Beginning November 1, 2020, we will be having a Sunday evening meditation at Wat Phothisomphan, 2560 SE 14th Street, Des Moines. The hall is quite large, more than 4,000 square feet, so we’ll have plenty of room to distance socially. We’ll also be wearing masks to protect each other.
Here are some thoughts on group meditation.
In a broad, general sense, most people meditate for the “benefits” outside of meditation, not just for the meditation experience itself. Some folks meditate to gain enlightenment, some for esoteric knowledge, some for “union” with God or Brahman or Ultimate Reality, some because it is part of a “program.” Meditation in a group seems to “deepen” or “enhance” progress towards whatever goal they have. I think a lot of this has to do with the environment group meditation creates, but some would talk about shared energies, good vibes, and so forth. Whatever explanation one chooses, group meditation is, at times, very profound. People who meditate together commonly report a buoyancy that the group provides, carrying them further into meditation than they could travel alone.
For most people, meditation is part of a lifestyle. Meditating in a group can help to reinforce that lifestyle. It is comforting, exciting, and sustaining to be a part of a shared activity. Or, in the case of meditation, perhaps a shared non-activity? <GRIN> Shared activities, in this case group meditation, can also build a sense of fellowship; of belonging to a community. We experience the company of “like-minded” others. In the midst of “doing nothing” together, there is often a shared experience of “meaningful togetherness.” Bonds form and relationships deepen.
With time, the group builds an environment of trust and confidentiality, and the members will talk about their inner and outer experiences (and their interpretations of those experiences), what difficulties they might have encountered in their practice and ways they have surmounted them. When we discover that other people have encountered many of the same difficulties, and have discovered ways to overcome them, we are less likely to feel discouraged during the “dry spells” which we all endure, or to get overly inflated when we experience those elevating “highs” meditation produces. Solitary meditators – those who never practice with a group – are more likely to misunderstand their experience, and to get frustrated by the bogs and marshes they stumble into.
One of the most frequently encountered difficulties is incorporating practice into one’s daily life. Group practice offers opportunities to explore with others how they have managed to do this, and also helps motivate us to continue to practice. Meditating with a group can provide the motivation we need to find time to practice.
Group meditation can also further our knowledge and understanding of meditation itself. We can listen and ask of others about their experiences. If there is a Teacher, Master, Guru, Guide, etc., we can check our practice, gain understanding of the nuances of practice, and perhaps learn new techniques. We may also be able to roughly judge where we are on our path to our goals. We can learn from the other members’ feedback. If we talk about our experiences and problems and success, other group members’ feedback can help us to understand what is occurring. We discover that the other people are having many of the same experiences.
It has been pointed out to me than many people who practice meditation are individualistic and/or non-conformist, and “groups” don’t fit their lifestyle. This is true. To be part of a group means we must conform in some ways. For example, there are “time” issues. The day or time of day may not be to our liking. The length of time the group meditates may differ from the time we meditate. Some people meditate for 15 or 20 minutes, and some mediate fro one or two hours or longer. While some groups will allow meditators to come and go during group sessions, others are quite strict about conforming. If one’s ideas about how a group is to function are in conflict with the way the group functions, stress (dukkha?) ensues. These are issues for discussion. Some folks may choose to not be part of a group.
It has been pointed out to me that it is common for a number of different “ideologies” to be found among meditators, and that explanations of experiences and techniques usually reflect those ideologies. Do I expect everyone who is a member of the a group to subscribe to my ideology? Honestly, no. We of differing ideologies and diverse personalities find “common ground” in the silence of group meditation. Since there's nothing to argue about in silence, meditators from different traditions and ideologies can practice together and support each other. Furthermore, membership in a group where there is respect and trust can provide opportunities for investigating the “Truth” statements put forth by myself and others. And I encourage everyone to investigate!
I was recently asked the question: “What qualifies you to lead a mediation group?” The short – and smart-alecky – answer was “Well, I can read a clock, I have the hand-eye coordination to ring a bell, and I can count to three.” But I knew the person was really questioning my “authority.” So I explained that the regular practice of meditation is sort of like an extended visit to a strange city. One wants to find someone familiar with the layout of the city, but also someone knowledgeable about the good restaurants, the bad neighborhoods, and where to get the best price on good incense. I’m that someone. I’ve practiced regularly for more than 40 years, and I’ve studied for that long, or maybe even a little longer. I know the “territory,” and have functioned as a guide for more than 30 years. And nobody’s gotten lost.
So, if anyone wants to join us, every Sunday we have scheduled the start time as 6:30 p.m. for now. We can adjust that earlier or later as the group needs.
Hope to see you November 1st!
Life is a struggle. Suffering is optional.