Most people think of meditation as a personal practice — a window into one’s inner world, a space to deal with individual difficulties, or simply a silent refuge in the midst of a stimulating world.
While it may be all of these things, Asheville’s meditation leaders have found that group practice is much more. “Once you start to meditate and connect with all of those parts of yourself that you have been ignoring, your heart naturally opens up, ”says Ronya Banks, founder and lead teacher of Asheville Insight Meditation.
In short, you begin to care about all others around you.
So, although the impetus to meditate may start as a solitary endeavor, regular practitioners realize that a mindfulness practice quickly unfolds into all areas of their lives, including how they relate to themselves, their jobs and other human beings.
In that way, meditation can be the very foundation for building true community.
This is a natural process, says Banks, “moving from ‘me’ to ‘we.’” In fact, most mindfulness-based meditation practices start with inquiring into the self as a means of informing how we relate to what is happening “out there,” in our lives and in the world.
Meditation “can help one learn to listen and respond to what is happening in their life in the present moment. When we can do this, we have better clarity about how to help others,” says Teijo Munnich, guiding teacher at the Zen Center of Asheville and Great Tree Zen Women’s Temple.
In Asheville, most meditation groups incorporate community building through open public sittings, group discussions, potlucks, hikes, book shares and, in some cases, volunteer projects. These off-the-cushion activities provide practitioners with an opportunity to build relationships with other motivated and supportive individuals who are interested in “inner work.”
Keith Dubin, director of Shambhala Meditation Center in West Asheville, says that the vision for the center is to build an enlightened society. “We look into what it means to be human, uncovering qualities like compassion, dignity and fearlessness.” Shambhala holds a weekly public meditation every Thursday evening. When the gong sounds to end the session, meditators are encouraged to stick around for tea, conversation and a light reading instead of hurrying back into their lives and stories.
Group meditation is really where the magic and transformation happens, says Tom Ball, director of the Asheville TM Center. He’s especially fond of group meditation because of “the power of collective consciousness.” When we meditate in groups, he says, “ the experience is intensified, the results amplified.”
The results can even lead to engaged action in the greater community. Banks, the founder of the group Asheville Insight Meditation, has taken community building out into the city by sponsoring service projects. Currently, meditators in group are working with Homeward Bound to address homelessness in Western North Carolina. “With most of us living separate, busy lives in our insulated homes, we do not get an opportunity to satisfy our innate need for human connection,” says Banks. Through the Homeward Bound project, Asheville Insight volunteers collect and donate housewares and furniture for a family to move into a home of their own. In this way, the meditation community supports one another in practicing dana (generosity) for the larger community and fellow human beings.
Govinda Bhava, director of the Bodhi Tree Healing Center, believes that we must first have clarity in our own lives before we can begin to understand what is best for the community as a whole. Bhava notes that this has been happening in different cultures for thousands of years: “When we are authentic in the sharing of our truth, strong bonds are formed in the community. We gain strength from being in the company of truth, and through that, community is instantaneously formed.”
For more information on our local meditation groups, check out one of the following public meditation events (and if you know of others, email Xpress at firstname.lastname@example.org):
Monday-Saturday: Open Sit, 9 a.m., Asheville Insight Meditation
Mondays and Wednesdays: Meditation, 7 a.m., Bodhi Tree
Tuesdays: Meditation & Movement, 10 a.m., Bodhi Tree