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Is Group Meditation an Oxymoron?


Is Group Meditation an Oxymoron?

By Martin LeFevre

I have never understood the concept and practice of group meditation. The term has always sounded like an oxymoron to me. To my mind, awakening meditation is an inherently solitary art. Sometimes I take sittings in the backyard, but the freeway is less than a mile away and can often be heard. Most days I take the time to go for a walk and sitting in the large park that runs through town, or better yet, the semi-wilderness just beyond this small city in northern California.

When I sit in the backyard, I don’t resist the noise of the highway. To me, the noisy mind is like the constant din of a freeway. Resistance and opposition are futile; they only introduce conflict and more noise.

Sitting with a group of people in a room seems like sitting in a little park in the center of San Francisco. I’ve lived there and done that, but it makes awakening meditating, already an arduous art, that much more difficult. Are people who try to awaken meditation together seeking comfort or affirmation in the group?

The traffic that runs through our mind is not merely from our own accumulated and unaddressed experience, but from old family and relationship business, and more metaphysically, the background din of the culture in which one happens to live.

The brain requires regular periods of wakeful quiet, and in turn, a quiet mind requires space and solitude. Sometimes I wonder if I’m missing something about group meditation, but the last time I attended such as session, the facilitator actually said that communal sitting allows him “to feed off the group.” Egad.

Certainly there is merit in taking a few minutes of silence before beginning a dialogue, but for the person who regularly experiences the radical shifts in consciousness that characterizes the meditative state, sitting with a bunch of other busy minds as one attends to one’s own makes it that much harder.

Theoretically, one can meditate anywhere, anytime, but essentially one can only awaken meditation alone. That doesn’t mean being isolated, but embracing the richness and miracle of solitude.

I saw the drops on the stream before I felt them. The variable sky had completely occluded just after I sat down at the table downstream from the footbridge. Gently, but insistently, the clouds began to disgorge their moisture.

A steady rain fell for half an hour. In addition to my hat and shell, the bay tree overhead provided enough shelter. I remained with the impulse to leave until it passed. Then I saw rain for the first time.

It was more than a drizzle but less than a downpour. After ten minutes or so, long after the concern about getting wet or looking foolish had passed, there was an insight that completely surprised me.

Gentle rain in early spring is shelter for the land. It encloses every living thing in its encompassing, regenerative roof. There is an inherent reverence experiencing such a rain. Water is the essence of life, and life, at least new life, is joy. Both qualities were in abundance as the rain fell.

Two women, both with dogs, walked by as the drizzle came down. The first had a friendly, open, pretty face, with eyes that smiled before she said hello. When I said ‘nice rain,’ she exclaimed, “It’s beautiful!”

Meditation descended as softly as the rain. Then there was just the sight, sound, and smell of the present moment. When there is no self-concern and no thought, just beauty, joy rains down, and bubbles up within.

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