Group meditation is a wonderful experience. Although, it cannot replace our daily practice of meditation, it can add a sense of family which is greatly needed in our technological and media dominated world. How often the group meets is up to its members. The size of the group can be from 5 to 30 members. If a group should grow larger than 30, they can simply split into two or more groups.
What form of meditation an individual is using should be of no concern to the group, just as any religious affiliation or lack thereof should be of any concern. There are many agnostic or atheistic people who are searching for a spiritual direction in life.
If verbal chanting is used, it should be in unison, with the whole group participating with the same chant. The only common interest that holds the group together is the desire to find one's spiritual center, inner being, or start a spiritual journey. The group should be non-institutional, or unaffiliated with any institution. The location should be a neutral meeting place or a home. The purpose of the group is to be a supportive family to each other, and not some supper movement driven by a cult of personality.
When you are connected to the “Great I am” in yourself, you will realize that you are automatically connected to the “I am” in everyone and everything else. My greatest joy is the random meeting of those who are connected. And Transcendental Meditation (TM) tells us that when one percent of the population becomes connected in meditation the world will change all by itself.
The following is a summary of the format used by James Roose-Evans' group in London as described in the introduction to Finding Silence.
- The Gathering (30 minutes) – Ideally this is in an outer room or space where people can come together, catch-up on personal news, meet new people, and create the atmosphere of peace and friendship.
- Transition to the inner room (five minutes) – This room should create an atmosphere of silence and stillness and have the feeling of a sacred space. The chairs should be arranged in a circle, with a small low table in the center. Appropriate to the theme and metaphor for each meeting, the table may contain a candle, bowl of water, flowers or other such objects. If people regularly use this room for meditation it will automatically become a sacred space.
- A talk or story (10 to 15 minutes) – The leader should give an inspirational message like those in James' books or tell a story like those in Stories for Your Spirit. Remember the purpose here is to calm down everybody's mind in preparation for meditation and not to fire them up or give them things to ponder.
- Meditation (30 minutes) – Open this period with a Tibetan gong, the ringing of a bell, or the sound of a drum. This signals the beginning of the uninterrupted silence and stillness. At the end of the period the leader repeats the sound three times. This signals the end of meditations, and everyone should wait patiently for everyone else to come out of their meditation. The length of this period will depend on the depth of their meditation.
- Conversation – The leader can serve simple refreshments during the discussion. Allow this to go in whatever direction it wants to go. There may be something triggered by the story or talk. Someone may have an experience they want to share. One or more persons may have a meditation question or problem and need help. The important thing here is to let it go as long as it needs to go.
I use this format in starting groups in different locations. The one question that is frequently asked is, “Why do we need to be as many as 5 persons to start?” Yes, I know that Matthew 18:20 says “two or three….” However, Jesus is not asking us to form “churches” here. He is already present in our spiritual center or “Great I am” center. Here, he is talking about connecting your “Great I am” center with that of others. My experience is that when I meditate with one other person, that connection is very intimate on a deeply spiritual plane. Meditation with two to four persons is deeply personal and very private. Either of these is very desirable for partners, family, or friends, but a different kind of social interaction than that of group dynamics.
With five people all the principals of group dynamics kick in. The most basic principal of a meditation group is that everyone has a “Great I am” center. My greatest excitement came from the discovery that the “I am” reveals Him/Herself differently to everyone. When I was young, I believed I would have to meet everyone everywhere to know the whole “I am.” Now I realize that the whole “I am” is in each of us. The differences are in who we are, not in who He/She is. Embracing those differences is what makes life interesting.
Even though it is important to avoid any dos and don'ts for the discussion, there are two behavior modifications that I recommend as guidelines.
- Learn to listen to what others are saying. Listen so intently that you can repeat back what the other person said so they can confirm that you heard them correctly. When you have done this, only then can you say you understand what they said or presume to disagree. This small detail will allow two people to have two different points of view with total understanding between them. Such differences have made my life more interesting and produced my most lasting friendships.
- Only one person should be angry at a time. This has a very calming effect on a group. If someone bursts out in anger and their words inflame you, you are required to cool it and hear them out. The result is that you will listen and perhaps better understand where they are coming from. It also prevents your ego from goading you into saying something you will regret later.
These two behavior modifications will allow you to maintain your spiritual center even during the discussion period.
If you encounter a person who is attending for the sole purpose of disrupting the group, and I have, have the good sense to invite them to leave at once. In the beginning, I thought I could convert such people, only to have them feed on the weaker people in the group and ultimately destroy their longing to connect with their spiritual center. The purpose of the group is not evangelism, it is to provide a safe place for people to meditate in silence and stillness and hopefully find their “Great I am” center together. The conversation period is there so we can share our experiences and strengthen our spiritual centers, our inner being. Evangelism seems to happen all by itself, for other people are strongly attracted to those who are in their “Great I am” center. You will discover this to be true when your group quickly grows to 30 and you need to form two groups.