What are you selling?

Matthew Williamson Pineapple Paisley

Yesterday I dropped into our local independent greeting card shop, run by Sean. I hadn’t seen him for a while and we chatted about his dogs, his house on the hills and his business.

As we were talking, a woman came in and asked where the cards for ‘daughters’ were. Sean said he didn’t do cards with names, and showed her what he did have. She looked and left. He commented that this was something he’d learnt since starting the business – that he couldn’t please everyone, and that he had to be clear about what he did do and what he didn’t.

What he does offer is exquisite journals with bright covers, stylish diaries, witty cards, elegant fountain pens and other beautiful objects. I came away with a new ‘Pineapple Paisley’ notebook by Matthew Williamson and I am enjoying writing in it very much.

This is how it has been for us, running the temple. When we first started offering events, we wanted to attract as many different people as we could. We held mandala-colouring-in days, cake sales, art days, mulled juice mornings and garden parties. We tried offering things on Sunday afternoons, Tuesday evenings and all sorts of other times. Lots of people came. It was fun, and it was also tiring.

We started to realise that the people who came to our open days or our cake sales had a lovely time, and we enjoyed showing them around, and then we never saw them again. We would like to have a good relationship with everyone who lives in this area, but our core mission is to build a community of nembutsu practitioners. We have realised that if people are interested in this, they will come to one of our thrice-weekly nembutsu services, whether it is easy or convenient for them or not. We now separate our events out into ones that we run as an offering to the local community, which we do once or twice a year, and our ‘core programme’ which runs every week.

We’ve put nembutsu back at the heart of our offerings, with our free 30 day course on how to start a practice at home, and by using the word nembutsu rather than chanting. If people are put off by the word, or if they’re reluctant to try our services, then our form of Buddhism probably isn’t for them. Nembutsu is what we’re ‘selling’, and if you don’t want to ‘buy’ then that’s fine with us. You’ll be better off at the temple down the road – go with our blessings 🙂

It’s a relief to zoom in on what-we-do-best. I feel less codependent about the whole business of attracting new congregants. Rather than pretending that we have something for everyone and persuading them into trying it, we’re saying ‘this is what we do here – you might like it and you might not.’ The 12 steps call this ‘attraction not promotion’.

This doesn’t mean that we’re not still thinking about how we can best communicate the benefits of a spiritual life, or that we don’t work on making people feel welcome or on deepening our community. This work and this learning will always continue. It does mean that I can trust that, if I keep on doing what I’m doing as well as I can, then the right people will come along. The sangha will grow if it’s meant to grow. We don’t sell cards for daughters, but we do have the most beautiful notebooks…

What are you selling? What can you give yourself a break from selling? How do you feel about ‘attraction not promotion’? How can you relax?

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Photo from author (Matthew Willamson’s ‘Pineapple Paisley’)

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