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Mindful : February 2016
up on your own, sitting with a group can pro- vide the framework that helps you keep going. Classes can offer systematic guided instruction, as well as some company on the journey, which veteran teachers say is no small thing. “There is just something about being in community,” says Hickman. “It keeps it fresh.” Selassie says that the primary relationship you are building is “with your own mind and experience, and one way you enter into that is with relation to others. You learn so much not only from the teacher but from the group.” In Meleo-Meyer’s experience working with meditation classes, from the very first session people began to share what brought them. “It begins this sense of all the different ways that have drawn us together into this work, this adventure. As people hear from each other there is a sense of relationship—“That was just what I was going to say!” “I thought I was the only one.” At its best, the group becomes a learning commu- nity and a way for people to feel less isolated. “As we cultivate growing awareness, as we awake in our lives,” says Meleo-Meyer, “ this is as primal as being included in the circle around the fire.” That said, finding the right class for you may take some effort. It’s important to sample some different classes and approaches to find one that feels right for you, says Meleo-Meyer. Does the class appeal? Do you like the person teaching? Does the class feel like it speaks to new medi- tators? Can you sit in on a class before making up your mind? Some meditation centers offer secular practice, some have a spiritual bent, and some emphasize diversity, such as the New York Insight Meditation Center and the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland, California. “Hav- ing a diverse body of leaders, teachers, volun- teers, peer leaders who lead meditation groups is important,” says Selassie. “We aim to create a community where people feel truly welcomed.” Look for Follow-Up “In my experience,” says McCown, “after people have taken a course, at week six or eight they think, how do I keep going? How do I stay con- nected? Many larger programs now have a retreat day or graduate classes. That is part of a lovely tradition and there is probably not enough of it.” “We have all these wonderful programs but many don’t provide a lot of ongoing support for people after they finish,” says Selassie. A class may last for six or eight weeks, and then it’s over. When the structure and companionship are gone, it’s easy to let your practice lapse. That’s when anything from a casual get-together with fellow students to a formal retreat may offer the encouragement you need. Whatever setting you may be drawn to, if the price is steep for your means, it’s worth it to inquire about reduced fees or scholarships. Most organizations have a policy of offering financial support to students, seniors, and others who need it. But you will need to ask. It’s also a good idea to find out as much as you can about the program and setting. Expensive retreats may skew toward an affluent group; more affordable retreats a more mixed group. Seek Community At its best meditation is a lifelong practice. If you keep going you will get immense rewards. And many people who have been meditating for a while keep repeating that common refrain: Company can help. “Mindfulness meditation changes people,” says McCown. “And when we are with people, we create and explore together. The way I am built I couldn’t have taught MSBR for more than a decade unless it was different every time and it is different every time when people come together and share their experiences of the practice. It can be very moving.” The group can actually lead to changes we feel in our body, he adds. Not only do we have the flight or fight response in our physiology, but once we are in communion with others and feel safe, we have an emotional shift. We can articulate better, we get closer to people. When meditating, which has potential for calming and reg ulating emo- tions, our capacity is expanded because of being with others. “It suggests to me,” says McCown, “if you are going to learn, you need to learn in a group to get the full benefit.” When Steve Hickman finds his dedication dragging—and he does, even after teaching Meditation is not something you only do by yourself. That’s a myth. It’s not private navel-gazing. There’s a big element of sharing with others and finding and giving support. Lost? Confused? Ready to quit? Reach out to a mindfulness center and ask to talk to a teacher, or look for one online. There’s no need to go it alone. 44 mindful February 2016 meditation