Portland, Oregon (USA) Sangha Gathers in a New Way

From John David Smith, March 2019

As Co-director of the Portland Shambhala Center, I’ve been thinking about how to get the Portland sangha to cheer up, get more engaged, and break some of the habits we have around excessive deference to authority.  I think that talking about talking in a different way is not as good as just jumping in and having community conversations in a very different way than we’ve had until now.  The challenges we face as a community are different and somewhat daunting. (We’ve lost about a fourth of our members in the last year.)

One tactic I’m exploring is the use of “liberating structures” as a disciplined and purposeful way of distributing responsibility and authority among those who are present in a meeting: http://www.liberatingstructures.com.  I’ve found that the book and the app that the folks in this large community offer have been very valuable.  I feel like I’m pretty much of an amateur even though I’m trying it in Council Meetings, in Town Hall meetings, and in teacher meetings.  So I’m going to a 3 day conference and a 2 day immersion workshop next week.  
In the meantime I wanted to share the agenda that we used for last Saturday’s Community Town Hall (and a video of some of it: https://youtu.be/iCouauz004g )
Here is our agenda (planning document), with some links describing the structures that we used:
    • @10:00 am – Welcome – Purpose, invitation – ZOOM (JDS text David)
    • @10:05 – Shamatha Practice (10 minutes)
      • John or Janie on Umdze stand
      • Seating set-up as for regular sitting practice
    • @10:15 – Dyads
      • Turn to your neighbor… and take turns speaking about 3 minutes each
        • How have you been?
        • Why did you come to this Town Hall?
      • Popcorn report out (3 minutes) – ZOOM (JDS text David)
      • Note taking: Jennifer on a Google Doc shown in the TV
    • @10:25 – Loosen everyone up — this is going to be fun. 20 mins: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/mad-tea sentences to complete in 30 seconds
      • Instructions: Participants form two circles, one inside the other. Each person faces one other person and completes an open-ended sentence in less than thirty seconds. When time is up, participants are invited to move to their right so that they are in front of someone else to complete the next sentence, and so on. Sound the Rin once to take turns and sound the Rin two times for everyone to move to their right.
      • Complete the following sentences (two times):
        • What I have found most inspiring about Shambhala is…
        • What I find most challenging in our current situation is…
        • Something we must learn to live with in Shambhala is…
        • The most important thing for us to talk about today is…
      • Sentences read out loud and projected on the TV
    • @10:45 – Give new Directors some airtime to challenge our thinking & pose questions. 30 mins: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/22-celebrity-interview/
      • Co-directors are “celebrities” each in a chair at the western end of the shrine room
      • Two chairs on either side for “interviewers”
      • The rules:
        • Sit in one of the interviewer chairs to ask one or more questions
        • Answers are spontaneous, from the heart, not necessarily the final word
        • Allow one empty chair (when the second chair is occupied, step down to leave room for the next person to step up)
        • Mark Douglass (or someone else?) will kick it off
      • Record on ZOOM (JDS text David)
    • @11:15 – BREAK – 10 min
    • @11:25 – Open Space to dig into the question: “What’s next for our center?” http://www.liberatingstructures.com/25-open-space-technology (4-5 locations: Shrine room I, Shrine room II, Community Room, Library, VY shrine room) 45 mins
      • Parts:
        • Intro & rules & supplies – 5 mins
        • Breakouts – 30 mins
        • 3 minute report & 5 minutes for questions and discussion
          • Who was there
          • What was discussed (what not discussed)
          • What did your group recommend for the future? Were there action items?
          • Record via ZOOM
        • Breaks interleaved
    • @12:10 pm – 20 mins: Wrap up and call to action in a circle: Record via ZOOM (JDS text David) http://www.liberatingstructures.com/9-what-so-what-now-what-w/
          • Each person says, going around circle: “What did you notice? What does that mean?”
          • Facilitated group now what and what if?
          • Check outs recorded on the TV?
    • @12:30 pm – Dedication of merit, clean-up, and hang-out
          • Stop ZOOM recording

By all reports it was very successful — and it was a lot more fun being together in this way than we’ve had as a community in a long, long time.  It opened up a lot of very important topics that we will be following up on in the future.  Clearly there is a long way to go but we need to keep our energy up for the long haul.