by Brandon Nappi
While cultivating present moment awareness through meditation is an inside job most often nourished in quiet solitude, practicing mindfulness within a community of likeminded souls who have given their hearts to the cultivation of compassion, lovingkindness and presence can be incredibly nourishing.
I felt the longing to be in a community of practice early in my contemplative practice. When my daughters were both in diapers and rarely sleeping, I would wake each morning with aching fatigue. I would drag my heavy limbs onto a fading meditation cushion next to my bed. In the heavy silence of those early hours, I began to feel lonely and discouraged in my practice. I longed for a community of friends with whom I could share this contemplative path. I discovered a few sympathetic hearts and minds who not only believed in the power of mindfulness but also shared the conviction that an active community of mindfulness practice has the possibility of bringing great healing to the world.
So a small group of friends and mindfulness practitioners banded together to create a place where the spiritual life could be practiced in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance where all voices and all backgrounds are welcomed. With this dream of creating an inclusive contemplative community honoring the spiritual paths of all people, Copper Beech Institute was born.
At Copper Beech Institute, Jews practice mindfulness next to Buddhists. Atheists explore questions of compassion with committed churchgoers. Spiritual seekers who find themselves spiritually homeless dialogue with Hindus. Some come to re-encounter the God they experienced in childhood innocence. Others seek a new way of living the spiritual life amid feelings of disconnection from the faith of their childhood.
Here we welcome a diversity of beliefs and spiritual commitments in contemplative crossroads where wisdom from various traditions can come into dialogue with one another. What grounds us and connects us to one another is our dedication to contemplative practice and the courageous choice to cultivate compassion in a world of violence. Here people come to drink more deeply from the infinite well of wisdom that is present in every spiritual tradition but is far greater than any religious system. Above all, this is a community of people who seek a safe place to ask the great questions that human beings have asked for millennia: Why am I here? What does it mean to give yourself in relationship to others? How can I live with greater compassion? Who is God? Who am I? How can I live a life of calm and peace amid the inevitable challenges of life?
Many of us begin with similar questions but end with differing conclusions. This is OK. Since we are not a religiously affiliated community, the goal is not homogeneity. What unites us is far greater than what divides us—the power and possibility of mindfulness and compassion to heal our world. This is a community not so much defined by creed as by questions. The practice of compassion and mindfulness creates the container in which all these questions are honored and held.