Keepin’ It Local

Thank you to Critter S. for this sangha profile.

When you walk into 924 Gilman in Berkeley on a Sunday morning, you’ll likely notice the stage, often strewn with drumsticks and set lists from the concert the night before. You’ll notice the art on the walls, and the sculptures and odd objects hanging off the ceiling. 924 Gilman is primarily used as a punk music venue save for once a week on Sunday mornings when Recovery Dharma Gilman meets. It’s grungy and funky and covered in spray paint with a punk feel. It’s very Berkeley! 

The Gilman Sangha in Berkeley, CA has been around for many years (with its previous incarnation as Refuge Recovery). Currently, our Sangha’s regular meeting attendance is upwards of 40 members. Our members come from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of involvement and experiences. “I love the diversity of the meeting, seeing so many people with different experiences, from different walks of life coming together, holding space for each other, being united in the practice, and recovery,” said Dave S. “We check on each other, we stay in contact outside of Gilman, and we are always willing to lend and ear, a hand, or a shoulder. (Dr. Frankenstein would be proud). Aside from the individuals in the sangha, the space itself is truly unique, the ever-changing art, the chaos of the inside that never seems to intrude on the stillness of our practice.” 

I joined the Gilman Sangha back in August of 2018 fresh out of rehab and after spending two years trying unsuccessfully to get sober. My experience in this Sangha kept me coming back week after week, eventually joining the inventory group and volunteering service. What I was drawn to was the non-dogmatic, non-judgmental approach and the ways I felt welcome. I was encouraged to find my own path and trust myself—something other recovery groups had taught me not to do. I also appreciated that I was encouraged to have compassion for myself and others. It brought me back to the roots of my practice. It also felt like an environment that was both trauma-informed and supportive of individuals with mental health problems. As a result, I now have the longest amount of continuous sobriety since starting this journey back in 2016. I now co-facilitate the meeting and am actively involved with our business meetings and other aspects of service. I believe in our community and am invested in its health and well-being. I’ve been inspired by how our sangha meets challenges and addresses concerns within our community. Gilman Sangha feels like a supportive and encouraging family. 

We get many newcomers each week. One new member shared about their first meeting experience with us: “Kind, welcoming, challenging, without being overwhelming. This is the first meeting I’ve been to in any format where I felt like I could really connect with the speakers. I went there in a state of rage, gradually transforming into confusion…and left feeling “seen” and with a deep sense of relief.” 

One of the beautiful things about our space is its diversity, and this is represented in our members and the speakers who share. “When you come in to the Gilman Sangha people ask “How are you?” and you can answer with truth,” reflected Jen. “It feels honest and exposed and yet I said almost nothing for the first three months I attended, and that was accepted and respected as well.” Community-building is important to us and we have an informal social gathering after each meeting at a nearby café where people gather to talk, connect, eat, and knit (note that knitting is not required ☺).

The Gilman Sangha includes an Inquiry Circle (formerly Inventory Group) that meets prior to the general meeting. This is a small group of dedicated members coming together to serve as each other’s trusted friends/wise friends (Kalyanna-mitta). We all have various lengths of continuous sobriety and various backgrounds working with Buddhism—from brand new to many years’ worth. Despite our differences, we treat each other as wise equals, respecting feedback provided by all members, and acknowledging we can all teach each other regardless of our experience. This is the spirit of Recovery Dharma (RD) and Sangha. Our pre-meeting includes a meditation, 20 minutes of either writing on the Eightfold Path (we draw one of the aspects from a hat), writing on the inquiry questions (individuals choose what they want to work on), or check-ins about where we are at in our recovery. During the weeks where we do writing, we open it up for sharing for last 20 minutes. We support each other and provide feedback. It’s a discussion of shared struggle, shared wisdom, and offerings of support and compassion. 

The Gilman meeting, being one of the largest Recovery Dharma meetings in the Bay Area, engages in outreach in a variety of ways. Gilman Sangha supports getting new meetings started. For example, Gilman helped start of a new dual diagnosis/mental health-focused RD meeting in Oakland, a process addiction group, and provides meetings at local inpatient facilities. 

The other type of outreach the Gilman Sangha engages with is providing daylong workshops/retreats. We had an incredible daylong retreat back in April of 2019 with Jean Tuller and about 50 people in attendance. It was truly a community-building event that members of our community are still talking about! We are currently in the process of creating a spring-time daylong for 2020-a “Build-Your-Own-Meditation Practice” community wisdom workshop. The intention for this workshop will be to provide a framework of some meditation practice basics with questions posed to the community to help share wisdom, assist members in thinking about meditation in different ways, and to try out different ways of meditating and building a practice.

Our monthly business meeting usually hosts about 10 members. We have a number of volunteer positions available to ensure members are able to participate as much as they want. We unanimously voted to make the transition to RD back in August. According to one member, Lindsay, “I began to come to Recovery Dharma in its time of transition and formation. Experiencing the ways that this group of individuals comes together to manifest ideas and opinions into what Recovery Dharma is today was inspiring as I was in my own transition of rebuilding.” 

With the recent transition to RD and all the wonderful grassroots activity that followed, the Gilman Sangha voted to create a “Sustainability Circle”—a subcommittee designated to create a proposal for how we want to govern ourselves moving forward. Given the nature of RD’s emphasis on being peer-led and leaderless, the Sustainability Circle generated a beautiful document that explored the concepts of sociocracy and consensus-based decision making and use round-robin discussions to ensure everyone has a voice. Additionally, we have begun to more clearly define roles and responsibilities of trusted volunteers to ensure we maintain an environment as free of hierarchies as possible. Using the sociocracy framework, we are utilizing circles (or sub-committees) to work on various projects, which are then brought back to the larger business meeting for decision-making. 

The beautiful thing about grassroots movements is that we all have a voice and we get to co-create this process and community as move along the path. Transitions are challenging, but the Gilman Sangha has met each challenge with the tools outlined in the Eightfold Path. One of our long-term members, Eleanor, wrote,“Being a member of this Gilman Sangha has given me a strong basis for all aspects of my recovery and my spiritual growth. Friends, companions, supporters, challenging situations, opportunities for growth—it’s all there. I am deeply grateful.” 

Come visit us, all are welcome!

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This article is featured in the Winter 2020 Newsletter.