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Thread: Advice on Starting a Sitting Group

  1. #1
    Senior Member Sekishi's Avatar
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    Advice on Starting a Sitting Group

    Hi everyone,

    In addition to sitting with you, my brothers and sisters here at Treeleaf, I have been sitting with a small local group for the past three years or so (they even joined me for Jukai this year). Until now we have been meeting in the homes of members, and have not done much outreach into the community (word of mouth only). However, recently there has been some talk about possibly changing this -- working with a local non-profit multi-denominational "spiritual center" and/or making our meetings and sitting public (in the sense that we may list them in the local paper and such, not in the sense that we will be sitting in public).

    Our little group is primarily Soto and Tibetan folks, and although some of the folks have been practising for decades, none of us is in a position to "teach". Which is to say, mostly we would "just sit", no teaching, and certainly none of us would claim to represent a specific school of Buddhism (honestly, being in a rural and conservative community, even using the "B" word might be a bad idea).

    So anyhow, I am writing, because I'm curious if anyone has any experience in starting a local group, and if so opinions, advice, tips, or experiences to share.

    Deep bows,
    Sekishi

    髭 Sekishi / Eric

  2. #2
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    The only thing I can think of offhand is maybe have some way of rotating the "leadership" responsibility among as many members as possible. If you say no one is qualified to teach, then you can all teach each other. You'll probably find that you're all qualified to teach, in one way or another.

    Gassho,

    Kirk

  3. #3
    Senior Member Juki's Avatar
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    I sit with a group much like yours on Wednesday nights. A few Zen people, a few Tibetan and Shambala, and a few who are non-Buddhist yogis. We sit at my yoga studio. It s on the studio schedule and any of the studio students can join. All we ask for is 30 minutes of silence and three dollars. So, if there is a yoga studio near you, meet with the owner and it may work for you.

    Gassho,
    Juki
    "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

  4. #4
    Senior Member Sekishi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc View Post
    The only thing I can think of offhand is maybe have some way of rotating the "leadership" responsibility among as many members as possible. If you say no one is qualified to teach, then you can all teach each other. You'll probably find that you're all qualified to teach, in one way or another.
    Thank you Kirk, your point is well taken. When I found the group, I guess I had been sitting solo for around a year. In the beginning I was flailing around, reading many books, exploring various (and often quite different) traditions. And then once a week, I would go and just sit. Sit with people who had sat for many years, some with teachers who are "household names" in the Buddhist world. In a very real sense, "just sitting", was (and obviously still is) our teacher. Being the dull student that I am, it took a while for me to understand this, but eventually I realized the beauty of this group of people, engaging in simple contemplative practice, regardless of their particular flavor of Dharma (of even lack thereof).

    Gassho,
    Sekishi

    髭 Sekishi / Eric

  5. #5
    Lovely!

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  6. #6
    Senior Member Nindo's Avatar
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    Hi Sekishi,

    I'm running two groups. One meets monthly in the Unitarian church and started with Unitarians who were interested in Buddhism. Via facebook several people have joined on and off, most coming with a little bit of Vipassana experience. The other group meets weekly in an Acupuncture clinic. The owner wanted to set aside one hour per week for himself to meditate, and at the same time open it up to clients and the community, free of charge. The basis for this second group is the work of Kabat-Zinn in stress reduction.

    When I started, I was very aware that most people would not be interested because of the dharma, but come with an interest in mindfulness and/ or stress reduction. Therefore, I don't attempt to "teach" the dharma, I give basic instructions on how to observe the breath, how to deal with pain, thoughts and distractions, what to do during walking meditation, how to bring bits of awareness to everyday activities. For the monthly group, which meets for 2 hours, I do a guided metta meditation.

    So, apart from finding a space, using advertising and social media and so on, the main point to consider in my view - seeing you mention a multi-denominational "spiritual center" - is whether you are OK to accept people who don't care about Buddhism and just want to find some quiet time and relief. This can mean that people will show up who are dealing with a lot of stress, illness, mental issues, chronic pain etc. who need guidance, either in guided meditation or in Q&A before/ after the sitting. You can't expect that everybody will be able to "just sit". Or, people may come with different spiritual backgrounds and see meditation in a different way. Everybody is sitting quietly, but you have to be OK if they start talking to you afterwards about their chakras and energy channels and what have you.

    In the weekly group, we tried to have introductory sessions every second week of a month, but new people may still show up any given Thursday. This means I have to give meditation instruction to a new person in a hurry while the others are bored. Some sitting groups require participants to attend separate intro sessions first, but then the hurdle is higher for people to join. For me, it would be ideal to take the newbies into another room while the old hands are sitting; maybe I'll try that next time.

    You also need to be fine with people telling you that this is the best thing they ever found, and then never coming again. In both groups I have a pretty steady core group of about 4-5 people.

    I've been through a lot of questioning whether the groups are worth the effort without a focus on practicing the dharma together. But then people were so appreciative and I got to see this as service, an offering. It is not my business what participants get out of it. The groups don't alleviate my longing for a physical Zen group in a zendo, but they do give back to me in many ways.

    Let me know if you want to know more on anything specific

    Gassho,
    Nindo
    Last edited by Nindo; 04-07-2014 at 01:00 AM.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Nindo, gassho.
    迎 Geika

  8. #8
    This is wonderful Sekishi ... I wish you all the best! =) Happy sitting!

    Gassho
    Shingen
    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Sekishi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nindo View Post
    When I started, I was very aware that most people would not be interested because of the dharma, but come with an interest in mindfulness and/ or stress reduction. Therefore, I don't attempt to "teach" the dharma, I give basic instructions on how to observe the breath, how to deal with pain, thoughts and distractions, what to do during walking meditation, how to bring bits of awareness to everyday activities. For the monthly group, which meets for 2 hours, I do a guided metta meditation.

    ...

    Let me know if you want to know more on anything specific
    I don't know about anyone else, but I certainly do not feel I am in the position to teach anything (dharma, observing the breath, or even how TO breath), let alone doing guided meditations. Want to come teach in rural Virginia?

    Seriously though, thank you for all the information Nindo. You bring up some great points for further discussion in our little group. I just may have more questions after our next meeting and discussion!

    Deep bows,
    Sekishi

    髭 Sekishi / Eric

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