It’s been six years since we started the True Refuge Companion program. In the beginning, we were 11 volunteers, most of us just having completed a unique eight-month IMCW course, team-taught by six extraordinary teachers, called Sacred Journey: Being Present with Aging, Illness, and Dying. Our idea was to offer a service to individual IMCW members, or their caregivers and loved ones, confronting those “heavenly messengers.” We would match Companions with practitioners who would sit together and hold loving space for whatever arose in meditation.
I know I could have benefitted from being matched with a True Refuge Companion in 2014 when my late father-in-law was living his final months on this earth. Indeed, I had originally signed up for the Sacred Journey training because I was feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about everything that was coming up in my practice while caring for him. How to be centered as a witness to the awesome mystery of death while at the same time experiencing the raging emotional turmoil that comes with fear of loss, seeing his pain, wanting to “help,” but not even knowing what that meant?
Out of the understanding that others were struggling with the same questions I had, the True Refuge Companion program was born. With Tara Brach’s encouragement and the strong support and mentorship of our two guiding teachers, Mary Aubry and Susan Akers, our volunteers have served more than a dozen practitioners, either in person or via online video conferencing.
I have been a Companion for three practitioners myself. The relationships have been full of meaning and true sharing from their very start. There is something about making space for the difficult and uncomfortable, for the things that can feel impossible to share with loved ones who so urgently just want the person to get better, that creates a bond between two people committed to sitting and engaging with a harsh reality without judgment or the need to “fix” it.
We are now hoping to broaden our reach by both training more volunteer Companions and encouraging more practitioners to take advantage of the program. If you have a strongly motivated regular practice and feel inspired to volunteer as a Companion, you can register for an online-only weekend training scheduled for Jan. 22-23, from 11 am-5 pm each day. Mary and I will lead the training and, upon completion, participants can apply to become Companions. You can find the registration form here. Once you register, we also ask that you complete an application, which has questions that encourage you to reflect on whether this is the right time for you to become a Companion.
“Like Jill, I wish this program was in existence during the years when my son Justin was sick with cancer,” Mary said. “The last month of his life was my inspiration for co-developing the program with Susan. May it be of benefit to those who are sick, aging, or dying in the IMCW community, and those who care-give and love them. May we all be free of suffering in the mind, even when our bodies aren’t so cooperative.”
If you or someone you know might benefit from a Companion relationship, we will do our best to find a match. Our program is now being organized under the umbrella of the Mentor Program. The two programs are closely aligned in their missions of offering one-on-one support for meditators.
We plan to form an online sangha for True Refuge Companions. What form that will take is not certain, but we are thinking of offering a facilitated Zoom call on a regular basis, perhaps monthly, with enough time for members to meditate together and then share.