Sharing our practice in a group
– by Bernat Font
Just as when we meditate the mind flies out to other worlds – and when you notice this you may choose to bring it back – so groups have collective minds that do the same. And just as with our own minds, we learn to identify where the collective mind frequently goes, what diverts it from the subject, why it flees, and so on. We gently notice that we have moved away from what guided the conversation, and with our intervention we bring it back, without punishing anyone but without shyness: ‘Going back to the earlier question, I have observed in me that…’
Having said that, there are times when a conversation takes unexpected but fruitful diversions and returning it to the marked path would be forced or inadequate. This is not about policing the debate, but about seeking a balance that respects an organic group discussion while not losing sight of our intention, the ‘why we meet’. Yet another middle way…
A different form of (partial) avoidance is swimming in surrounding waters. That is, to address the issue but in an indirect or generalised manner, with little attention to the specifics of the question that has been suggested as an exploration. I have seen this in a multitude of environments – and I recognise it is my particular OCD.
A few months ago in a study retreat, we were divided into small groups to inquire and share. My group was assigned the question ‘How have you practiced with desire? What has worked and what hasn’t?’ Not only did the first intervention already set sail for ‘Is desire bad?’ – a textbook example of fleeing to the theoretical, as interesting as that question may be – but most of the conversation tiptoed vaguely around the subject. Only very exceptionally was the specific question of what had we found useful addressed.
This may happen if the topic raised has mostly not been part of our practice. A supportive environment should allow that admission with equally open arms: ‘I have not practiced this’, ‘I had never thought about it’, ‘I forgot to do the exercise’. In your community’s meditation sessions there should be no reason to pretend; a sitting group welcomes both the place where you are now in your life and your possibility to keep journeying. Sincerity opens up paths and invites excursions, though it may not always be comfortable; to pretend encourages denial, not full awareness.
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