MEDITATIONAL EXERCISES FOR GROUP WORK
Can be adapted for individual guidance.
Prepared by Geoffrey Farthing
|1||Meditation Guide Contents|
|2||Meditation Guide Introduction|
|3||Meditation Guide: Content of Sessions|
|4||Meditation Guide Course Leaders|
|H.P. Blavatsky Diagram of Meditation|
In addition to Geoffrey Farthing's material on meditation, attention is drawn to H.P. Blavatsky's Diagram of Meditation and a commentary published in The Theosophist May 2003
1) Leaders should be familiar with the rationale of meditation as outlined in the Introduction and be aware of at least some of the numerous techniques that are taught. Knowledge of the more popular books on the subject, e.g. those by Ernest Wood, Christmas Humphreys, Mouni Sadhu, Wallace Slater, A. Gardner, etc., establishes confidence and helps to make sessions more effective.
Leaders should also be in sympathy with the group they are leading, if possible by meeting the members of the group before and outside the sessions.
2) Leaders must be familiar with the form and content of the sessions they are to lead. Instructions or meditational material merely read to the group as the exercises proceed, come over 'dead'. This does not mean that notes and other written material cannot be used but the leader should be familiar with them, and have got their meaning and feeling beforehand.
Selections from the material to comprise a session must be made, learned and rehearsed before sessions.
Do not try to put too much into a session. Go slowly - take time. No meditation exercise can be rushed, some take a long time.
3) The exercises are divided into three main categories:
i) 1st Stage, Introductory.
ii) 2nd Stage, Intermediate.
iii) 3rd Stage, More Advanced Practice.
4) The material is in six groups as follows:-
Group I Preliminaries and Closure see further information
This is detailed instruction in traditional preliminary practices at the start and at the end of every session.
They include assuming a right posture, relaxing, and breathing to quieten the body, and to settle emotions and thoughts, leading into a comfortable, quiet, relaxed, concentrated and meditative state. At the end of the session there is the return to awareness of one's body and normal surroundings.
Distracting chatter both before and after sessions should be discouraged.
Group II Concentration
This comprises practice in concentration a) on physical (real) objects, b) on remembered impressions of real objects, and c) on imaginary things or situations including abstracts, e.g. qualities of things, attributes of character, etc.
Group III 'Classical'
Meditation material on:
(a) one's body, emotions, thoughts and one's relation-ship to them;
(b) the elements of character, our personal defects and deficiencies;
(c) the nature of existing things, the classical Elements, etc., e.g. Earth, Water, Air, Fire;
(d) one's self, the Self, awareness, consciousness itself and the nature of subjective being.
Group IV. Theosophical (Information)
Material on the fundamental theosophical teachings: Unity, Law, Evolution, the nature of Nature, on Power and Energy, Spirit and Matter, Time and Space; and all this in relation to ourselves.
Group V Devotional and Mystical
This is material of the devotional (bhakti) kind wherein one attempts to sense the close kinship of oneself with the other Beings comprising Cosmos and all that is. It also includes material illustrative of and prompting us to right action (karma). One attempts to sense the inter-dependence and the inter-relatedness of everyone and everything in the Universe (what affects one affects all), and the effect of the workings of the law in personal individual matters.
Group VI Consciousness Raising
While inevitably there is consciousness-raising material in Group V, a few items more specifically so have been collected together into Group VI. They are elevating passages from the scriptures of the world; material for guidance, instruction and inspiration; the example of the saints, the enlightened ones.
5) The above material constitutes the content of the sessions and should be selected as appropriate to the group and time available. Some of the sentences or passages in Groups V and VI may be read as material for thinking on between sessions. It is helpful to prepare hand-out sheets for this purpose.
Important: Leaders must familiarize themselves with what they are going to put to the group before each session, i.e. the arrangement of material and its content.
6) Students attending the Introductory 1st Stage sessions should, if they wish, be allowed into the 2nd Stage Intermediate sessions. There is generally no significant difference between the Stages, especially when students have become familiar with the techniques.
It is suggested that no student should do more than two twenty minute sessions of any kind consecutively.
7) Students should assemble five minutes before their sessions. It would be as well if their leader met and talked to them during this time. After a session it is desirable for students, particularly those in the Introductory sessions to gather together with the leader to talk amongst themselves or with their leader. Any problems that arise, or criticisms of the material or the conduct of the session, can then be dealt with, and any faults in the conducting or suggestions for improving the content or conduct of the sessions carefully noted. The leader cannot always know how his instruction is being received. It has been found that there is real value in dealing formally with these points after the sessions before the group breaks up.
8) Leaders should always be alert to what they are asking the group to do. They must stay 'en rapport' with it, and also watch the time so as to give rests and changes of exercise according to the prearranged programme.
9) Leaders must give their instructions to the group clearly, confidently and allow time for the carrying out of the instruction. Instructions or material should usually be repeated, at proper intervals, especially in the longer exercises. This is really judicious prompting.
In giving out material or reading it, speak distinctly but not forcedly and above all audibly. Do not give out more than the group can easily assimilate at a time. Be imaginative and help your group. You can only do this well after having done much group meditation yourself.
10) Tell the group at the start what the session will comprise - e.g. 10 mins. Preliminaries, 1 min. Rest, 5 mins. Classical, 1 min. Rest, 5 mins. Devotional, then Closure.
At the end of each exercise, except the preliminaries, say "Finish with that exercise"; allow a little time for the group to do this, then say "Rest for one minute, just make no effort, keep your position and remain silent but relaxed". When students are familiar with this command, just say "Rest for one minute" or just "Rest", but do not forget to bring the previous exercise to a close first.
11) Composition of Sessions. A specimen composition, with times for each exercise, is given for a typical 1st Stage session and for early and later 2nd Stage sessions on pp 12 and 13.
It is recommended that a programme of sessions, at least as a general scheme, be used, with the exercise times as shown (see diagram on p 14) for the first 15 sessions. This programme introduces a change, starting at about session 8, from two to three exercises per session (apart from Preliminaries), thereby increasing the time for each exercise. The actual session for the change may depend on the number of new students recruited. Longer exercises are generally for the more practised students; less practised ones may lose concentration and do nothing effectually.
For a second series of 15 sessions, assuming new people join the course, the allocation of time to the various exercises for the 1st Stage should be retained, as shown on page 12. For a second series of 2nd Stage sessions, and assuming practised students are joining, the allocation of time can be as for the later sessions shown in the second table on page 13. However if new students keep joining the course, it will hardly be possible to use the longer exercises. The variation in the time allotted to the exercises and their content will depend on the competence of the group to keep concentrating. The leader must see that unprompted periods do not get too long. He can determine this by questioning members of the group after sessions. All that is said here is for guidance only. There are no hard and fast rules.
In general it will be found that an optimum time for a session is 20 to 25 minutes but with practised students this can extend to 30 minutes or even more. An indication that sessions are becoming too long is when fidgeting starts.
These remarks cannot apply to the short 'meditation' periods at Summer Schools, etc. because there is insufficient time. The common practice of reading a suitable passage or setting a theme to think about is adequate. These short periods only set a mood or create an atmosphere.
12) Selection of Material. This is at the discretion of the leader but it is recommended that it is made from the Group material provided with this Course, at any rate for the first 15 sessions of the 1st and 2nd Stages.
If the leader elects to use his discretion as to material, familiar, concrete or ordinary subjective material should be chosen for the earlier sessions. The more unfamiliar and really abstract material should be left to later sessions.
The allocation of time between Groups I and II as given on the tables should generally be adhered to, but as between Groups III to VI there is no relative importance. Sessions should be planned so that during the course a reasonably equal amount of each Group material is used. In using some of the Group III (Classical) material, do a series of 3 or 4 sessions consecutively: in each of 3 successive sessions one on the body, one on emotion, one on thought; or 4 sessions on the Elements, one on Earth, one on Water, one on Air and one on Fire. In preparing a session a balance between the material from the Groups should be aimed at.
Where a number of leaders team up to lead a course they should arrange their selections of material, so as not to repeat the same exercises too often, unless this is done on purpose and the group informed.
13) Leaders must be careful not to assume the role of instructors, teachers or gurus, and students should be discouraged from regarding them as such.