By Axel Gjertsen
Let's take a close look at the benefits and challenges associated with staying long term in a spiritual community.
It's useful to know that there are many types of spiritual communities. Some follow old traditions such as Buddhist monasteries while others are new-age centers, where the community members often follow their own spiritual paths.
Most seekers find it really inspiring to stay in a community. There may be a number of experienced meditators living at the center and the group energy is most conducive to spiritual practice.
The size of the community can make a lot of difference. At a large community with 50-100 residents it may take awhile to get to know all the members while the smaller centers are more personal.
Some communities practice a lot of meditation while others don't. For example, there are Buddhist monasteries in Thailand where they only meditate for 20 minutes per day.
Of course, if you have the discipline you can always practice on your own. It's much easier to motivate yourself though if the community has at least 2-5 hours of meditation practice on the schedule.
If you get the chance, join a meditation retreat while staying in the community, even if it's only a 2-5 day retreat. The mind calms down so much by just living in a spiritual community, that you get more out of short retreats than anyone leading a stressful life outside the community.
Most spiritual seekers agree that community living offers a unique opportunity to practice mindfulness. In the community you can slow down which makes it easier to be mindful while working, eating, walking etc.
Getting along with the other community members may be a challenge in the long run, since most individuals staying in spiritual communities either have strong personalities or emotional issues.
This offers a great opportunity to work and socialize with all kinds of people; and the more mindful you are, the less likely it is that you will get into arguments.
Moreover, someone has to do the unpleasant work like cleaning toilets and emptying the trash. Most of us have our preferences set even before arriving at the gate. For example, "I enjoy gardening and kitchen duties." It's perfectly normal to resist the dirty work.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool. So, whatever happens during your stay in the community, be alert and watch your reactions. A forgiving attitude is more helpful than blaming yourself for your shortcomings.
Community life is known to be quite monotonous, most days are more or less the same. Again, by cultivating mindfulness you gradually learn to accept every moment as it is and to let go of the things you don't like. In a way, mindfulness makes you flow with life...
Community living is an effective form of practice that makes for steady progress on the spiritual path.
Axel Gjertsen is a former Buddhist monk and lives in Thailand. He runs axel g - a personal development site with a focus on meditation.