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My Mala and Me ...

I was around 9 years old when I was given my first mala - it was beautiful; with massive large beads. I believe it was made locally in Zimbabwe. I really liked it, but to be honest I had little to no idea what to do with it! Regardless, I would sit in Chenrezig sessions with my parents, trying to chant in a language of which I knew not one word. However, after some time, my interest waned, and I left my beautiful mala for safekeeping in my bedroom drawer. Growing up with parents who were becoming increasingly interested in Buddhism, with retreats for holidays and tea chats around training the mind, you would think that with time, I would have found myself seeing the benefits of practice and thus creating a daily practice and sticking with it! Alas, this was not the case. My personal practice, much like my mala, remained tucked away from my daily experience for most of my teenage years. 

Time went by, and as I have come to expect, life threw some curveballs and I found myself turning to the Buddhist approach to maybe help me deal with these challenges. As I hit my early 20s, and with great enthusiasm, I threw myself into short retreats in Zimbabwe and South Africa. I found some stability during retreats and would vow to practice every day of my life moving forward. Consequently, my practice pattern changed from nothing to that of a pendulum. Swinging from over-enthused excitement during retreats, to absolutely nothing after a short period of time after retreats! 

In a nutshell, this pattern can be quite exhausting. After almost a decade of being so wildly inconsistent, I was beginning to really feel quite jaded. Most notably, I had lost trust in myself. In order to break through this unstable habit, I could see I really needed the support of others. One day during lockdown, I was listening to Lama Zangmo’s teacings; Lama mentioned the importance of the environment to encourage practice. It was clear that I really needed to place myself in an environment where practice was part of everyday life. I was so lucky that there was a space at that time for me to move in as a resident at Kagyu Samye Dzong London...

“I take refuge in the sangha. “Sangha” means “community of people on the spiritual path” “companions”. I am willing to share my experience of the whole environment of life with my fellow pilgrims, my fellow searchers, those who walk with me; but I am not willing to lean on them in order to gain support. I am only willing to walk along with them. There is a very dangerous tendency to lean on one another as we tread the path. If a group of people leans upon one another, then if one should happen to fall down, everyone falls down. So we do not lean on anyone else. We just walk with each other, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, working with each other, going with each other.” 

~ Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism; Chogyam Trungpa

… and this is why I am so grateful to be here.

Not only for the support in attending more regular practice sessions, teachings and Tibetan study groups, but for the holistic support of the sangha and community of Samye Dzong London. I see the value of having friends ask why I missed practice (which does drive me nuts but I know it’s good for me), the rewarding feeling of asking others why they were late for practice (of which there is no greater joy), the wonderful, honest conversations around dealing with the day to day in a way that incorporates what we have learned in the teachings that week, and being able to volunteer and contribute to such a truly special place. However, ultimately, there is the knowledge that we have to do the work, that we have to walk that path, and that doing this lies solely as our own responsibility. It is such a waste to put something as beautiful as that big beaded mala in a cupboard that I never open, and so I had better start getting up earlier and doing my practice.

~Sarah Sheehan


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