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, fortnight or month. An hour is an ideal length of time for a session. This might include half 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, marketing, plus 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 meditative 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 who turns up on any particular week, and it’s good to see each meeting as perfect, just the way it is.

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 to 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. Say something spontaneous that gets people laughing. 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. 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 best way to 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make and meditate: mala beads

13/04/2018 at 12:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Meditating with beads is an ancient practice that spans many cultures. It’s particularly suited to current times because it releases us from technology. Apps and timers can be good meditation companions, but this is altogether a simpler method.

In this post, I’ll describe some of the basic types of meditation beads available, show you how to make the simple example above, and then show you a wonderful meditation practice.

The ready-made option

There are many ready-made items out there, which come at a price. Mala beads usually feature 108 beads, made from wood, seeds, ceramics or stone, sometimes with spacers. ‘Mala’ is an old Sanscrit word for ‘garland’. This one, bought from a Tibetan shop many years ago, is made from bodhi seeds from the same type of tree that the Buddha is said to have sat under when he experienced enlightenment.

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Other meditation strings are much smaller. Twenty one beads is a common number, just the right size to wear around a wrist on an elasticated thread. This one, below, from thechakrastack, is made from fossilised wood. It features 20 beads, with additional metal beads as spacers.

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How to make your own

It can be a meditation in itself to string your own beads. It’s also very inexpensive. You can source wooden beads, often made from furniture off-cuts, at many bead shops online. Look for sustainable sources.

The 21-bead string shown at the top of this post could be worn as a loose bracelet, but is designed primarily to be held during meditation. To make it, you will need the following:

70 cm x 0.5 mm waxed cotton thread

18 x 10 mm wooden beads

3 x 7 or 8 mm peace jade beads (or another crystal such as quartz, rose quartz, agate or amethyst)

A small amount of pvc glue

Method:

Dip the ends of your cotton thread into the pvc glue. Squeeze the ends between your fingers and allow to dry. (This hardens the ends and makes it easier to thread the beads.)

Thread 1 peace jade bead, then 9 wooden beads.

Repeat.

Finally, thread 1 peace jade bead.

Tie your strings securely together, as close to the beads as you can. The ideal is to end up with a bead bracelet that has just a small amount of movement possible between the beads. Cut off excess thread leaving around 3 cm.

How to meditate with your beads

Simply hold one bead between two fingers, breathe in and out at a leisurely pace, focusing on your breath, then move on to the next bead and repeat.

During the breath, it works well to focus on a particular word of your choice. The idea is that the word, or words you choose become seed thoughts, spreading their energy into every corner of your life.

With many meditations, it is recommended that you sit in a particular place, at a particular time. Here, I’m sharing a different method, that can help you create a happy day, and a peaceful night.

Morning seed word meditation

When you wake, sit up in bed, and hold your meditation beads. Think of two words that you would like to have permeating through your day. You might choose ‘love’ and ‘peace’, for example; or ‘simplicity’ and ‘joy’; or ‘abundance’ and ‘sharing’. For this demonstration, we’ll choose ‘love’ and ‘peace’.

Now, starting at the string ends, move your fingers onto one of the peace jade beads. Breathe in ‘love’ by saying it silently to yourself on the in-breath. Breathe out ‘peace’ by saying it silently to yourself on the out-breath. Move your fingers to the next beads, and repeat. Keep repeating until you have completed the circle and reached the threads once more. Then put your beads to one side, and get on with your day. Be aware of the energies of love and peace recurring throughout your day.

Evening seed word meditation

At night time, sit up in bed, and hold your meditation beads. Reflect on your day with a sense of love, gratitude and peace. Choose two words that will help you let go of the day. You might choose ‘love’ and ‘thank you’; or ‘gift’ and ‘rest’; or ‘serenity’ and ‘peace’. Then meditate with your beads, as in the morning seed word meditation above. Put your beads down by your bed, and rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 rest of the week. 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.

In the heart of a lonely man

27/11/2017 at 10:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Spring tea

Fragrant and nourishing spring tea.

 

I remember travelling to a seaside town in the south west with my family. I remember that we went into a café for lunch. I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember the salty tang of the sea air, and the sun-burnt faces of fellow diners.

I remember breastfeeding my baby daughter in the café. I remember the bliss that arrived as the milk flowed.  And I remember that I smiled down at my daughter and looked up, still smiling, to gaze directly into the eyes of a man, sitting at a nearby table, who was staring at me. I remember how bereft he looked. His expression was one of absolute loss. It was a naked expression, as though he’d been caught out by his own silent sadness, almost as though he hadn’t even realised it was there.

That man’s expression has stayed with me these past 12 years. It seems to me that he was expressing, so beautifully, the longing of the lonely soul. We all have lonely elements within us – parts of us that went unnourished at a critical time. At its simplest, it seems to me that I could roll back time to see the man returned to his baby form, left to cry for lack of milk and nurturing.

So that’s why I wrote ‘Milk of Kindness’. And that’s why I’m so pleased it’s just been published in The Poetic Bond VII. I’m privileged to be one of 50 poets represented in the book, which was compiled by Trevor Maynard.

There’s no way that I can know what happened to the man in the café all that time ago. But wherever he is, I wish him peace and kindness.

That wonderful feeling when your dream comes true

20/11/2017 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments
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At the beginning of this year I set myself a challenge: get some poetry accepted for publication. Today, that wish 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 – the sort that can change lives. They’re worth getting to know!

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

Why this is a great time to become more serene

23/08/2017 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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When I saw this photo I couldn’t resist asking to ‘borrow’ it. It’s an image of my niece, Sophie, canoeing along a tributary to Loch Morlich in Scotland’s Cairngorm National Park.

For me, this image sums up the best of serenity.

To make progress, there’s generally some effort involved. There are always bound to be a few rocks along the route. But the best approach is to cultivate a calm manner – to do your best to remain balanced whatever lies in your path.

It’s good to see distractions for what they are: side shows that are not and never will be your true path. That way we don’t become over-reactive, or allow ourselves to be carried along by events.

At the same time, it’s important to be prepared, yet not overly so. It’s wise to take a few useful items with you for your safety and wellbeing, and to help you move forwards. However, it’s also ok to trust that your needs will be met, and to travel light.

I’ve been meditating on serenity daily since the start of the summer. Through busy times it’s frankly been a life-saver. This regular practice actually appears to make life’s challenges… well, less challenging. Which is why this moment, right now, is a great time for you to focus on being serene. Try it and see what happens.

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 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.

 

How to transform your relationships with one fascinating word

05/06/2017 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Blue mountainscape

Understanding  blends knowledge with kindness. When you apply understanding to a relationship, conflicts crumble. Dynamics alter. Ego gives way to empathy.

An understanding person comprehends something or someone with compassion. They hold a cup of knowledge that contains kindness and love as well as wisdom and perception.

Understanding can strengthen a floundering relationship. If a partnership is ending, it can enable that to happen with love rather than anger. Understanding can also be a wonderful doorway to laughter and humour which in themselves can heal relationships.

Understanding is our meditation word in the Studio this week.

How could applying this word alter a challenging situation for you?

 

An amethyst for meditation

05/05/2017 at 12:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Violet meditation

 

This beautiful, tiny amethyst came from a geological seam on Achill Island, Co Mayo. I’ve never been there but I once went foraging in a crystal shop a little further south along the Atlantic coastline, and came across this specimen glowing quietly on a shelf.

I photographed it today because it deserves its own portrait… and also to herald the fact that next week I’m running two meditation sessions on the subject of violet.

During meditation it’s fairly common to see colours spontaneously, with the inner eye – and the colour people see most often during my sessions is violet, or purple.

There’s something blissful about sitting still, in silence, and focusing on this vibrant colour. So I invite you to do just that.

Imagine that you are completely immersed in violet light. Picture every cell of your body bathing in violet’s uplifting rays. Keep doing that for a little while. And witness what happens within your body, mind and spirit.

Enjoy!

 

 

When you’re too busy to meditate, try this

20/12/2016 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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When life gets really busy… like right now… the easiest daily meditation doesn’t require a timer, or an app. It just requires you.

This is what you do. Sit comfortably. Rest your hands loosely on your lap.

Count the thumb and fingers of your left hand, one count per slow, relaxed breath. Lift each finger briefly in turn as you count.

Repeat with your right hand. So now you’ve counted five on each hand.

Then repeat the sequence twice more. So now in total you’ve counted five, six times over.

This is the ‘Three Tens’ meditation. When you’ve time for nothing else, do this. It will help!

 

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