Monday, June 16, 2008

When the whipping had to stop..

The image is of Friends House, Euston Road (opposite), where the Trustees met about a week ago to debate the aftermath of the cancelled conferences, and to plot the road ahead. That all sounds very organised, but in fact the meeting was very informal (although we were 'quorate', set an agenda, and took minutes in case the Charity Commission is reading this ready to pounce).

We agreed to re-instate the monthly meetings that used to be held as a kind of auxiliary "engine" for the Trust: the 'Inner Work School' (IWS), a kind of rolling, open-to-all get-together of Trust supporters and others, held monthly in various venues across Central London, working to an open (or as I prefered to call it, an 'emergent') agenda. I decided, after Ray's unexpected death in 2000, that the IWS should continue, and so it did until 2007 when I further decided that it had run its course and should be folded. High-handed of me, perhaps, but the decision was taken with general agreement, and some general regret, that it had come to the end of its usefulness.

For many of us, certainly for me, it constituted a 'sangha', and what took place within the membership was a kind of dharma-cultivation, albeit undirected by an evolved teacher of lineage, accreditation and authority, at least after Ray's death. Ray, of course, disavowed any credentials as a dharma teacher, despite his learning, and despite his enormous authenticity and integrity. But I certainly felt I encountered the dharma at the meetings in the presence of men and women, living in the here-and-now, sharing experience in an atmosphere of uncontrived openness; and between meetings in simple friendship here and there, acts of kindness and solidarity, nothing special, just as-it-is-ness.

Over the years there had been about a score of loyal IWS attenders, although few meetings were attended by more than six or seven, and some meetings comprised two or three. The final straw, I think, was being forced by rising room-hire fees and other minor but understandable vexations to the last venue, the YMCA Sports Centre off Tottenham Court Road, where we had to endure a windowless room and line-dancing on the ceiling. The carrot-juice bar was no consolation.

So now the Trust has agreed to fund meetings, at least for ten consecutive months beginning August 2008, on the basis that we do need to offer something to supporters, and the framework of a regular monthly meeting may enable the process of reconnection and renewal for which the conferences were a flawed blueprint. Meetings will take place at Friends House, Euston Road, on the second Saturday of each month, in the afternoon, from 1.30 pm until 5.00 pm. The invitation is "Come if you can and want to". There is no charge, and there is presently no pre-determined programme or modus operandi. As before, it will be a matter of trusting what comes, whatever comes. This permits people to come as invited, and to feel that they haven't lost touch with events, or somehow fallen behind, if they can't come regularly or often.

The Trustees have circulated (to each other, or some of us have) some possible titles to apply to this series of meetings. At present "Sharing Circle" and "Explorations of Awareness" are front-runners, and I like both. Another possible title that popped into my head recently was "The Nothing Special Fellowship". I think Ray Wills had a hand in this, and may have been waiting in the wings for a chance to pop it in.

When the whipping had to stop? I had an anonymous comment on my last post, and this is worth reading, perhaps. I've had several comments as emails from known contributors, one of whom thought I might make a good Roman Catholic as I seemed to get benefit from the confessional. Self-flagellation is a practice too far, I reckon.

Yesterday I attended a rather sparse meeting of the South-East sub-group of interested parties following the progress of the Buddhist Hospital Chaplaincy Group towards the establishment of an 'endorsing body' for Hospital Chaplains, governing the admission of Buddhists to the role, their accreditation, training, support etc. All this is in line with NHS policy, and tied in with the Government's 'diversity agenda', 'social cohesion' and the perceived soul-lessness of the NHS, to judge from accounts from users and other critics one reads and hears. I have some fairly well-developed views on this, informed in part by my experience as a nurse and a some-time denizen of the NHS, by my experience within the Trust, and more recently by my induction into the Hospital chaplaincy as a Buddhist lay officiant. I'll return to this in another post in a few days time.

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