How to run a meditation group

11/05/2018 at 10:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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“How do I go about running a meditation group?” This is a question I’m asked from time to time, so I thought it would be helpful to share a few guidelines. These are based on meditation groups I’ve run for nine years in Wiltshire, UK.

Consider yourself a facilitator, not a teacher

The members of any group will bring their own skills and experience to a session. Often, one person’s dilemma will be answered by another person’s insights. Your role is not to provide the answers, but to create the space in which answers arise from within the group. Often that means choosing a theme for the session, and being ready to ask gentle questions to encourage all members to contribute. You also keep the group on topic with your relevant questions. If you have particular experience of meditation, or teaching, those things are obviously very useful. But the most important skills to have are probably the willingness to turn up, and to do the best you can, by being properly prepared.

Decide the perfect time and place

Decide on a fixed day and time every week, or fortnight, or so. Decide how long you’ll meet for. An hour is an ideal length of time. This might include half an an hour of silent meditation, followed by half an hour of discussion on the theme of the meditation. You also need to consider the venue. Many groups meet, at least at first, in the facilitator’s home. You then have to consider safety issues: who you are inviting into your home; and conversely, whether your home contains any hazards for unwary people. You may find it more practical to hire a local venue. Whatever you choose, look into what insurance may be required. And be consistent about finishing sessions on time.

Charge a fee

If a few friends are meeting in your living room it may seem hard to do this, but it really is a good idea to charge a small amount to cover expenses. You might spend money on refreshments, a small amount of marketing, and factor in ancillary costs, such as the provision of blankets to keep meditators cosy, or cleaning of the room. If you are hiring a hall, of course you need to charge enough to cover the cost of hire, refreshments, marketing and so on.

If you don’t charge a fee, your guests will begin to wonder if they owe you something. A fee evens things out. You are providing a service. The members are happy in the knowledge that they don’t owe you anything. You don’t develop the resentful feeling that you are doing something for nothing. A bowl on a table by the door with a fee marked beside it, and some change inside, is perfectly adequate. And if someone forgets to pay one week, don’t worry about it. It’s basically an honesty box, all part of the spirit of the gathering.

Set a timer

You will need to time your sessions. In silent meditation, it’s a good idea to use a timer to start a session, and to end it. A zen meditation timer, with chimes, is a nice way of doing this. I don’t especially recommend using a timer app on your phone. Although this is fine for solitary meditation, it lacks a certain ceremony, or ritual, that enhances group meditation.

Choose your method

You don’t have to follow a particular school of meditation. It’s essential, though, to come up with a format that feels right for you. The simplest format is this: Choose an uplifting word that lends itself to meditation. A word such as ‘Love’, ‘Peace’ or ‘Serene’ works well. Or you might chose an item from nature, such as ‘Leaf’, ‘Tree’, ‘Ocean’. The idea is that members of your group will sit still in silence, silently breathing in “I am” and breathing out the word. They might imagine the words are written in gold letters against a blue sky. Or they might picture, or sense, something that represents the word. The word itself – the theme – can be a new one for each session. You might, alternatively, keep the same word for a month, finding new insights every session. Encourage the members of the group to think of ‘I am’ as a collective force of the universe, rather than one person’s individual identity.

Offer a simple guided meditation

Optionally, you could guide them through the beginnings of the meditation: invite them to sit comfortably, close their eyes, become aware of their breath, their feet on the ground… invite them to visualise, or sense a peaceful scene that embodies the theme. Lead them to a period of silent meditation of 20 minutes. Set the timer at the beginning of the silence so that you can meditate fully yourself. When the timer goes at the end, you might offer a few words to lead them out of the meditation, or you might have pre-arranged that the meditation simply finishes at that point.

Singing bowl variation: instead of a timer, you could use a beautiful instrument such as a singing bowl to signal the beginning and end of the silent period. However, this does mean that you need to keep an eye on the time yourself, so this may potentially be less restful for you.

Research your theme

Before each session, it’s helpful if you as facilitator have researched your theme. You might have learnt the earliest meaning of the word. You might have found a poem that evokes the theme beautifully. These are good things to share with the group. You might turn up with a useful meditative technique or an idea for a short guided meditation that you can share with others. You might share some easy meditation principles. Or give them a simple strategy for when they are too busy to meditate. 

Be kind

Don’t put pressure on your guests, or expect them to do anything in particular. They are here to meditate, and that is all. You are the facilitator, the one who makes it happen. It is always wonderful to see which souls turn up on any particular week, and it’s good to see each meeting as perfect, just the way it is. Occasionally you might find that no one turns up. I suggest that you meditate anyway. Maybe that is exactly what you need, on that particular day. Be grateful for the space, and the opportunity. Your gratitude and serenity will build up in the room over time, creating a place that is ever more conducive to meditation.

Be practical

The simplest of themes, focused on in a supportive atmosphere, can lead to emotional healing. Especially in the discussion that follows a period of silent meditation, an individual may become tearful. It’s helpful to follow these three guidelines for any group. And make sure tissues are always quietly available. At the same time, realise that you are not a counsellor (unless you are one, of course!) You are not there to mend anyone. If you feel out of your depth, you can very gently offer a suitable next step to a member of the group: they might visit their GP and ask for a referral for counselling, or some other strategy. In practice, it would be extremely rare for this to be necessary. The group supports each individual with compassion, empathy and humour. The humour itself is a natural part of any gathering, always to be welcomed.

Make sure everyone is well grounded before they leave. If need be, have them stamp their feet, or drink a glass of water. Make use of that wonderful thing, humour. Talk about what they are doing later that day. Make time for a certain amount of small talk after the session has ended, while they are collecting bags and coats and shoes on their way out.

Keep a record

Keep a record of your themes, of the number of attendees, and of the small financial sums collected. Do not keep any notes about things that people said, as that could infringe data protection rules. You will need a record of your themes, in particular, to avoid too much repetition, and to gain an overview of how the group is developing.

Good luck

I hope these guidelines will be useful, but your group will be unique to you – and that’s the way it should be. Make decisions for your group based on love, rather than fear. Do things that make you feel joyful, and your group will surely thrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is why you should start your week with a meditation

08/01/2018 at 1:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Most Mondays since 2009, I have started the working week by sitting still in silence at 10 am for half an hour and inviting other people to join me in the silence. It’s something I totally recommend. This is why.

Meditating clears the mind. It enables fresh ideas to emerge spontaneously during the days that follow. It creates a discipline that feeds beneficially into the rest of your schedule. It encourages a relaxed, alert mental outlook. Over time, it can help you to be less reactive to the emotional highs and lows of work and home life. It builds up new neural pathways in the brain that help with ordering of information and staying on task. And it can enable you to become aware of negative habitual thoughts – such as a tendency to blame yourself, or other people, for things that go wrong – so you are no longer a victim of such thinking and can use your energy instead to come up with new solutions. It builds a resilient, resourceful mind. And it feels good.

Scientific American published some interesting research, which shows, among other things, that expert meditators have diminished activity in anxiety-related areas of the brain. It also showed that the pre-frontal cortex and the insula regions – involved with processing attention, sensory information and internal bodily sensations – are more developed in experienced meditators.

These are all great reasons to meditate every day, and I recommend that too. However, there’s something special about meditating in company, and Monday mornings are an optimum time to do that. As Caroline, one of my fellow meditators says, “If you meditate on Monday at 10 am, you don’t break up the day, and it sets you up for the entire working week.”

So I recommend you put Monday in your diary and treat it like an office meeting – with yourself, your friends and colleagues, and your inner guidance.

Here is an easy guide to meditating.

And here are details of the Monday meditation sessions that I run.

That wonderful feeling when your dream comes true

20/11/2017 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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The Poetic Bond announcement 2

At the beginning of this year I set myself a challenge: get some poetry accepted for publication. Today, that dream has come true. The Poetic Bond VII, an anthology edited by Trevor Maynard, features work by 50 poets from 11 countries. Together, they create a vivid snapshot of now. My three poems are set in England, New Zealand, and infinity. They feature love, loneliness and yes, there are dragons. Quite a lot of dragons. But they are the beautiful, good-to-have-around sort. They’re worth getting to know!

Do go take a peek at Amazon UK or Amazon.com

What Westerners can learn from Eastern meditation

13/06/2017 at 10:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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When meditation goes well, it’s brilliant. Blissful. Calming. However, many people, especially beginners, struggle to reach that point. They talk about ‘failing’ and ‘not being able to meditate’, as though it’s an exam they’ve somehow flunked.

I’ve heard this despondent comment many times over the nine years that I’ve been running meditation groups in the UK. When newcomers turn up, they often say, “I can’t meditate, but I want to try and give it another go”. Or “I tried meditation once before, and I couldn’t do it.”

And, of course, I regularly meet people who wouldn’t go anywhere near a meditation group, believing that they are doomed to failure so it’s not even worth ‘trying’. But there’s something wistful in the way they tell me this. It’s as if they suspect they’re missing something, and they just don’t know what to do about it.

There is an interesting reason why Westerners may sometimes find it more difficult to meditate than their Eastern counterparts. It all comes down to the name itself: ‘meditation’. Or, to be exact, the origins of the name.

The Western approach

We can trace the verb ‘to meditate’ back to Latin. It meant: to ponder, reflect, consider, devise. In the old European languages it also meant: ‘to measure’, ‘to judge’, ‘to protect’, ‘to provide for’ and ‘to deliberate’. Go further back in time, to the original ‘seed’ language that early humanity shared, and it meant ‘to take appropriate measures’, ‘to give advice’ and ‘to heal’.  This was the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) seed word, ‘med’, which also evolved into ‘mediate’ and medicine among other words.

The historical Western approach to meditation is therefore driven by a well-intentioned desire for results: the solving of a problem, the righting of a wrong, the mending of an ill.

The Eastern approach

In the East, the Sanskrit for meditation is ‘dhyana’. Other Eastern languages have variants on this. The PIE seed word for dhyana is ‘dheie’ meaning ‘to see, to look’. The word ‘Zen’, signifying an aspect of Buddhism with a deeply contemplative approach to life, shares the same seed word.

So in the East, ‘dhyana’ is the practice of simply being, simply witnessing without judgement.

Western meditators broadly follow the Eastern tradition. We sit in silence, simply being… but we also have a cultural legacy which whispers to us that we need to get results from our quiet time.

A happy fusion

Of course, we can’t really divide the world into neat East-West packages. Wherever you live, whatever your origins, you’re pretty well guaranteed to experience the ‘monkey chatter’ of your mind during meditation. And this can do a great job of distracting you with wide-ranging thoughts.

But your approach to the monkey chatter can make the difference between frustration and happiness during your practice – and that’s where an awareness of meditation’s ancient definitions can be helpful.

If we accept that we have chosen to sit in silence, focusing on a particular word, or concept, or image, or sound, simply to witness without trying to change anything, then we are much more likely to enjoy our meditation sessions. Each time we notice that our thoughts have strayed, we calmly remind ourselves that we are here to meditate, and we return to our point of focus.

No judgement. Just practice.

To summarise, we meditate simply to meditate. There is no end result we are looking for.  So we cannot ‘fail’. We are simply being conscious witnesses of the moment.

And yet, when we make a regular practice of meditating in this way, with no expectation of reward, the insights and inspiration do come. Meditation focuses and refreshes the mind like nothing else.

So if you really struggle to meditate, take heart. You are not alone. Now that you know the ancient secret buried in the very name of meditation, you can choose to let go of the striving and, instead, embrace the serenity.

 

Six steps to perfect prediction

20/03/2017 at 9:15 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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woman-hand-girl-glass 2Photo: Karolina/Kaboompics

Prediction is a popular pursuit in many areas, including business, politics, weather, economics, and (of course) the field of intuition. This article is about channelling one’s own intuition to gain a sense of what is likely to happen in the future. Perhaps the following tips will be useful for economists and weather forecasters too. Here they are, in six not always straightforward steps.

  1. Let go of any personal agenda. If you can’t do that, your best predictions will be no better than guesses, and often far worse. If you secretly want a certain outcome, you will distort your interpretation of everything you see, or sense. If you are not aware of this personal bias, or even in denial about it, your attempts to predict will fail. It’s good to work at knowing yourself. What, for example, do you fear? Unless you deal with your fears, they will pop up and distort your intuitions about the future.
  2. Make a life-long practice of being an observer of people, of life, of events. The more you observe, the more consciously aware you become of patterns. Patterns are everywhere. We tend to believe that we have self-determination – that we can shape our own future. That is true. But beneath the conscious level we ourselves are a part of many overlapping and interweaving patterns. This means that our choices are not always entirely our own. They are an expression of our family, our community, our country, our culture. Even when we rebel against these influences, they still work on us in unconscious ways. When we see the many patterns of life clearly, we are more likely to notice breaks in the patterns, and the effects of those disturbances to the general order of things. Observing the pattern of cause and effect is in itself a life-long discipline.
  3. Understand the process of prediction. Think of yourself as a channel. To be more precise, your conscious mind is the conduit through which unconscious information flows. You might think of pioneering psychologist Carl Jung here: he suggested that beneath the realms of our individual unconscious are vast realms of collective unconscious knowledge that we all share. When predicting, it’s useful to think of yourself drawing on this vast well of unconscious knowledge.
  4. Be clear about what you are aiming to predict. Ask a question. Consider whatever comes up in relation to that question.
  5. Use tools in moderation. Understand that no tools are essential, but they can be helpful. Tools might include scrying instruments, such as a crystal ball or a blank mirror, that you gaze into with a lightly unfocused gaze – a tv screen for the mind. Tools might also include oracle cards, or simply watching the sky or land and noticing what you notice. What comes forward for your attention? What relevance does it have to your question?
  6. Relax. Let go. Answers may come quickly, slowly or not at all. Sleep on it. Keep a dream journal. Be open to answers in your dreams, which can cut right to heart of an issue and reveal the psychology of a person or a nation. When you wake in the morning, pause… and sense the beautiful fresh blankness of the new day, like an empty slate on which your intuition can write. Take the whole process lightly. Be grateful for insights.

Finally, remember that prediction is always based in the present moment. It is subject to change. If a person starts thinking differently, they behave differently and the future changes. So we can only really tell what is likely to happen if people continue as they are. Above all, be kind. We always have the power to shape the future for the better.

For a healthy life, love is the answer

10/03/2017 at 5:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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i-m-priscilla-105714Photo courtesy of I’m Priscilla/Unsplash

Think of the good relationships in your life. These could include a partner, children, parents, sibling, nephew or niece. A small group of supportive friends or colleagues. Maybe an animal companion or two. Whoever they are, think of them now….

Chances are you feel a glow deep inside you, a softening and relaxing of your whole body. It’s uplifting to think of those we love and care for. And now there is plenty of evidence that having these relationships helps us to stay healthy too.

A Harvard study  which began in 1938 and is still ongoing has been tracking over 700 men, some from inner-city Boston and the others from Harvard. They were teenagers when the study began. Seventy members of the original group are still alive. The men’s wives and children are now also being included. Along the way, the researchers have discovered that people with good relationships tend to be healthier too.

“Good, close relationships predicted not just that they would stay happier, but they would also stay healthier,” says Dr Robert Waldinger, the study’s current director.

Fame and fortune – the things people so often believe they want – simply don’t have the same effect. Having enough is all that’s required as far as happiness is concerned.

Realistic, not rose-tinted

Good relationships don’t always go smoothly. But that’s just part of being human. What matters is that you feel the other person fundamentally has your back.

When relationships do end, it’s good for our long-term health to build new bonds with like-minded others.

Joining new clubs may feel daunting, but it could be the healthiest gift you can give yourself.

It’s never about the number of friends you have. What matters is the quality of your relationships. Many will agree that loneliness in a crowd is far worse than pleasant periods of chosen solitude.

Loneliness is toxic. In the Harvard study, loneliness is associated with a shorter life span. Yet it’s sadly common. Relate’s new study of relationships in Britain, ‘The Way We Are Now’, has found that 13% of UK people have no close friends, and this number has risen in the past two years.

Relate has also found that just under half of all people feel lonely sometimes. A similar number of people living together feel lonely often or all of the time.

Five steps to happiness

Nurturing the good relationships we have, and building new ones when we feel the need, are linked strongly with happiness and health. This is an active process. We have to work at it a bit. Here are some suggestions.

• Write a thoughtful letter by hand to someone you care for, full of appreciation and kindness. Ring up an old friend you haven’t spoken to lately.

• Say “I love you” often to those you love.

Volunteer at a local charity that’s aligned with your interests and skills.

• Join a Meetup or local community group with similar interests to you. Regularly attend get-togethers.

• Finally, there is one practice that will make all of the above easier to accomplish. It’s simple really: love and cherish yourself. Remember that you are a unique member of this amazing human race. You are loveable. For many of us, this takes a little work. But it’s worth it. When you can cherish yourself, it’s infinitely easier to love others – and to allow others to love you in return.

Dream school: learn while you sleep

29/09/2011 at 12:10 pm | Posted in Intuition, Uncategorized, Wellbeing | 2 Comments
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Ask for solutions to come to you in the night, while you sleep.

Mary was a new client who was struggling with a new course that she’d started. “The problem is my memory,” she told me. “I just don’t remember things as well as I used to.”

I told her to stop trying and start relaxing. “That’s all very well for you to say,” she retorted. “But this situation is making me feel stressed. How can I possibly relax?”

So this is what I told her. Maybe it will be useful for you too…

Before you go to sleep at night, while you are lying in bed, ask for the most suitable expert that could possibly exist to help you with your memory, or the subject which you are learning. Ask for expert tuition in this subject while you sleep. Thank the expert, feeling happy in the knowledge that you will get the help you need.

Then… go to sleep.

In the morning when you wake up you may or may not remember any dreams. That doesn’t matter. You will, however, find your learning goes more smoothly. Repeat, at night, for any specific help that you require.

Mary reported back a few days later. “I don’t know how it works, but it does,” she said. “It’s as if I’m using another part of my brain to help me. I almost feel as though I already know what I’m learning.”

Mary now frequently attends dream school while she sleeps. And so can you.

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