Why to Visit Your Local Dharma Center and How to Be a Good Guest

1. Please tell me about yourself and your work with the Dharma Center.

I’m in a 12 step recovery program and the 11th step has to do with prayer and meditation.  I was rather resistant to the idea of prayer to some deity and focused more on meditation.  After a couple years of trying it on my own (with not much of what felt like success!) I spoke to a couple people I had heard talk about meditation.  One person gave me a copy of Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  The book was intimidating, but it came with a CD of guided meditations.  My other friend directed me to the Buddhist Dharma Center’s Wednesday evening beginner’s session.  

I attended those sessions for 10 years, eventually becoming one of the peer leaders, introducing others to the practice of meditation and the teachings of Buddhism.  That led to me begin teaching some University of Cincinnati Communiversity courses, starting a Buddhism and 12 Steps group, and becoming a member of the Board.  I’ve also started a book group and a couple contemplative reading groups at the Center. 

2. What does a Dharma Center do? Why would a professional like a lawyer want to visit a Dharma Center? What could they expect to gain from the experience? 

The Buddhist Dharma Center of Cincinnati provides an open and supportive environment for practicing meditation and studying the dharma. Our purpose is to cultivate a path which leads to awakening through:

  • Maintaining a weekly schedule of silent group meditation
  • Providing instruction in simple sitting and walking meditation common to all Buddhist traditions
  • Offering opportunities to deepen one’s practice through dharma study, periodic extended meditation, open discussions, and dharma talks
  • Supporting dharma practice at all levels
  • Sharing a compassionate approach to life with the larger community.
  • Openness and inclusivity are at the heart of dharma teachings and practice; the center is committed to kindness and respect for others, regardless of race, religion, cultural expressions, gender, gender identity, age or abilities. All are welcome!

We’re really a very casual, relaxed place.  There’s no teacher, no affiliation with any other group–we truly are just a group of people who want to practice and study together.  

I know your blog has talked a lot about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness—a clarity of thinking, less reactivity, lower stress levels, a more open and loving heart. But meditation can feel hard to do! My experience is that guidance from someone more experienced and the support of like-minded individuals is hugely beneficial.  Even after sitting for a number of years, there is still something wonderful about meditation with others.  Shared silence is palpably different than silence alone. 

3. How might the discussion or practice of meditation/mindfulness differ from what someone might encounter at a yoga studio or other source of secular mindfulness? 

I practice in the Theravedan, or Insight Tradition, where the primary form of meditation is Vipassana which means “seeing clearly.”   So for me the reason for meditating isn’t to relieve stress, calm my mind, or become less reactive (those are all great things!), but to clearly see how this mind works.  The Buddha taught that suffering arises from craving and that craving arises in the mind.  The way out of suffering is to clearly see the nature of the craving and how it leads to suffering.  So meditation is part of the path to total liberation!

I use the example of experiencing opera.  My first experience was listening to Sunday afternoon opera from the Metropolitan on a small radio.  It was probably AM! But I was enchanted.  Then some years later I heard and saw Beverly Sills on the Ed Sullivan Show and a new appreciation grew.  Then I saw an entire production of an opera on TV and experienced the visual element of opera.  And finally, I saw a live opera in a theater and was blown away by the sensory/emotional experience.  Every single one of those experiences was valid and valuable. Any form of meditation is valid and valuable, but when held in the context of the Buddha’s teachings, meditation takes on a much more profound and life-altering meaning.  

But having said that, many mindfulness and yoga teachers have strong spiritual practices and their teaching is often very similar to Buddhist teaching, just in a more secular language. 

4. Is there any etiquette or are there rules for visiting the Dharma Center? How can someone be a good guest? 

We ask that you follow the below guidelines to help ensure an environment and culture that honors the Dharma and this space of practice, teaching and inquiry. 

  • Please arrive a few minutes before a session starts
  • Once inside, before meditation begins, please remove your shoes and place under the bench along the wall.
  • Maintain silence during meditation.
  • Dress modestly, in attire appropriate to the occasion.
  • Turn off your phone and other noise making devices.
  • You may leave a session during walking meditation, which is also the time to use the restroom.
  • Keep your valuables with you during meditation.
  • The center has cushions, chairs and benches for meditation. Please brush off and straighten your cushion after meditation concludes.

5. Do you have to be a Buddhist or a religious person to benefit from practices or teachings at the Dharma Center? Is any experience with meditation required? 

In our Buddhism and 12 Step group we say “No meditation experience or particular faith or spiritual practice is required. Neither is membership in a twelve step program. We are simply people exploring the path out of the suffering brought about by craving and clinging in whatever form it arises.”

Many people who come to the Dharma Center also participate in other religions or spiritual programs.  One nice thing about silent meditation is that no one else knows what your intention is, how you are meditating, or what your beliefs are.  I think many people just find it beneficial to sit quietly with others.  

Our Wednesday  night group is especially good for people new to meditation.  There are shorter guided meditations, brief teaching and time for check-in and discussion.  

6. Are there any resources you’d like to share for those new to meditation? 

I’m a huge fan of the Insight Timer Meditation App.  There are thousands of guided meditations, a timer so you can set the length of time you want to sit, and even a way of tracking your meditation. I’ve also found tricycle.org to be very helpful.  It’s a print/online magazine with articles from all different Buddhist traditions.  It’s a great way to explore different styles of meditation.  

7. What is the most important thing you’d like those new to meditation, mindfulness, or Buddhism to understand?

Just do it.  Start small–five minutes at a time is how I started.  Let go of what you think meditation should be.  Practice mindfulness all the time.  Practice seeing clearly, hearing clearly, moving with intention.  And always, always be kind to yourself and others.  

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.

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