominent among them is Keep Coming Back. You drank or used again? Keep Coming Back. You got arrested? Keep Coming Back. Blew up your career or family? Wrecked your car? Subscribe to politics that I find odious and destructive? Keep Coming Back.

It's an invitation to join us, to be part of us and partake of how we stay sober. It's often said lightly, but there is a bottomless depth of love to it, love tinged with a desperate recognition of its primal capacity to bestow and sustain life. We could just as easily be saying Please Don't Die. But we don't. We say Keep Coming Back.

That phrase rang in my ears as I drove away. I couldn't wait to come back.