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The Grey Heron Sangha

A graphic of a heron

What is a sangha and what do we do?

If you aren’t familiar with the term sangha, it means a community of friends practising mindfulness and mindful living to bring about and maintain awareness.

The Grey Heron Sangha provides the opportunity for anyone that is busy, with a lot on their minds; to come together in community with mindfulness and awareness. We stop. We quieten, become calm and let go...together.

The sangha provides a safe place; a community where we can take care of ourselves with others who share our practice. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go; it is our opportunity to put down our projects, our calendars, let go of our worries, fears, deadlines and just ‘be’. Be with your mind, be with your body, be with your ancestors, be truly here and present in the moment.

Who joins our sangha?

Our sangha is made up of people of all ages, with all kinds of experience and levels of practice. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to practice. You don’t need to be anything—just a real human being. Everyone can practice because everyone can breathe.

If you are new, or this is your first time doing something like this, we welcome you and we will all benefit from your presence. Don’t worry; there are no rules to break and nothing to do wrong. In fact, there is nothing to do! You are lucky to have what we call a ‘beginners mind’ and many of us work hard to cultivate our beginner's mind.

How long is it?

Sessions last between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes (depending on how many members we have in the session) and include sitting meditation, dharma reading/video/audio, and mindful sharing. For that hour we have, we will give ourselves a gift of this time to stop and take care of ourselves. This time is our chance to stop running, stop ‘doing’, clear our minds and be in the present moment.

When do we meet?

We meet every Monday evening from 8 pm - 9.15 pm. Our meetings are held via Zoom. We have carefully created practice guidelines so the experience is as close as we can get to face-to-face meetings. Your experience will be safe, joyful and all-inclusive.

What does it cost?

Following the Buddhist tradition of practising generosity, called dana, we will invite you to contribute to the sangha whenever we meet. If you can contribute, any amount will be joyfully accepted.

Who are we

The Great Heron Sangha is an online community practising mindfulness and Engaged Buddhism in Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village tradition. We are a diverse and inclusive community that welcomes everyone.

What is the Plum Village Tradition?

Plum Village in France is the first monastic practice centre founded by Thich Nhat Hanh in the West. Known as ‘Thày’, meaning teacher, he developed his iconic light and gentle style of mindfulness practice that is now familiar worldwide.

Plum Village Mindfulness has four key features:

1.Mindfulness as a way of life

While mindfulness is widely considered a method of stress relief, Thich Nhat Hanh long taught that mindfulness is not a tool but a way of life. The Plum Village tradition uses the Five Mindfulness Trainings, a concrete expression of Buddhist teachings, to bring an ethical and spiritual dimension to decision making. Mindfulness is also applied to all aspects of life, including sitting, walking, eating, speaking, listening, emailing, and working.

2.Community Building

At the heart of our tradition is our community approach. We see that applying mindfulness to our daily life is not always easy. With the support of a spiritual community (or “Sangha”), the challenge can be lightened and it becomes possible both to transform our suffering and cultivate joy and happiness. We can build community in workplaces, schools, and health care environments, and together bring positive change to society.

3. Engaged Buddhism

In Chinese, there is no explicit term for "Engaged Buddhism", but there is the expression ‘ru shi fo jiao’, which means "Buddhism in the world or society." This is the same as Engaged Buddhism and it aims to make Buddhism more relevant and responsive to people's everyday lives. Today, many thousands of people worldwide follow in Thày's footsteps by practising Engaged Buddhism.

4. Monastic Community

Thày established a monastic order that is dynamic, youthful, and engaged. It is also the largest Buddhist monastic community in the West. In Plum Village practice centres worldwide, the monks and nuns create a peaceful, joyful, and healing environment where visitors can take refuge and immerse themselves in mindfulness practice. The monastics’ commitment to a life of simplicity, harmony, and spiritual training ensures that Thich Nhat Hanh’s living teachings will be carried far into the future.

Why The Grey Heron?

The Grey Heron Sangha is facilitated by Deniz Paradot, who has received the Five Mindfulness Trainings from Plum Village as well as his Dharma name 'Realised Freedom of the Heart' in January 2021.

Here is his story behind The Grey Heron name.

“For a couple of weeks before the retreat, the winter rains had fallen and continued to fall heavily over a short period of time. Every year this seasonal occurrence would form a small pool of water in my garden, but this year was different. The deluge created what can only be better described as a natural rainwater pond that welcomed the urban gulls and ducks to the garden. And as a refreshing dipping opportunity for Cara, my dog!

This retreat was a significant and pertinent one for me; I was officially receiving the Five Mindfulness Trainings and my Dharma name from Plum Village. On the first day of the retreat, a Grey Heron majestically and effortlessly flew into my garden and wadded cautiously, yet gracefully into the natural pond.

Every day of the retreat, the Heron would grace the garden with her presence. I had never seen the Heron in my garden before this retreat, and her regular visits were an auspicious and insightful sign to me. Several weeks later, the Heron continues to visit the garden and has become a distant friend, a familiar, comforting presence in my garden.

My 8-year-old son, Jack, had also been touched by her daily visits. Armed with his binoculars, he eagerly awaited her landing, and it wasn’t long before Jack started to feel sad at the thought of the Heron not visiting any more.

So I explained that this experience would be fleeting, the seasons will change, the rains will abate and the pond will naturally drain and quench the earth’s thirst. And with that, the Heron will find another temporary home to grace for someone else to enjoy her presence.

But without the rain, we would have no pond and without the pond, we would have had no visit from our friend. So, we should accept that nothing is permanent, enjoying the moment we are in and catching the memories is what truly counts. For worrying about what the future holds, blinds us to see the beauty in today.

Connected to nature and intrigued by this sign, I found out more about the meaning of the Heron.”

The Grey Heron bears a variety of messages.

The Heron speaks of introspection, inner reflection, insight and meditation. The Heron teaches the quality of patience and stillness – of observing and thinking before we act. The Heron symbolises us to look deeper into aspects of our life. In so doing, it will bring out our innate wisdom and show us how to become more self-reliant and resilient. The Heron’s presence asks us to ground ourselves regularly, thus teaches that grounding ourselves in the earth will help us discover emotional insights more clearly.

The Heron has ties to the Water Element that encourages us to flow with the energies around us. We do not need to struggle with nature but instead cooperate with it. There is no question the Heron is lovely and graceful. It’s hard not to be inspired by such a marvellous, stunning Bird. This beautiful bird’s presence became a symbol for receiving the Five Mindfulness Training and therefore appropriate to name the Sangha.

Practice with us

To join the Grey Heron Sangha and participate in our sangha meetings, please click here and answer the simple and quick questions. In the form make your selections and fill in the “Reason for Joining” box with a few words about yourself and your interest in practising with a sangha in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

We ask for this information because we are a private group and want to protect our members from those with commercial interests or no clear intent to practice mindfulness in our tradition.

Once you've completed the online form, someone will get in touch within 48 hours. To help you settle into the sangha, you'll receive our practice guidelines, information on setting up Zoom, and a private link to a video explaining the basic practices.

We look forward to warmly welcoming you to our sangha.

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