The Group Format
Meditation is primarily an individual endeavor – the process of establishing, nurturing, and expanding contact between the Higher Self and the personality. Most of the activity of meditation is therefore pursued in the privacy of our own mind and heart. Nevertheless, there are times when meditation can also be effectively pursued in a group format.
A group of people with similar intent meditate together, using the same techniques and skills. The result is a collective effort which can be far more powerful than the sum of the benefits of each individual working by himself.
There can be a number of reasons why individuals would meditate together as a group:
- To learn the principles and techniques of meditation. In this case, the group would consist of students who are being instructed in the skills and philosophy of meditation. The teacher would lead the students through each meditation, thereby giving structure and direction to the process, until the students were familiar with this meditative format.
The value of this kind of group meditation is that the teacher, if they are competent, is able to facilitate contact with the higher forces of life for the students.
By holding their mind steady in the divine energy of compassion, for example, teachers can help their students experience the quality of compassion more powerfully than if they were meditating on their own.
They may also be able to discern when problems arise, and make suggestions for correcting them.
- To help the members of the group enrich their spiritual life. The act of setting a formal time, place, and topic for a group meditation helps to establish a meditative discipline for the people who will be participating in it. This can be quite beneficial for those individuals who have not yet cultivated a daily habit of working with meditation. Usually, it is best if these sessions can be led by someone who is well versed in meditative skills. Any of the seven techniques for personal growth can be used.
- To help invoke the spiritual purpose behind a certain group activity. This use of group meditation can be an especially powerful opportunity for people who work together in a medical clinic, office, school, church, or similar endeavor. At the beginning of each work day, or on any occasion when the members may congregate, the group begins with a meditation to invoke purpose, wisdom, and direction for the work they will be doing.
- To radiate light and love to enlighten humanity. This is beyond doubt the most creative use of the group format for meditation, as it draws together a number of people who have dedicated themselves to contributing to the good of humanity.
There are groups of this nature scattered throughout the world, and the contributions they make to the evolution of mankind and civilization are substantial.
It should be understood that it is not necessary for the members of a group to congregate physically in the same place in order to have a group meditation – except in the case of a group which is learning to meditate. The real work of any meditation, individual or group, transpires at nonphysical levels. The physical body is not involved, except to help ground and focus the results.
It is therefore quite plausible for a group to meet meditatively, on the inner dimensions of life, even though their physical bodies may be in many different locations. This is a true “meeting of the minds,” in which the meditators are brought together by their common intention, philosophy, dedication, and mental activity. The link is a telepathic one, rather than physical.
The results can be just as powerful as if the meditators were together physically, and indeed, in many cases, they are even more powerful.
A Common Bond
Not every collection of physical people necessarily constitutes a group that can meditate effectively together. There has to be a compatibility among group members which strengthens the mutual effort.
The fundamental characteristics of a group which is able to meditate together would be:
- The group is united by a common bond of purpose and a mutual effort to work with the life of spirit.
- The members share an enlightened philosophy which orients them toward serving humanity.
- The members are all contact the Higher Self in similar ways, using similar techniques. These techniques may be either devotional or mental in focus, but the approach used by the group should be uniform. It is not possible to establish unity if one member can only meditate in the presence of a guru, another must rely on a mantra, and a third is straining to center themselves in the love petals of the egoic lotus.
- The group has a common goal and works in unison to achieve it. This goal could be learning the basic principles of meditation, improving the quality of the lives of the members of the group, enriching the work atmosphere the members share, or healing problems in humanity.
This goal should be clearly understood by all members of the group, and each individual should keep their attention focused on it. The usefulness of the light and love a group can contact is quickly dissipated if the members start going in divergent directions with it.
Even when all of these factors are present, it must be understood that group unity can be a fragile bond, easily disrupted.
Something as apparently harmless as social chitchat and gossiping among group members before the work of meditation begins – or even after it concludes – can greatly weaken the effort to invoke divine energies and radiate them into the world.
Over a period of time, it can subtly undermine the purpose and dedication of the group if members show up at the appointed time and place more interested in learning what has happened to their friends than in performing the group service.
More severe disruptions can occur when a member of a group is so intensely selfish, bigoted, hostile, or emotional that they clash with the attitudes and level of refinement of the other members. If possible, such people should be excluded from the group from the very beginning.
If these characteristics become evident only after the group has already been formed, it may be necessary to ask the individual to drop out.
Common sense should always be the rule. It is a tragic mistake to sacrifice the effectiveness of a whole group merely to indulge the immaturity of a single member.
In general, the scope of a group should not be too broad, either in philosophical orientation or in level of consciousness. The weakest members of a group will always have a dampening effect upon the group as a whole, and will place undue strain and limitation on the more evolved and sincere members.
The purpose of group meditation is to bring in more energy than is possible working individually. As this greater measure of energy is brought in, it will tend to overstimulate the deficiencies of the weakest members.
The result can be just as unfair to the weak members, who are not ready to deal with such problems, as to the strong ones, whose efforts are diminished. It is best to avoid such dilemmas by striving to form a group which is basically compatible.
It is never an enlightened act to give up our individuality in order to be part of a group, whether the group is pursuing a physical or a meditative activity.
In groups which meditate together, it is especially important to understand that unity is not achieved by sacrificing either our sense of individuality or our personal responsibility.
It is achieved as a group of individuals work together to fulfill a common purpose and reach a common goal, using similar methods and techniques.
Even though the group meditates together, each member is still expected to contact his own Higher Self and draw the qualities and energies to be used in the group work through the channel of his own individuality. It is not desirable simply to plug into the group mind and draw these forces and qualities from it.
Nevertheless, it often happens.
An effective group will therefore cherish the ideal of individuality and encourage its members to strengthen their sense of identity as individuals. The stronger the individual members of a group are, the stronger the group unity can be.
This will be viewed as a bold statement by many, but it is just common sense.
A group in which the individual members are expected to pay obeisance to a central leader or guru is not a group at all – just an extension of the leader.
A group in which the individual members reinforce the weaknesses and pettiness of one another is not a group either – just a collection of neurotic people.
It would be best for such “groups” to make no effort to meditate together at all. Neither meaningful growth nor effective service can occur in such climates.
Meditating In A Group
Before any group effort to meditate together is launched, it is important for the group to determine and define the purpose it is serving – the real purpose, not the professed purpose. If the group is gathering to learn to meditate, the purpose will be defined by the teacher.
In groups which come together for the betterment of humanity, each group member should contribute to this process of determining purpose. It is always our intention which determines the ultimate outcome of our labors, either physically or meditatively. Doing the right thing for the wrong purpose is therefore the wrong thing!
If the purpose of the group is clearly understood, however, it will serve as a reliable guide for everything which follows.
In this regard, it is useful for the group to periodically review the purpose it seeks to serve and determine if the group has strayed from it or become lax in its habits.
It is all too easy for a group which begins with a noble purpose to be sidetracked by some narrow religious or social issue. Or even worse, become the personal fiefdom of a strong personality, who uses the group as an opportunity to enrich either their reputation or their bank account – or both.
Just as each group must assume the responsibility of determining the purpose it will seek to fulfill, it must also develop a meditative format which will be appropriate for the kind of activity it is engaged in. There is no magic formula which will guarantee group success.
Still, it is possible to sketch out a rough outline of how a group meditation might proceed:
1. The first step, as in individual meditations, is to make contact with the Higher Self. Each member should make this contact on their own. This is done simply by setting aside a minute or two at the beginning of the meditation for each individual to contact his own Higher Self.
Once this contact is made, and the group is beginning to invoke a specific divine quality or force, the telepathic rapport the group needs in order to function as a unit will be established automatically, by virtue of the fact that the individual members are all focusing their attention on the same aspect of the inner life.
It is therefore not necessary to try to develop a telepathic rapport at the personality level – and in fact it can be quite dangerous. If the group members try to attune to the inner levels as a group, they will probably tune in only to the group mind, their collective and personalized thoughts and feelings about the group, instead of a valid level of spiritual life.
The group should therefore resist dismissing the need for proper attunement. Such practices as resting for a moment while “thinking about God,” visualizing a common symbol, or repeating a favorite phrase are not adequate substitutes for the attunement of each individual to his or her Higher Self.
In order to be ready to work effectively in meditation, as an individual or a group, we must take the time to detach from the concerns of the personality, focus our devotion, concentrate on an enlightened intention, and attune to the love, wisdom, and power of the Higher Self.
The goal of meditation is always to strengthen contact between the Higher Self and the personality, and this is just as true in group format as individually.
It is through the Higher Self that we can most easily establish telepathic rapport with the other members of the group, as well as inner plane groups, invisible teachers, divine archetypes, and other spiritual agencies.
It is important to emphasize this point, because many groups quickly get swept away in the glamour that they can bypass the soul while working in group format.
Undoubtedly they can, but they are no longer meditating!
2. Once the individual members of the group have made contact with the Higher Self, the work of the group turns to invoking the needed spiritual forces and qualities. This will naturally vary with the intent of the group.
If the group is meditating to improve the skills of the individual members, the spiritual forces invoked will be determined by the technique they choose to practice.
If the group is working to radiate light and love to humanity, it will invoke whatever quality the members have agreed to focus on in this session.
In either case, however, we must dispense with the common religious notion that God already knows what we need and we do not have to bother specifying or requesting anything.
This notion, reinforced by religious leaders, throws the whole meditative science of invocation and evocation out the window. Even though the Higher Self does know our needs more clearly than we do, the personality nevertheless has an obligation to invoke divine forces to help it in its work.
They do not arrive automatically.
This phase of invoking spiritual force can be reinforced quite effectively by the use of mantras or phrases, spoken either mentally or aloud, as in the following examples:
“May God’s love and peace be with us and those we seek to help.”
“May the power of the plan for humanity transform the imperfections of life into the spiritual ideal.”
“May the love and wisdom of God turn the minds and hearts of all people toward tolerance and goodwill.”
“May God’s love and the agents of His healing vitality be with us today as we seek to help those in need.”
Whatever phrase or formula is used, it should be inventive, active, positive, and brief.
3. Having invoked spiritual force, the attention of the group should shift to registering this force, if the purpose of the group meditation is to help the members individually, or to radiating the light to others, if the purpose of the group meditation is to help others.
In a group which is meditating to help themselves, each member should focus the force which has been contacted in such a way that it enriches some aspect of their character.
In a group which is meditating to help others, the members should proceed with a clear intention to honor the forces which have been contacted with a maximum of integrity and thoroughness, neither adding to nor subtracting from the actual force and substance invoked.
Their personal effort is in giving these forces an outlet into the planes of human thought and activity, not in modifying them.
Throughout, each person should work with a clear understanding of the results the meditation is designed to produce. This need not be complex; it can be as simple as “the enlightenment of humanity” or “the progressive transformation of human attitudes toward cooperation and goodwill.”
In addition to this clear understanding, we should also work with a firm conviction and faith that we are participating in something quite powerful. This is especially important if the purpose of the group meditation is to help others or enlighten humanity.
The creative imagination can be used to visualize the impact of the spiritual forces we have invoked – for example, by imagining beams of light radiating from the inner dimensions of the group to the people or aspect of society we are helping.
The actual time spent working with these energies will vary, but should run from five to fifteen minutes.
5. If the group is planning to work together regularly, it is useful to develop a format that will heighten the repetitive and cumulative effect of meditating.
When the group format is used for the work of helping others, it is important for each participant to remain impersonal in attitude, working as the Higher Self would work – with patience, benevolence, wisdom, dignity, reverence, and the will-to-good.
Working impersonally does not mean acting in a wooden, robot-like way, however. It means rising above our personal interests, prejudices, and likes and dislikes, so we may work with divine qualities at their level, not ours.
Some people would have us believe that working impersonally means we do not make a difference, that God does all the work, not us. This is absolutely not true, and we should never be swayed by such sophistry.
Indeed, to be successful in using meditation to help others, we must be able to hold the conviction that we do make a difference!
We make a difference because meditation is an active process in which we prepare our mind and emotions, take responsibility for a certain piece of work, and then follow through to completion.
It is quite possible that we may never perfectly grasp, at the personality level, the fullness of the power we invoke, but as long as we approach our work with respect and reverence for the wisdom and benevolence of the energies we are invoking, our efforts to be an agent of light will be effective.
The need for an impersonal attitude extends even after the meditation is completed.
Once the group has finished radiating the light to others, it is best for the members of the group to “forget” all about it until the work is taken up again. There is danger that too much curiosity, desire, fear, or speculation about how the light is working may actually call some of the light back again.
In this regard, metaphysicians and New Thought students have been correctly trained “to leave the problem in the light,” once they are finished meditating.
If we are to ground the light, we must send it to its target and then leave it to do whatever work it can in the minds and hearts of those who need it. If we figuratively “run after the light” to see how it is doing, we are apt to disrupt a delicate process, as well as open a psychic door for unpleasant energies to flow back to us.
Having done our part, we let the light do its.
Serving The Plan
The contribution which can be made by using meditative techniques in a group format is tremendous.
If our religious institutions weren’t so preoccupied with dogma, theology, and building the “materialistic church,” and would grasp the potential and the power of group meditations, many of them could once again become a constructive force for good in humanity.
Unfortunately, few religions recognize the value of actually working with spirit. As a result, most of the groups which participate in the grand activity of radiating the light and cooperating with the Inner Masters operate outside of formal religion.
Until the time when the usefulness of meditation and the duty of each human being to help spiritualize civilization is recognized by the churches, group meditation will have to remain apart from religion.
Yet the opportunity is there, wherever a group of like-minded and dedicated individuals comes together, and wonders:
“How can we serve the plan of God?”
Our Silent Partner Speaks
We were feeling a bit self-indulgent. Bob was leaning back in his chair, sipping coffee and munching on a cookie. “Well, that really tells it like it is, everything you need to know about meditation. Now all we have to do is make a few comments about aids and problems of meditation, and we’ll be done.”
Carl looked up from the steadily growing pile of manuscript. “I agree. The ideas are really coming together nicely. All it is going to need is a little tightening up here and some editing there.”
“Is that so?” boomed a voice from nowhere in particular. It was our silent partner, breaking his silence once again. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for always showing up just in time to catch us putting our editorial foot into our editorial mouth. It was Herman’s special charm.
“Well, we didn’t mean that literally, of course,” Carl mumbled. “One book can’t contain everything the reader needs to know about meditation. But we are trying to make it as definitive as possible.” He paused for a while and then added, “And I think we are doing a fairly good job of it.”
“Probably,” Herman admitted, a sly smile flitting across his face. “It will do, I guess. For someone who is used to reading books in the fifth dimension, as I am, the claim of anyone on earth to have written down everything you need to know about any subject is more than a little pretentious.
I know the two of you were just kidding, and did not actually believe it, but there are people who make such claims quite seriously. They claim to be the guardian of the Whole Truth on some subject, infallible messengers from God. That kind of claim has caused a lot of mischief on earth.”
“Well, we would never claim to be in possession of the whole truth,” said Bob.
“No,” Carl added, “just inspired by an angel.” All three of us laughed.
“Inspired may not be the proper word,” Herman replied. “Chided and pushed, perhaps—maybe even scolded.”
By now, we knew exactly what he meant.
“That’s why I showed up again. I want to caution you about the remaining chapters you are going to write. You sometimes write with a touch of dogmatism, even contempt, I daresay, for meditative practices which were common and useful as recently as, oh, five thousand years ago. In fact, I can vividly remember, well, never mind.
You just ought to think about the fact that the golden words you are setting down in this book will one day be out-of-date, too.
They will sound backward and harmful in a thousand years or so, maybe even less.”
“Maybe even before the book is published,” Carl joked. “No,” Herman observed. “I don’t think humanity is evolving that rapidly.”
We had gotten Herman’s message, however. “I suppose any strong statement will sound arrogant or dogmatic to some people,” Bob said, shifting in his chair to look more directly at Herman.
“You can’t set out to reform hideously outdated practices without making bold statements that will jar people into recognizing how outdated the old traditions have become. That’s exactly what we want this book to do, after all, inspire people to start thinking more for themselves.
We don’t want them to believe our ideas any more than anyone else’s. We want them to take our common-sense observations and experiment with them, so that meditation can help them as it has helped us.
If they experiment with these ideas, they will soon enough prove their validity through their own experiences and growth. That’s how we did it, and that’s how the reader can do it, too.”
“All right, all right!” Herman was smiling as though he had just swallowed the Cheshire cat, a chocolate one, of course, or whatever angels enjoy for a treat. “But do you see the impact a little criticism can have?”
Bob looked at the floor. Carl looked at Bob.
Faint laughter was heard. As it receded into silence, Bob spoke. “I see his point. But I have a point, too. Intelligent people deserve something more than mushy statements which never address the fundamental issues of meditation and enlightenment.
If we have to risk sounding dogmatic and critical in order to explain these ideas intelligently, then so be it.”
“I have no argument with that,” Carl agreed. “But I think we can accommodate common sense, wisdom, and good manners all at the same time.”
“Well, see that you do,” boomed the invisible voice from above our heads. But there was more merriment in his tone than disapproval.