Starting A Group
We encourage you to think of starting a group, if you live in an area in which no groups have formed that share the meditations and other practices available with in the Network. The following material is provided so you can understand some of what others do and have experienced. After you have read it, we encourage you to contact Ken or Elizabeth Mellor to discuss the possibilities. It can be a lot of fun, a very rewarding thing to do.
Why Do It?
Groups have blossomed in various parts of the world. They provide a wonderful means of support and mutual involvement amongst people who share similar interests in meditation. Groups of people that share meditations seem often to develop special bonds of friendship and association. They offer much to people that they may not have in other parts of their lives. Groups that meet regularly to meditate also provide a structured program that can help people who value external encouragement to continue with their meditation, people who do not find it easy to keep going alone.
Usually, the groups are started by people who are enthusiastic about the meditations and other practices they are learning in the Network. They start a group because they want to share this with others. They wanted to share it, both because they want some company as they do their own meditations and they want to help introduce others to those practices. So it is both from self interest and as a means of offering a service to others. Many people find that meditating in a group helps to intensify their experiences and to accelerate their evolution and unfolding. At the same time, the involvement of others enables mutual support to be given when meditators go through challenging times, as most do at different stages.
Such groups have brought together quite large groups of people in some areas and small numbers in others. All of them make available a venue (formal or informal) for learning and development and, in energetic terms, produce a concentration in the international network associated with the Network.
General Principles & Guidelines
The first thing we want to emphasise is that groups may be started for many different reasons in the Network. We are delighted with this and with the prospect of many more. Our goal with the material that follows is to offer support for anyone who is moved to establish a group. We at the current centre of the network are not trying to regulate what people do. However, various issues have arisen often enough in a variety of groups for it to be worthwhile to make the information available to others. The following material sets out guidelines on some of the general principles and some of the specific practices that have helped in the successful running of a group. There are reasons for each of the guidelines that relate to the experiences we have had in other groups over the years.
The second thing we want to emphasise is to do with the purpose of the group. These guidelines are set out for those who want to have a group that becomes part of the Network's recognised system. While some of them may be relevant to groups put together for other reasons, we properly have no say in those groups. To check what is involved in this, look under Membership & Joining in the About Biame Network Directory.
The last thing we want to mention is to do with Network Membership. If you do want to start a group that is part of the Network, then it is important that you become a Member of the organisation. This gives you access to important information and makes the process of running the group easier.
We consider several general principles important. These form a general framework for the operation of the groups in the Network.
First, everyone is welcome. We want anyone who is interested to be able to attend the groups that are on the Network's list. Your telephone number and address would be made freely available. For example, when people are travelling, or when we have an enquiry, we may do this. We, also, at times, may give out a list of the groups, including the times of meetings, venues and telephone numbers. Inquirers are encouraged to feel free to attend.
Second, the point of the groups is to provide a venue at which interested people can meditate regularly. This means that there is a commitment to run the group at advertised times. To fulfil this purpose, you may need to make arrangements for someone else to carry on during those periods, or on those days that you are not available. Once an enthusiastic group is started, these arrangements are generally easy to make. Occasionally it makes sense to close down briefly, because most people are occupied doing other things., e.g., during Christmas. Groups make general announcements to their regular attendees at these times.
Third, the group is run to make available the type of meditation done within the Network. It is not a group for meditational experimentation. This is not to imply that there is a problem with such experimentation, only that these other groups have a purpose different from the Network's. At the same time, we welcome any initiative offering suggestions that you think might improve the way the group works.
Fourth, everyone who attends is to go through the initiation. They need to be initiated either Ken or Elizabeth Mellor, or by using the recording of the Mantra Meditation. (There are guidelines below on the use of the Mantra Meditation Recording.) There are many benefits from doing this that are to do inner Awakening, the linkages that are established between people who share a common initiation and the contribution to the network of everyone of having those linkages.
Fifth, it is important for those attending to put something back into the system from which they are benefitting. They can do this by giving time, skills, material resources, or money. So from time to time, it is worth reminding those attending the meditation group of the value of service. If anyone gives a donation, the money needs to go into the Network's system to help cover costs. Such contributions are always welcome and are usually needed.
We want it emphasised at all times that the meditation is absolutely free. People may attend without paying anything; some have done so for many years and this is alright. Nevertheless, those wanting to help support the work financially can do so by giving money. You will need to arrange what to do with the money with the Network. There is a system for making regular donation that can be organised directly with the Melbourne headquarters, if someone wants to do something like that. Please remember always, no pressure is to be applied to anyone for money.
The content of the meetings themselves is relevant, also, to aligning groups with the Network's practices. What is stated here is an ideal, something we would prefer, if you can organise it. However, flexibility is both encouraged and accepted, provided the main themes are included.
First, we want a short time to be devoted at the beginning of every meditation session to doing yoga, or some other form of physical exercise. The book Hatha Yoga for Westerners: Selected Postures and Sequences, by Ken Mellor, that is available from the Network's Public Shop provides a good sequence. Some groups spend half an hour doing this; some spend less. Another option, that is possibly easier to organise, is to use the Tibetan Exercises. You will find these set out in both the book, Another Day Younger: Five Rejuvenating Exercises from Tibet, by Ken Mellor, and in the videotape called The Fountain of Youth. Both are available from the Network's Shop, also. In a group these only take about fifteen minutes.
While we want this exercise period presented as optional for those attending, we encourage everyone associated with the Network to understand that physical exercise is an important part of sound meditational practice. Some groups advertise the time for these exercises as separate from the time that the meditation starts, e.g., Yoga, exercise etc. 7.00 p.m.; Meditation 7.30 p.m. This gives those who are not keen on exercise a chance to time their arrival for the meditation.
Second, there is half an hour of chanting after the exercising. This is an important time during which the group members individually clear themselves in preparation for meditation. During the chanting the group as a whole aligns itself, creating a group field in the process within which the group then meditates. This time is for chanting, not talking. There is a list of chants available and any of those may be used. If you have suggestions of other chants, contact the Network, so that we can review what you are suggesting. We regard this aspect of the session as equally important to the meditation itself.
Third, the chanting is followed by meditation. The Mantra Meditation recording is always used when new people attend who have not used the recording privately. The procedure to follow with this recording is outlined below. (Some groups arrange for new people to use the recording at other times, or they make available a "library copy" that can be used in the person's own home.) If there are no new people, then any of the recordings from the Network's list can be used, or the group can do Mantra Meditation to music, or in silence. Some groups set up a schedule for the recordings and go through the meditations in various orders. The value of this type of approach is that it adds variety. When one of the other meditations is used, at least fifteen minutes of Mantra Meditation is to follow the one that is done. This means that there will always be fifteen minutes of Mantra Meditation.
Fourth, it is really helpful to finish the session with light refreshments. This is a time for socialising. Some groups have a special meeting at regular intervals (weekly, fortnightly, monthly etc.) in which they include a vegetarian meal (usually at the beginning or the end of their time together). The participants provide the food. These meals help add a wonderful sharing to the group and are well worth including.
If groups become more regular than weekly, then this full program may be shortened by leaving out the exercise and perhaps shortening (not removing) the chanting. During the week, people often have less time than during the weekends. However, if there is only one group a week, exercise needs to be included to fulfil the above requirements.
Fifth, it seems to help the group to get established for the members, as a group, to purchase the recordings from the Network. These recordings then become a group resource that stays with the group regardless of the membership. A suggested order for purchasing them is: Mantra Meditation, Sublime Meditation, Earth to Beyond Meditation, Purifying Meditation, I AM That Meditation, Relaxation Meditation, Grounding Meditation, Creative Release Meditation, Unifying Meditation, and Complete Health Meditation.
Using the Mantra Meditation Recording
The recording was designed to have special effects on those who listen to ensure that the initiatory aspect of beginning in this way is completed. So the procedure is important. The recording takes a little more than an hour, so the whole process could take about an hour and fifteen minutes or more. If someone is going to use the recording in their own homes, we urge you to go through the process with them in advance, so they know what to do. You might even like to give them a copy of the following outline. The procedure is:
Have the new people sit down with the group and listen to all of the introduction on the recording.
Ask if there are any questions, and if there are, answer them simply and only from your own experience. Refer any difficult questions to people in the Network.
Then play the meditation completely, with the whole group participating and following the instructions as they are given.
Have each new person fill in a Meditation Form after the meditation stops. Check the forms and ensure that first and last names are given, along with complete addresses and telephone numbers. (Some of the necessary forms are enclosed. You can let us know when you need more. Notify us well before you run out, so you always have enough.) Send this to us as soon as possible after the event. Filling in the forms and our response to them is part of the full initiation, so it is important, without pushing, to get it completed, if you can.
After filling in the forms, discuss briefly the experiences any of the newcomers had during the meditation. Avoid becoming caught up in explanations, theories etc.
Let newcomers know that we will send some information by mail from Melbourne to inform them of various items and events that are available through the Melbourne headquarters.
Give them all the information that you have on the local programs, as well as offering them the opportunity of attendance at "your" group - whether regular or intermittent. Make a note of addresses and phone numbers, so they can be added to the local list.
Those who want to be initiated at home, will need to obtain a copy of the Mantra Meditation recording from the Network, or from you, if you have a supply for sale. Some groups have special copies set aside for lending out. Should more than one person be interested, ensure that you give out enough copies of the form for each person who will listen to the recording. Sometimes it is easiest, at the point the person returns the recording, to offer to fill out the form for the him/her and then get it signed on the spot.
Almost universally in the groups that are already running, we have noticed how welcoming and friendly their members are to people who arrive to meditate for the first time. This is a wonderful part of the way everyone within the network connects. It is very important. What follows is to alert everyone to the importance of the welcome you give others and to suggest a way of approaching this for those who are unsure what to do.
New arrivals or visitors need a ready, relaxed and easy welcome, both when they arrive and subsequently. We need to make and maintain contact with them, if we are to succeed in one of our prime aims - to introduce them to the benefits of meditation. A friendly welcome is always helpful and particularly important when the established people have met for long periods.
Put yourself in the position of a new arrival for a moment. How do you move from the first contact with strangers, so that you get to know them easily and participate comfortably in what they do? Remember the times you have needed to do this. How did you do it? Also, when the activities of the people you were joining were unfamiliar to you, what did you need to help you get started andcontinue easily?
People who know each other share an obvious bond. The more familiar they are with each other, the more obvious this bond is. Our bond and what we share is often part of the attraction to others who come to meetings. At the same time, for many people, the bond is also an obstacle, and the stronger the bond, the stronger the obstacle. Because it is there, they may perceive that there is no place for them with us, even though this is not true.
Some simple welcoming steps can make a great difference to both those who are comfortable socially and those who are not. They can ease them into the processes of what we do.
First, welcome everyone and make a special point of doing so. Go over to them, talk and be friendly. Show them where to find necessary services, such as, the toilets, where to hang hats or coats, and where the refreshments are.
Second, give them an outline of the program for the session. It is often helpful to have this printed. Providing this information is then a natural part of what you talk about. Let them know what happens and what to do at the different stages of the meeting. This is a most effective way of helping new people deal with uncertainty. They are likely to relax and participate more freely then, than if they are wondering what is going on and what will be expected of them.
Third, keep watch. Notice what they are doing. If they seem comfortable and engaged happily with others, leave them to it is. If, however, they are obviously needing help, do something about it is. Signs to notice include their standing alone looking uncomfortable, looking lost or uncertain when others know what to do, getting caught with a regular who is know to be a challenging conversationalist, or showing obvious signs of distress, such as tears. A graceful contact to smooth over the rough spot is easy to provide. Think of yourself as a host whose responsibility is to ensure, as far as possible, that your guests have a good time. Do what you can to help.
Fourth, provide information on the continuing program. Let visitors know what is available and how they can participate. Many groups have found it is useful to have a prepared sheet containing this information to give to visitors. It is something solid to hold and something to look at later. These sheets can include the various regular meetings with times and locations, specific workshops and other meetings that are about to occur, contact names, addresses and telephone numbers, and recording catalogues.
Fifth and very important, invite them back. Say something like, "You are welcome at any time. Feel free to come whenever you like. We would love to see you. Also, if any questions arise after tonight, you can ask them next time we meet." You might offer a telephone number, if you are willing to do so. (Some groups have designated particular members for doing this.)
Sixth, remember that it is takes more than one visit for most people to become comfortable and familiar with new situations. So ensure that you keep track of new arrivals for several visits. Continue to welcome them actively and do what you can to smooth their transition into what is familiar to you. It is can take some people as many as six visits before they make the transition.
Finally, the manner of the help you offer is important. A relaxed availability is probably the best. Avoid descending on new arrivals like an avalanche. It is perhaps as unhelpful to have too much help, as it is to have too little. Also, remember that we are not in the "missionary business". There is a big difference between thesuggested help above and trying to persuade people or to defend what is done.
Phases of Development in Groups
Groups go through various stages of growth, stages in which the character of what people do with each other changes. The various concentrations of people within the Network are doing this. We thought that you might be interested in some of these developments, so you can better understand what is occurring in your area. Understanding aids planning and decision-making so that our main, shared purposes are fulfilled.
In what follows, the stages suggested are not the only ones that are possible. Also, they may occur in a different order from the one in which we have listed them. This noted, we have observed the order of development given here has applied, in part at least, in some areas. The stages are as follows.
The beginning stage can vary greatly. It is starts with one or more people wanting to have others meditating together with them. Generally, people acting alone, or in ones or twos, can find that the going is often slow in the beginning. It is can take longer than expected to get people together. Accordingly, you may need to exercise patience during this phase. It is often necessary in the face of small numbers, fluctuating attendance by those who do attend, and many people who come, seem enthusiastic and then do not return. Persistence pays off in the long run. With persistence, a small core of regulars usually develops and with it is, the company and shared excitement that many lone meditators value.
Simply getting on with living, rather than making active efforts to recruit, seems to work best in the long run. Others become increasingly curious about what is different about people who meditate and begin to ask about it is. When they do, a relaxed answer to their questions is usually the best. Also, accept the possibility that it is may be weeks, months, or years before an initial question results in the person actually meditating. Even then the meditation may not be with you.
Linkages to people who are ready to meditate, or to people who meditate already, is often a great assistance in the beginning. These contacts provide ready access to a pool of people and to the strength and excitement that comes from involvement of several people at a time. So it is worthwhile making these contacts if you can.
The most important factor of all at the beginning phase of any group is very obvious. To get regular meetings established, one or a number of people need to be prepared to persist for as long as it is takes.
Another early stage can be called the consolidation stage. The process has started, there is a core of regulars. At this stage, there is generally enthusiasm and involvement in the meditations and other practices. There is a lot of learning from a personal point of view. Personal learning tends to get most attention. New people are welcomed with enthusiasm. This is a happy, satisfying stage for most people involved.
Those attending may move into a "missionary" phase in their own process at this stage. They may try and recruit people to join in the meditation from this orientation. Gentle encouragement to proceed with greater lightness is helpful at this point. Working out how to handle leadership is often prominent at this stage, too, as those involved sort out issues of sharing, cooperation, initiative and responsibility with each other. Encouraging open debate and clear communication is helpful. Getting help from more experienced people may be of help, also.
A "special group" stage develops in some areas. This usually occurs when people have met together for some time. Their enthusiasm is usually high and they recognise the personal benefits of what they are doing. Then they become exclusive and excluding in some way. The sort of thing that occurs themes, such as, "them and us" types of thinking, we're OK they're notOK responses, in-group and out-group behaviour and, at times, the jealous guarding of the group from the intrusion of newcomers. Size is not a major factor. Some areas going through this stage have been quite small, others quite large.
These concentrations of people do not last very long. They become starved of the life on which the Network thrives. Those involved need to change their approaches to life and to others. Externally they need to learn to welcome others, celebrate their presence and to share the value of what they are doing. They also need to open up within, tap into their own generosity and learn to accept every aspect of themselves as valuable. When they react to others as described above, they are projecting their own inner process, and it is in taking care of the inner aspect of their reaction that the solution lies. Those who think that others are notOK, for example, are demonstrating that they think that some part of themselves is also notOK.
When the outreach stage is reached, it is a sign of developing maturity in the system. During this stage, energy and initiative is increasingly put into setting up courses, workshops and other programs. The aim is to involve others in learning the meditations and other procedures that seem to have benefitted those already involved. This very creative phase often sees the development of many new ways of presenting the material and of linking with people.
The involvement of those already meditating and the increased numbers of people learning, usually leads to a rapid strengthening of the system and expansion of numbers in an area. Often at this time the number of regular meditation sessions increases. The initiative for these sorts of changes comes from the people involved in the group.
When a the stage of maturity is reached, those involved have a developed appreciation of the fundamental processes involved in the network. They understand that service to others is a fundamental aspect of a meditative life. This is simultaneous with an on-going emphasis on their continued personal unfolding through an established and evolving daily practice. Rather than this being a preoccupation, as it is at some stages of personal awakening, there is a patient confidence that the processes are effective and that each day's activities are a contribution to an inevitable Awakening.
Emphasis continues on outreach. Creative innovations still arise in new programs and ways of teaching the material more effectively to different groups of people.
There is an easy involvement of increasing numbers of people in the running and maintaining of the system. Responsibilities are shared and there is a high level of initiative and activity to improve the service offered to others. The overall service is, of course, to provide people the opportunity, either to meditate in various ways, or to learn from the range of life skills that are available for making living easy and fulfilling.
Newcomers arrive regularly and are able easily to find a comfortable place for themselves within the network. To help them find out what is available, to answer questions, and to ensure a friendly availability, steps are taken to ensure that they have someone welcome them. One or more people spend time with them follow through for as many weeks as is necessary for the newcomer to be comfortably engaged in the programs. There is also the developed understanding that this particular concentration of people is part of a much larger system and that each part can and does contribute to the other parts.
In some areas, groups go into a stage of decline. Basically they begin to run down, or collapse in some way. Numbers may continue to drop over an extended period. Leadership may become inadequate, or completely lacking. Often there is lack of support from others, low initiative, passivity, or the jealous and uncaring reception of newcomers.
During this stage, those involved usually lose sight of the overriding purpose of the network - service to others through the encouraging of the Awakening of all people. Various forms of self-absorption become prominent. If the trend continues, the organised activities in an area eventually decline to nothing. (Incidentally, the processes within an area tend to reflect the personalities of those involved, particularly those who take the lead. So, if you are not satisfied with what people are doing in an area for which you are taking responsibility, look to yourself and make the necessary changes within so that what occurs is to your liking.)
During this phase, the best solution is for those who care about the outcome to start to take an active part in organising things. They need to build something new, to develop new and fresh initiatives in their area and to put energy into changing the general tone of the current group practices.
After a period of strength, some groups may seem to go into decline, but are simply making an adjustment. This phase is different from the previous one. Phases of adjustment tend to occur particularly when those who took initiative and leadership within the area stopped doing so for some reason, perhaps because they left the area.
This stage is also to do with the rhythmic adjustments that occur in expanding or mature systems. Think of it is like a regular pulsation, each expansion in any activity is followed by a contraction, and each contraction is a prelude to a later expansion. Processes move in natural cycles like this.
To manage these adjustment stages, it is best to remember the purposes of being together in the first place. Devote time and attention to what is occurring and, without fighting what that is, generate some new momentum in the direction of the general purposes. You can start with existing programs, begin some new programs, contact people in other locations and people with different interests from those who have been involved in the past. Your efforts can lead to regeneration.
In the regeneration stage, things are brought back on track. The purpose of the whole network is revived in everyone's awareness. New leadership develops, if necessary. New initiatives are encouraged and undertaken that relate to the local scene, a scene that may have changed since the period during which the original programs started. Ways are found of linking with others in the area and of releasing the patterns and perceptions from what went before that are still restricting what is possible in the new era.
The old is released gladly, the new embraced. The best results are achieved when the new developments are made so as to include those who have been part of the earlier programs. Inclusiveness and cooperation are the order of the day. The same orientation is encouraged in relation to program changes and development. The established programs that still contribute are continued, perhaps in modified form. New programs are developed that suit the current era.
Keeping In Contact
Those who run the most exciting programs, whose groups really take off well, stay in contact with us in the Melbourne headquarters. They let us know what they are doing, ask questions as they arise, contribute their ideas and initiatives to the network as a whole. A real and active exchange is established. If you decide to go ahead and start a group along the lines set out in this material, we suggest that you do likewise. Get in touch, stay in contact, let us see you and hear from you regularly. You can contact us by telephone, facsimile, Email, or you can write, or visit. We are very enthusiastic to provide support and to keep the system evolving, so it is successful for as many people as possible. Contact information is in Contacting The Awakening Network in the General Directory.