Technology is a wonderful thing. It has enabled people from all over the world to learn about the practice of meditation. Think about it. You can now have access to some of the world’s best meditation teachers in any number of means which are immediately available. You have a selection of apps that can teach practices and provide guided meditations. You can buy books from thinkers and teachers across the centuries. And if you look online, you’ll find any number of courses from any tradition you may wish to try.
I have used all of these things. I still do. I have benefitted from them immensely. I’m not here to tell you that they are not good. But I am here to say that they are not as good as learning meditation with friends.
I started meditation entirely on my own ten years ago. At the time, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I was trying meditation. I didn’t even tell my husband until my dabbling with meditation at 1 or 2 minutes at a time evolve into a habit. It took me even longer to tell others about my practice, but by then the results were so clear I couldn’t help myself.
Eventually, I decided I was ready for more and I signed up for a 1-day intensive in my area. Over time, I attended longer retreats and then some courses. During the pandemic, I tried more options online, from courses to virtual retreats. More recently, I have resumed my in-person meditation events and I remembered how helpful it is.
I know it can be hard to find a meditation group in some areas and even harder to show up as a stranger to a new place. I’m writing this post to let you know what you might find if you work up the courage to find and join a meditation group in your area. Here are the 4 reasons why meditating with a group can be helpful.
1. Peer Pressure Can Be Good.
If you meditate in person, the odds are that there will be some nerves and jitters at first as you adjust to sitting and breathing with other people. Eventually, though, you may find as I did that your mind settles down far more easily in a group than by yourself. Why?
Of course, humans are mammals. As social creatures, we are made to be together. Have you ever been to a concert or sports event and found yourself overcome with the emotion of the crowd? The same is true in reverse. Meditation in a group can help you relax and settle because everyone else is relaxed and settled.
And even on the times you aren’t relaxed and settled, you may find the group helpful too. When you are struggling with a session, being in a group may help you stick with the practice simply to avoid disrupting others. Clearly, if you need a break or have to move, that’s not out of bounds. But sometimes with habits, we just need one more reason to keep saying yes and being in a group offers that in the hard sessions.
2. It Can Add Variety to Your Practice.
If you sit and do nothing for long enough, you are bound to notice one thing: meditation can be boring. This is not a reason to quit but your mind will tell you it is. In reality, though, boredom is an amazing reaction to watch. We often think of boredom as the end of the story, but in reality it’s an opening question.
Boredom is really more about our judgments and reactions than the thing we think is boring. So, if meditation is boring, one question might be: how many things can you do entirely on your own and not get bored? If you are being honest, there probably aren’t too many.
Pure and simple, meditation in a group is a way to add variety to your practice. It may mean you are meditating in a new space, there may be new people, there might be some new rituals (i.e. chanting, bowing, etc.), and you may try new practices or modalities. This variety offers the chance of building skills and seeing your practice in a new way.
3. You Learn You Aren’t So Weird.
This one may be my favorite. No shade to Tara Brach or Sharon Salzberg or any of the other world-renowned teachers I adore. But I may have learned more from the other meditators on retreat who asked questions about practice.
These people overtly stated that they did not know the answers. They announced their struggles to the group. These people were asking for guidance. Why was this so amazing?
Well, first of all, it was amazing for me to hear people admit that they weren’t perfect and didn’t have it all figured out. It helped to see the teachers respond with humanity, compassion, and often humor to try to help. Because these people were brave enough to ask questions, it made me feel brave enough to ask my own.
The other thing that really helped though was that most of the questions related to things I had struggled with too. Was I allowed to swallow? Was I allowed to scratch an itch? What if I had a train of thought that would not stop? What if I kept falling asleep or spacing out? All these questions and more told me that my problems weren’t weird at all but a normal part of the practice.
4. You Meet Awesome People.
I was wrong. This one is my real favorite. One thing I have learned about venturing forth with my own hobbies and interests is that you meet cool people in the process. Even for an introvert like me, meeting and bonding with new people is easy when I am doing something I enjoy.
If you find a meditation group to learn with or sit with, you are bound to get to know some great people. This might be at your yoga studio, church, local Dharma center, or your office. If you sit with the same group for long enough, you will get to know people. Chit chat happens or sometimes you make friends through Q&A sessions at the end of a practice.
In general, the people I have met in meditation groups or courses have been thoughtful, kind, warm, and open. They are people looking to heal, grow, and lead intentional lives in community with others. With all the division, difficulty and strife in life and work, I have found it heartening to see and sit with people who are trying to create peace for themselves and others.
These are the four reasons I keep looking for opportunities to learn and practice meditation in a community. If you are looking for the same thing, you may try looking for courses or open sits in your area at your local yoga studio, church or worship space, or a Dharma or Zen Center.
There are also many online and virtual options for courses, retreats, and sits. These may not offer the same support as an in-person event, but they offer convenience and a chance to preview group meditation with minimal effort. Lawyers interested in trying this out should check out the Mindfulness in Law Society Virtual Sits every Monday and Wednesday afternoon.
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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