Guiding Meditation in Sanghas
The Best Way to Practice
Thich Nhat Hanh – Blooming of the Lotus – Introduction
Before practicing any of the exercises [in the Blooming of the Lotus], it is important to understand its purpose. Usually, the person leading a meditation will take five to seven minutes at the beginning of a session to explain the exercise…. A single exercise can be practiced over several periods of meditation. After any session of guided practice, the person leading the meditation should be ready to hear the reactions of the participants, so that in the succeeding sessions, the meditation can better fit their needs. Practitioners must be given enough time to grasp each stage of the meditation. For example, the in-breath is always accompanied by an image, and the out-breath often has another image, based on the preceding one. Using an image to meditate is much easier and more useful than using an abstract idea. The guide should allow as many as ten to twelve breaths, or even more, for the meditation participants to focus themselves. Indeed, every session should begin with a few minutes of mindful breathing so that participants can calm their minds and open themselves to the joy of meditation.
The bell should not be invited with a full sound, lest it take the practitioners by surprise. The guide should simply wake the bell before continuing on to the next stage of the exercise. The voice of the guide should be expressive of the spirit and the image upon which the participants are concentrating. This requires a little practice, and all participants should practice the role of guide so that at some time in the future they may be able to help others.
Some Advice About Leading Guided Meditations.
a. know your audience — is a guided meditation appropriate for the group you are practicing with on a given day given the rest of the schedule? The group may be in need of more silence than more verbalizations and words;
b. is there a good balance between guided meditations and offering silent sitting meditation as well?;
c. are the lengths of the verses too long or too short for the group you are with?;
d. are you providing too much or too little silent space between the verses, the space needed for silent reflection on the verse being read?;
e. are you speaking too loudly?
f. are you speaking too softly?
g. is the length of the guided meditation too long?
h. would time for silence both before and after a relatively short guided meditation within the context of round of meditation work well?
While the exploration above is offered for the leaders of guided meditation, the same suggestions may be of help in working privately with a guided meditation.