Am I Doing This Right? Meditating With Others

The latest installment in our series of helpful answers to common meditation questions.

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What’s the value of meditating with others? I live out in the country now, and I’m getting lonely meditating by myself. Any suggestions?

Meditation, as the saying goes, is simple but not easy. Meditating with other people provides
a powerful support network, both in terms of having a shared space and in being able to banter about questions and ideas. The camaraderie of being with others around a common interest cannot be overestimated. The good news is that you have options to practice with others no matter where you live. There are now numerous online options for group meditation and classes, which a simple search can show you.

Additionally, you can make plans to do a silent meditation retreat once per year, or see if there is interest in your own community for starting a weekly sitting group—often we don’t know how many meditators are in our locality until we start asking around. Even joining with one other person can make a big difference. Practicing with others helps keep us engaged, interested, and disciplined.

In the meantime, bring interest and curiosity to the feeling of loneliness. This is wonderful grist for the practice mill. How does the emotion of loneliness manifest physically—what body sensations are present when it arises?

Tara Healey is program director and Jonathan Roberts is operations manager for Mindfulness- Based Learning at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

I’m so fidgety and I don’t seem to get any relief. What am I getting out of this? Maybe I’m not cut out for it.

So, feeling fidgety does not reconcile with your ideas about what mindfulness or meditation are all about? First things first: check your expectations. Are you engaging in this practice with the expectation that when you sit down to meditate you will feel all calm and “zen”? You’re not alone; this is a common misconception. I mean, why else would you engage in something like this? The key, then, is to hold your expectations lightly, and approach practice with a mindset of receptivity, curiosity, interest, and patience.

When you sit down to meditate, you are learning to ease your mind into a steady state, so that mindfulness can best do its job. Bringing attention to breath sensation over and over again supports the cultivation of this sort of steadiness. Yet as we sit in meditation, all kinds of things occur—thoughts, emotions, body sensations, etc. How will you relate to what is happening? Can you approach even the fact of being fidgety with a curious and receptive mindset? What does fidgety actually feel like? What body sensations accompany the experience of it? What is the raw data? What thoughts are you observing?

Asking these questions invites you to relate to what is unwanted or unexpected with a bit more space and less contraction. This applies to sound, too. We rarely have perfect conditions for practice. Can you learn to experience sound as sound, rather than as noise? But you don’t have to take our word for it. Try it for yourself. What is your experience like when you drop resistance and take in sensations directly, without added commentary?

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