Sitting Group Brings Aloha Spirit to Portland

Written by: Candle Summers

Candle Summers at the front door of her home, also home of her sitting group, on Southeast Salmon Street in Portland

Candle Summers at the front door of her home, also home of her sitting group, on Southeast Salmon Street in Portland.
Photos by: Candle Summers and Michelle Holder

Tucked away in a warm and friendly neighborhood of southeast Portland, a new sitting group, SE PDX Vipassana Metta Sangha, has recently formed.

Candle Summers started facilitating the group after migrating from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest. For the last year the sitting group has been meeting on the first Monday of each month, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

People seeking to practice are always welcome

People seeking to practice are always welcome.

For more than 10 years on Maui, after completing the Spirit Rock Community Dharma Leaders program, Summers facilitated a sitting group, Buddhist book club and a monthly women’s healing circle.

So after a year of settling into her Portland neighborhood, after arriving in 2013, she renewed her resolution to facilitate spiritual friendship. Her group is open to anyone with a desire to practice together.

Summers offers general instruction in the beginning, followed by  a 45-minute sit including a guided metta practice, or one of the other Brahma Viharas, the “divine abodes.” The group ends with tea, snacks, and open discussion. This usually includes readings from teacher Gil Fronsdal, who is householder-friendly, and from the monastics Sayadaw U Pandita and Sayadaw U Tejaniya, from whom Summers’ background stems.

As sangha member Catherine Lowe says: “Meditating with others helps deepen and enhance my practice. I appreciate having a monthly neighborhood sangha to attend, in addition to my primary monthly sangha. The format is different, yet similar to other groups. I enjoy the readings and discussion after the meditation, and love the metta/loving kindness part of the evening. Thanks to Candle for facilitating this opportunity for expanding our sense of sangha.”

Our first group. Left to right, front row: Trina, Jenny, Erik; back row: Lisa, Anne Marie, Hilde, Alyssa.

Our first group. Left to right, front row: Trina, Jenny, Erik; back row: Lisa, Anne Marie, Hilde, Alyssa.

The growing importance of sangha was emphasized by Vietnamese teacher  Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote, “The next Buddha may take the form of a community practicing understanding and loving-kindness, a community practicing mindful living. The next Buddha will be a sangha.”

The purpose of the Portland group is to offer spiritual friendship to each other, develop a sense of continuity with the regulars, and still include newcomers. This allows more-advanced practitioners a chance to share kindly and generously with beginners ( a good metta practice), and the beginners to ask and receive information and encouragement from long-time practitioners.

Roz Basin sums it up when she says: “I enjoy sitting with Candle at the monthly SE PDX Vipassana Metta sangha.  Her cozy space is warm and inviting.  I can feel the calm and peacefulness of her many years of experience.

“Often meditation begins with the ringing of a crystal bowl. After we meditate she thoughtfully serves us tea. Then I look forward to the reading she chooses, and the chance to hear the wisdom of the group in the discussion that follows. It’s a sweet way to meditate & share in community, and I leave feeling inspired, refreshed and restored.”

Summers and Kamala Masters at Peninsula Park in Portland taking a rose garden break

Summers and Kamala Masters at Peninsula Park in Portland taking a rose garden break.

Eric Wheeler says: “I value the opportunity to join with an eclectic group of meditators at Candle Summers’ sangha in Portland every month.   The space and place are welcoming and calming. Candle leads us with short teachings from a variety of Theravada sources and even provides treats after the sitting!    I always look forward to the monthly sit at her house.”

Candle’s teachers, Kamala Masters and Steve Armstrong, are worldwide teachers who often teach at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center in Castle Rock, Washington. In 2015 they also began teaching non-residential weekends at Still Mountain Retreat Center in Portland.

With the help of Kyle and Carol Rappleyea and their Bodhi Tree Sangha, Armstrong  and Masters are planning to continue  regular Portland teachings. This has given Portland the additional privilege of having international teachers return there several times a year.

In 2017 Masters will be leading retreats four times at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center, while Armstrong also will lead several retreats at Cloud Mountain. Both teachers will be making  non-residential appearances in Portland at Still Meadow Retreat Center again this year and next.

Masters says this about Candle Summers: “When I think of spiritual friendship, kalyana mitta, the person that comes to mind first is Candle.  She is one of the foremost spiritual friends I am so fortunate to have in my life.  The way she is so careful around honoring the precepts of not doing harm with her speech and behavior, and how she genuinely practices kindness and harmonious connection, is such an inspiration to me.  Many of the other paramis (the qualities of heart that support our highest aspirations towards liberation) are also so evident in the way she leads her life.

A metta healing circle after a sit, with Roz and Margaret

A metta healing circle after a sit, with Roz and Margaret.

“She generously shares her life and the dhamma with wisdom and compassion, balanced effort and equanimity.  She has perseverance and patience through trying times.  For these reasons, and seeing her natural ability to open people’s hearts to the possibility of deepening love and freedom in themselves, is why I support her wholeheartedly in her dhamma service.”

Summers began her quest in California with a few S.N. Goenka 10-day retreats in 1980, and then moved to Maui in 1983. She sat with the many teachers Masters brought to the island in the 1980s and 1990s, with whom Masters consequently began teaching. These included Jack Kornfield,  Joseph Goldstein, Sister Ayya Khema and Anagarika Munindra.

They taught at an inspiring and quiet spot called Akahi Farms. This was a small retreat venue  in a pristine jungle environment on the north shore of Maui. It was a place ideal for an inward journey, filled with the soft scents of ginger, plumeria, bird of paradise,  palm and coconut trees, and more ferns than you can imagine.

Over the years Masters’ interests led her to begin teaching with Michelle  McDonald-Smith, Kornfield, Goldstein, and Armstrong. In the mid-’90s Masters and Armstrong co-founded The Vipassana Metta Foundation, a quiet sanctuary environment for invitational private retreat.

 The spirit of Aloha.

The spirit of Aloha.

After Summers completed many two-week and month-long retreats at Spirit Rock Retreat Center in California, The Forest Refuge in Massachusetts, and several month-longs on Maui, Masters and Armstrong suggested Summers take the Community Dharma Leader Program at Spirit Rock in 2001. This allowed her to lead sitting groups, give dharma talks and facilitate daylong retreats.

Moved by the tragedy of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which occurred during the program, Candle felt inspired to facilitate a compassion group where anyone was welcome to come meditate, discuss the dhamma as it related to their everyday lives, and stay connected with others who were suffering. Thus her group took on the name of Vipassana/Metta, which she carried over to Portland, along with the Spirit of Aloha: calming breath and open arms to all who wanted to learn, or who already had an insight meditation practice.

As the group Mana’o Company would say: “Spread a Little Aloha Around the World.”

Because Summers is a massage therapist by profession, she has added some of her own aspects to the sitting group. For instance an evening could include the ringing of crystal bowls, and a few people staying afterward for a healing sound circle. This involves someone lying down while others surround them with ringing Tibetan and frosted crystal bowls. It creates a stunning vibration of sound filling the room, and flowing through those present.

To keep in touch with Summers’ group visit the Vipassana Portland Facebook page where there are regular announcements, or email her.

About the Author: Candle Summers
Candle Summers is a former artist and art teacher from the Midwest. During her 30 years on Maui she worked as a cranial sacral, lomi lomi, and deep-tissue body worker, training new students and working with many long-time clients. This work with others was her active way of living her Buddhist practice, as she closed all of her sessions with a blessing of loving kindness and compassion. She also taught meditation in the local prison with teacher Therese Fitzgerald. Coming to Portland with her partner offered her a change from the heat of the islands, and together they garden flowers and maintain a steady stream of company in the quiet Belmont/Hawthorn neighborhood.