Portland Insight Meditation Community
Becoming Accessible to People with Disabilities

Written by: Robert Beatty

The fast-growing Portland Insight Community is known for creative approaches to the Dharma, such as incorporating Chi Gung movement.

The fast-growing Portland Insight Community is known for creative approaches to the Dharma, such as incorporating Chi Gung movement.
Photos by: Robert Beatty, Avi Klepper

Recently we received yet another call from a person inquiring if the Portland Insight Meditation Community is wheelchair accessible. Once again we had to disappoint and say “no,” but at least this time we could say we’ll be rectifying this inadequacy in the near future.

Portland Insight founder Robert Beatty shows the steps, now an obstacle to wheelchairs, which will be replaced with ramps.

Portland Insight founder Robert Beatty shows the steps, now an obstacle to wheelchairs, which will be replaced with ramps.

From our 2004 beginnings, when we purchased our beautiful 75-year-old church in southeast Portland, we have intended to make the building accessible to everyone who wishes to attend. While our website says we are a welcoming community, it is only now that our fast-growing dharma community is getting close to providing wheelchair access.

“Rooted in the essential teachings of the Buddha, we are dedicated to awakening beyond the ritualism, sexism, hierarchy and other cultural artifacts that have characterized traditional religion. We value diversity and welcome anyone who is interested in investigating the inner life.”

Portland Insight Meditation Community Website

Since our opening day we have offered hearing assistance devices for those who needed them, and today we offer four state-of-the-art headsets. For those who cannot attend in person we for years have broadcast our Sunday morning gatherings live on UStream, and made them available on YouTube.

But during these 13 years we have known the building had physical barriers that made it inaccessible to many people. On several occasions committed members who lost mobility, could no longer attend.

This has been very troubling. We have no idea how many people would have come and practiced meditation here, if the building had been wheelchair accessible.

The community attracts visiting teachers, such as Frank Leder, from Germany.

The community attracts visiting teachers, such as Frank Leder, from Germany.

Until now we had neither the organizational capacity nor the resources to undertake such a major project. But now Portland Insight Meditation Community has committed to making our center fully accessible.

We plan to install two linked ramps, to make both levels of the center accessible to people in wheelchairs. The first ramp will provide access to the living room, kitchen, children’s program room, library and the community coordinator’s office. The second ramp will rise a few more feet to the level of the dharma hall and restrooms.

We also will widen two doorways and modify one bathroom, to enable access for people in wheelchairs.

As part of the project we also are planning to open the choir loft for overflow on Sunday mornings. We also will seismically upgrade the dharma hall, so it is more likely to survive a major earthquake.

The Portland Insight building will be more welcoming to people with mobility problems, once the multiple projects are done.

The Portland Insight building will be more welcoming to people with mobility problems, once the multiple projects are done.

As part of the ramp system we will add a new deck along the entire length of the living room. New French doors will open invitingly to our beautiful garden, with its four giant Douglas fir trees.

During the summer we were seeking designs and estimates from contractors to clarify the upgrades’ cost, which we estimate at about $100,000. In September we started a capital campaign, and we also will be seeking grants.

The community’s rapid attendance growth and increasing strength inspire us to act now. Some Sunday mornings as many as 130 people pack the dharma hall.

Several new teachers have been offering classes in recent years, so people are now using the building many weekends and almost every evening of the week. Teachers sometimes visit from Europe and other centers in the U.S., adding rich perspectives to our journey together.

The Portland Insight Meditation Community follows the lineage and inspiration of Ruth Denison, a pioneer and revolutionary teacher. Denison taught that dharma practice could, and should, include movement, music, work and engagement with every aspect of life.

Children’s programs, like this one, are an important part of the community.

Children’s programs, like this one, are an important part of the community.

In keeping with these aspirations we intend Portland Insight to be a place that supports us in all aspects our lives, from cradle to grave. It is a community of deep meditation practice, of cultivation of friendship, while offering mutual support in times of need, and service to the greater community. We engage with each other through silent meditation, through working together, and through play, in the form of celebrations, dance, music and social engagement.

“We understand the spiritual journey to be one of awakening in the world rather than escape or transcendence from life. Our intention is to empower people to live with impeccable integrity, the willingness to truly be themselves and the capacity to act powerfully with compassion in the world.”

Weaving the fabric of community

Our center is large, requiring a great deal of maintenance, garden care and cleaning. More than 50 volunteers generously support the center, working with mindfulness, love, playfulness and care. Contributing shoulder-to-shoulder helps us to connect with one another, and to feel a part of our shared center. Together we create an inviting and beautiful place.

Lora Dow and Suzan Wilson, deep in meditation.

Lora Dow and Suzan Wilson, deep in meditation.

Portland Insight Meditation Community, often called PIMC, is flourishing. We have an ongoing children’s program through which kids have fun while learning the fundamentals of a life of kindness and mutual respect. We also operate an extensive library, adjacent to the family and kids room, where people can borrow books.

The fabric of our community is woven from events like talent night, a dance, potlucks, movie nights, and participation in the life of the greater Portland community.

Portland Insight Meditation Community is intended as a refuge, a place where people can heal themselves in safety, and in the company of friends. There is no requirement to join anything, to make long-term commitments, or to believe anything in particular.

People are invited to try the meditation practices, to join in the life of the community as it suits them, and to experiment with the teachings of the Buddha. The real test is if participating results in greater ease, contentment and happiness. Please come and join us.