What Makes a Deleg Work?

delegsIt’s the evening of Shambhala Day, and nine people are gathered around the dining table of Dekyong Barbara Creech in Walnut Creek. She asks each of us to share, one by one, our aspirations for the Year of the Fire Bird. There are a couple of typically Western resolutions, such as working out more, but there are also hopes of being able to recognize klesha moment-to-moment or committing to longer retreats. We are asking each other about how we do these things, and we are laughing at our struggles. I sort of sit back in my chair for a moment, see and feel this table full of random Berkeley Shambhala members who happen to live on our side of the Caldecott Tunnel, and I am overwhelmed by gratitude.

What makes a Deleg function for the benefit of its members? I don’t know. Really. Even though we’ve been meeting about every two or three months for two years now, I’m still not sure I can exactly define it. Why would several people take the time and effort to plan and gather in this way? What compels us? We all have busy lives, and we all have connections and communities in other aspects of our lives. Why nurture this one?

I suppose I can only speak authentically about myself, so here goes. I’m eager to be around people who use similar language and who talk about things I care about: in what other circle could I casually drop the word “klesha”? In a way, it’s for all the same reasons I so look forward to events at the Berkeley center, where, also, we can all mention Rinpoche or Pema and know whom we’re referring to, and where we actually listen to each other with the patience that comes from hours of silence on the cushion. When we initially formed our Deleg, to me it wasn’t a question of why do this, but rather, why not! Why not expand my opportunity to connect with Shambhala?

Nevertheless, I did not enter this Deleg experience without misgivings. I remember the doubts running through my mind as I drove toward our first couple of gatherings. What was I doing? About to enter the house of someone I barely knew and spend the evening with several other people I barely knew and probably didn’t have much in common with. Given the small size of the group, I figured there would be no way to hide if I wasn’t having a good time. For me, it took a couple of gatherings to feel comfortable, to realize that I actually do have a lot in common – the most important things in common –  with these other Shambhalians who are also trying to figure things out. It is a way of being that we share, not a common career path or a particular interest in music or whatever. I grew to understand the profound gift of the Deleg: as I step further into understanding and empathy with individual Shambhalians, I am simultaneously more connected to all of Shambhala.

Deleg member Meredith Breeden explains this connection well: “We cannot know ourselves fully, alone. We need other people to stimulate, trigger, and annoyingly (at times) help us uncover what we hide so it can be examined and dealt with. And I find I like the company on my way through life.”

I wonder how much of our Deleg bond is developing due to our common approach to life – evident during dinner conversations – or how much is due to the way many Deleg members have reached out to one another outside of planned gatherings.  After my surgery last year, two Deleg members separately drove several miles out of their way (we’re all quite spread out here in the far East Bay) to bring flowers and food and to sit with me. They’ve also given me rides to the Berkeley Center when I couldn’t drive. This all happened fairly early on, as we were just getting to know one another. I was quite impressed.  Add to that list the summer Saturday we spent packing moving boxes for and with Deleg member Rhoda Climenhaga. And the recent, easy offers by several people to take care of a member’s cat while he was away. And the times some of us have shared difficult struggles in our lives and asked for Tonglen. These instances, I believe, fit with the history of Delegs, which I understand from longtime Shambhalians served as a sort of neighborly community of care. As Rhoda describes, “I feel some security in knowing that there are people I could reach out to in time of need, especially since I have no more family in the area any more.”

Thanks to Deleg members Don and Carol Henderson, we’ve also done a bit of outreach. The Hendersons invited us to join them in events supporting the local Islamic Center. They’ve also invited us to join them in some of their volunteer work, such as at the food pantry, but I for one will admit to not doing that yet. I’m imperfect. Nevertheless, the point is that the Deleg seems to offer so much potential: for supporting each other in our practice, for helping out when aid is needed, and for working together toward social betterment. Our Deleg is young; we’re talking about ways to connect that would be beneficial – such as doing a book discussion – and ways we could become more involved in the East Bay community at large, representing Shambhala out here.

I have become friends with Deleg members, meeting for tea or walks or going to art events together. Some of them attended my poetry readings. How important is such non-official activity to the health of the Deleg as a whole? I don’t know.

I do know, for sure, that our Deleg has developed from initial, tentative gatherings to a community of friends getting to know one another. Each gathering is different. Once, we enjoyed the video art of our hosting member. Coming up soon, we will be led in yoga by our member, the-yoga-instructor. Recently, almost everyone was able to come see my new home, meet my new puppy, and perform a Lhasang. As we were chanting and winding through my house and yard, I marveled at how many of our members didn’t need to look at the handout of words. They were experienced at this and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to give through heartfelt, communal ceremony. I felt reminded of the wealth of experience in our small group and how lucky I am to be a part of this. Because I am. I am a part of this Deleg, a part of Shambhala.

Don sums it up this way: “ It’s a good feeling knowing that we can call on each other for whatever reason … . Basically, I think we are enjoying each other while getting to know each other better. I also like the simplicity of not having an agenda—we can just be and enjoy.”

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Tereza Joy Kramer had practiced in other sanghas in the various places she’d lived before moving to Berkeley and finally finding home with Shambhala, three years ago. Her many geographic moves were due to her work as a wire-service and newspaper reporter for two decades, before she pursued an MFA in poetry and then a PhD in writing studies. Now, she writes, teaches, and runs a writing center and writing across the curriculum program at a liberal-arts university in the Bay Area.
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