As we make the transition to a new office and chapter, we’ve got community on our minds. As many who have taken a course and meditated with others might tell you – the experience of practicing alone versus with others can feel quite different. Why might this be? While this answer might be different for everyone, here are some of our observations from our own practice experience:
First, shared practice connects us to a group of people with a common sense of purpose and path. Left alone to practice, we can be especially vulnerable to the experience of doubt. In our minds, doubt might sound like “this is a waste of time”, “I have more important things I need to be doing” – or some similarly sounding stream of thoughts. In our bodies, doubt might feel like conflict, strong hesitation, or reluctance – as though we’re dragging ourselves through mud to get to the cushion. And in behavior, doubt might look like not practicing, or practicing with a lot of resentment. In contrast, when we practice with community, we might be less vulnerable to doubt. We have the opportunity to be with other people practicing, and we witness their journey. We might draw inspiration from the reasons why everyone is in the room, and we are invited to support each other in walking the walk. In the context of community, doubt can give way to shared purpose and practice.
Similarly, when we practice with a community we create a sense of shared practice, which is larger than our own individual practice. During moments of aversion or pain in our practice, we can sense that experience being held in the context of the larger practice that has been cultivated. On a recent retreat I (Erin) felt particularly agitated during one sit. The urge to stand up and walk away was quite strong. Interestingly, when I sensed the meditators sitting with me in the room, that urge subsided a bit. While my aversion didn’t fully dissipate, I had the sense that I could expand around it rather than constrict towards it. With that expansion, I felt a lot less lonely in my personal suffering, and much more connected to something much larger and steadier. By connecting with the larger practice, I was able to find some distance from my thoughts and stories about my practice.
Another basic but important benefit of sharing practices is pure connection. We are social creatures, and research in happiness and wellness consistently points to the importance of connection as a foundation for mental health. Simply put, connecting with others is a really good idea. The more we connect with other people (especially in a meaningful way), the more likely we are to be happy and well. Practicing with others without all the bings and dings of modern life, creates the opportunity for authentic, undistracted connection. In the age of texting and instagram, that quality of connection matters more than ever.
For most of us, the vast majority of our practice sessions will be alone. This is not to say that practicing with a group is better than practicing alone – both hold value and build our capacity for mindfulness. As we evolve in our offerings, we hope to place an emphasis on creating opportunities for shared practices, beginning with monthly community sits and regular alumni events. We’d love to see you soon!