Adhisthana is a rich and rewarding place to live out Sangharashita’s vision of the Dharma life and its myriad blessings. There is a uniquely joyful – and mysteriously subtle – intensity to working, living and practising within a large mixed sangha of two single-sex communities which provides plenty of frontiers for spiritual growth. Given the inner and outer edges and challenges that arise in such a public life, anyone would be forgiven for having a bedroom to themselves to rest and recuperate. Of course, in the world at large it’s generally considered a sign of maturation and progression to move on from sharing a house or bedroom with friends. In many people’s minds, living alone, moving in with a partner or starting a family of one’s own would more clearly signify a move towards independence, self-sufficiency and being a fully fledged grown-up. With all that said, why would three men in their mid to late twenties consciously decline the option of a private, single bedroom and move into a shared dorm room in the men’s community at Adhisthana?
In a word – friendship. It feels like a precious gift to have the close mutual support of my dorm compatriots Max and Kaj as we navigate the uncharted territory of our spiritual lives together. This support could take the form of a brief touching base in the early morning or late night to bookend our day, or longer conversations steering to the depths across the arm chair and sofa. In any case, I couldn’t imagine having the same quality of intimacy so readily at hand if we had walls, floors and doors separating us. Having two friends so close by gives me a stronger sense of treading the Way shoulder to shoulder with others. Rather than experiencing a loss of ‘my’ space or an incursion across a personal boundary, it feels like a softening and dissolving of that boundary; a radical expansion of my sphere of awareness to invite, include and positively influence others.
Sharing a room means seeing more of one other and ourselves, in both our awkward imperfections and glowing virtues. It’s less easy to hide or avoid your mood or mental state when living so closely together and this encourages more sensitivity and awareness of one another. The potent benefits of that mutual witnessing are drawn out by a culture of open, honest and straightforward communication between the three of us. There are plenty of potential sticky spots to navigate in dorm life, like the impractical amount of house plants I try to squeeze on all available surfaces, or balancing us taking phone calls with taking naps. Charting a course through these areas is fruitful when we are brave and encouraging of one another to speak our minds and receive what’s said in a spirit of open curiosity and understanding. Many of my most personal particularities, preferences and habits have had to be reshaped to accommodate the collective needs of the three of us, in a way that they wouldn’t if I had my own bedroom.
It’s also a real joy to co-create a living space with others. Recently, this has taken many forms: curating in a more considered way the images we have on the walls; arranging (and re-arranging) the furniture so we can more easily relax together and keep the space clear, and subtle touches like how we light the space to accomodate both late night readers and early bird yogis. I take increasing pleasure in the culture we are developing and appreciate having my aesthetic sensibilities reshaped. My horizons continue to be expanded by contacting the different tastes in art, music and literature that the other guys bring into the space. As is often the case with these sort of shared creative endeavours, it all adds up to something much richer and more rewarding than the separate parts we individually bring. I’m confident the collabroative and harmonious atmosphere we are creating in the dorm spills over into the men’s community, extending to the wider Adhisthana sangha and yet further still, influencing all who visit or make contact with Adhisthana.
Speaking to those who have been around in the Order and movement for some time, I understand that the practice of sharing a room is on the decline. I can only guess that this is as a reusult of the practical necessity for it diminishing in our communities and institutions, as well as the broader culture increasingly shifting towards individualism and personal autonomy. Let’s remedy that! It would be a real shame for this radical and enriching practice to become underappreciated. I would offer my heartfelt encouragment and enthusiasm to anyone reading this who might consider sharing their bedroom with a fellow Dharma practitioner (or two) and seeing what happens – whether that’s at a retreat centre, residential community or your own home. You may well find, as I have, that it unlocks newfound creativity, intimacy and spritual growth.