“What exactly is the Ziji Collective?” asks one woman in my first discussion group. We’ve been asked to share our motivation for being here in Berlin for this European leadership gathering. “Well that’s sort of what I’ve come here to find out,” I say.
I’ve spent the summer working at Dechen Choling retreat centre, sharing my songs and my energy with the vibrant group of volunteers I met there, many of them fresh from the youth retreat. The public festival attracted an array of people from all over Europe with a passion for social change, and I was excited to feel part of a global movement uniting creative expression with activism.
One of the highlights was a screening of a film made by a young man called Marc de La Ménardière, from the Colibri movement in France, who had documented his adventures travelling around the world questioning the functioning of society and talking to highly qualified people in various fields about the possible options for a sustainable future.
Inspired by these experiences as well as the compelling vision and dedication of my fellow Londoner and Ziji member Llew Watkins, I boarded a plane for Berlin to spend the weekend in Shambhala Europe’s new home, learning about leadership.
I was invited here in my capacity as a newly trained shambhala meditation instructor as well as being a member of the Ziji Collective, although I admit to being somewhat sketchy about what it is. “That’s part of it, it’s evolving all the time,” Jonathan says in our Friday meeting at the Prachtwerk café. I am late as usual, having been seized with inspiration to run and to write, but am nonetheless welcomed with open arms.
It seems rather than being a fixed group, Ziji is a living process and its identity is a part of its function. This feels healthy to me, and it’s something that’s later echoed by the Sakyong in his first talk on Saturday: as leaders it’s good to examine our basic inspiration daily.
I like that it is called a collective as this suggests a collaborative venture, as opposed to an organisation; a group whose energy is radiating outwards and looking at where our voice is needed in the world, and what action we can take. Ziji I understand to mean authentic presence, which is something that I strive to cultivate moment by moment in my life, both as an artist and as a human being.
Before the weekend kicks off I meet up with Llew in one of Neukolln’s characterful cafes – a converted 19th century ballroom – and he gets me up to speed with the current situation. A proposal has been made for Europe to host a Ziji Summit next summer, and there is a desire and a plan to make a youth dathun happen in the same season.
So on Friday I join the other members of the group that have decided to gather and discuss what our vision is and what we want to achieve. I sense an energy and commitment to working together on a vision of what Ziji is for all of us. There are certain ideas pulling in different directions. Firstly what is youth, and is Ziji exclusive?
No, definitely not is the general consensus. Ziji is more about getting together and taking action in society, and that is often something that young people are passionate about and have energy for. ‘But isn’t that already a part of Shambhala vision?’ I ask, and we agree that it is not separate. There is some debate about how separate it is or should be.
There is a feeling that we want to shake things up a bit, make some changes, address the stuckness of certain forms and things that may not be what is needed right now, and in particular may not speak to or turn on a youthful crowd.
This is not to suggest that young people want a watered down version of the dharma, on the contrary – there is a desire to be plugged in directly to tradition in an authentic way, with all its discipline, rawness and simple profundity.
“Leadership is the ability to connect with others,” says the Sakyong in his Saturday talk, which I find a refreshing definition. It’s certainly something I experience of our Ziji Collective meetings through the weekend. It’s not easy to come to agreement about where to put our energy. The desire to do so despite all our different thoughts and inspirations is very touching, and it’s what draws me to stay in the conversation.
Money is a big theme and an obstacle. This is something I know Llew feels very passionate about and isn’t afraid of voicing, and this I respect him for. Shambhala programmes are often prohibitively expensive for young people and students, as well as for artists and those without employment or choosing to live an alternative life.
On the final day we are given a platform of a few minutes to come together and share with the rest of the gathering about who on earth we are and what it is we are doing. I am impressed by Llew’s boldness as he wades in with the reality that in 20 years time many of the older sangha members will no longer be living. Far from causing offence this comment receives a round of applause. His point of course is that the voice and the energy and the needs of young people in the sangha must be supported, for everyone’s sake.
I left the gathering feeling that Ziji was about coming together, going forward, implementing the vision of shambhala with the dynamic energy of the snow lion – actually going out there and making things happen. Doing it in a way that is true for us and is necessary for this time, right now.
I feel invigorated by the company of other young people who are striving in their different ways to bring the vision of enlightened society to life. It helps me to feel supported that I can do the same in my own life as an artist, as a leader. The Sakyong’s mandate is clear. Meditation is great. We don’t need to keep proving that. But there comes a time when you have to get up off the cushion.
Ziji Collective is global network of inspired young people, dedicated to the vision of basic goodness: the radical view that human beings and society are fundamentally good. The website is here: zijicollective.com
We are currently working on numerous youth retreats for 2016 including a week retreat in London in Easter; a summer retreat at Dechen Choling, France in July; a week long young sangha gathering in Berlin in September and a youth dathun (month long retreat) in November 2016 or spring 2017. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Annalie Wilson is a singer songwriter based in London, check out her excellent website here: annaliewilson.com