Being lucky enough to be visiting Vancouver, British Columbia last week I went to The Shambhala Centre just outside the downtown core, over the Cambie St. bridge. at W16th (couple streets down from this intersection). The goal was to take part in their open house, where they offered guided meditation instruction and a speaker with tea after. Having little experience in a group format meditation session I was a bit closed off from the experience to begin with.
The room was very small, with about 25-30 cushions placed very close to one another with only a couple inches separating themselves. There was one larger seating mat at the front for the instructor and after everyone had entered the room, we waited patiently with anticipation of who this instructor would be. After a couple minutes of sitting very close together on these box-like sitting cushions a very bright faced happy man entered the room in jeans and a long sleeve fleece pull-over (white male in his 50’s). He had a very pleasant being to him which made everyone in the room feel a bit more relaxed for some reason.
After some ice breaking chit-chat he began taking the group through a body awareness meditation for 3 minutes. He really focused on acknowledging your thoughts but not toiling with them and told us to be the watcher of our breaths. After a short talk we entered into another set of meditation where he really emphasized the importance of posture. Most people had been sitting with such humpbacks that we never really thought about how weak our lower backs were and how that affected our diaphragm use to pull in the much needed oxygen. After a couple of minutes of continued breathing I could really start feeling a strain on my back, forcing a posture that was foreign to my body but felt appropriate. This came as a shock to me because I have always considered myself to have a strong back and in decent shape, but nonetheless needed to maintain the position.
With the teachers gentle tone and pleasant smile he offered dialogue between the new students and himself, allowing people to ask big picture questions like ” what is the purpose or meaning of meditation”?The chatter seemed to draw out and my head went to the place of “shut up everyone, lets practice more”, but unfortunately the class wasn’t centred around only my needs that day!
Our final set was focused on where our eyes and vision is placed during the seated meditation. Now any time previously I had attempted to meditate I was always closing my eyes, but he wanted us to be aware of the peripheral of the room and not close our eyes, nor focus in on only one thing. Having to sit and not connect with anything material in my 180 degree view was incredibly challenging, but I did find that it brought me to the present moment and brought focus away from the background noise of useless thoughts or fears I primarily focus on during most moments of the day (thank god!, a break from the madness).
Overall it was an enjoyable experience, not to mention it was free of charge. My biggest complaints were the lack of air circulation in the room, and the seating positions were for too close together. But I am a hyper-vigilant sensitive to my surroundings all the time. Clearly these people knew what they were doing and my sensitivity may not have been experienced by everyone, and generally felt everyone was comfortable in the room.
Would I go back?
Maybe once more if given the chance, but I really feel meditation is a personal thing, being one with god if you will. I am very much a newbie at this practice and recognize the energy and practice I need to make very regular if I want to see benefits,but a calm peace of mind was definitely experienced even early on my journey. Suggestions for you is…….Go check it out, you might love it!
Have you every had good experience with group meditation?