I go every week to a "sangha," a group of people who meditate together. I discovered it by searching for meditation in the Champaign Urbana area, and luckily they have a website. Meditation practice is, as most of you know, basically a solitary thing--we sit, or walk, in silent contemplation. Each of us has her own issues to think through and notice, his own path towards feeling freer. But like most of us, I am helped by routine and the expectation of other people; because I go "do meditation" once a week, I know that, if I get lazy, I will still do this thing that I love and is good for me at least sometimes, if not as often as I wish.
The location is a Quaker meetinghouse, so it's airy, simple, and open. The space just feels good. We sit on cushions or chairs for an hour, in silence. I often have images of light--light going up towards the sky from each person's head, or a swirling set of colors that move around and among us. Some of the older and more centered-seeming people have very strong, stable light in my imagined world. And then I do my own thing--have thoughts and feelings, notice them, remind myself to focus on the breath, concentrate on radiating love out into the world. The hour is over very quickly.
After meditation, we listen to a "dharma talk" (yes, I'm using quotation marks around these terms because they're new to me; I came to meditation via secular self-help and not formally through Buddhism, so I'm still enamored of all the special terms). It's generally recorded from a retreat, so it's a teacher talking to people who have come to learn and meditate over a period of time. I like that the teacher isn't there in front of us, in part because I can listen more objectively. After the talk, the group (sitting in a circle by this time in another room) discusses any ideas or reactions. Without the teacher being present, everyone feels free to question, disagree, wonder.
It is an eclectic group of people, from 15-25 on any given night. Some are retired, some students, a lot of us in-between. People are thoughtful and passionate and confused and intelligent. No one pretends to have all the answers.
My favorite discussion so far, however, was decisively ended by a woman I find delightfully frank. We had gotten onto a tangent, and phrases like, "the commodification of wisdom" and "money-making-machine of self-help" had gotten thrown around. The general attitude was one of disdain for money and materialism and all those things we were supposed to be "above." And yeah, I supported this line of discussion myself--I do think that we live in a culture that tells us money and objects will make us happy, and we have to fight against that to figure out what will actually make each of us happy. And then this gray-haired woman who brings her own chair said, "I just have one last thing to say: sometimes I go shopping. And sometimes I even like it."
I burst out laughing. A few people smiled uncertainly. The leader wrapped it up, and we started putting our chairs back in their stacks.
The thing I loved about this comment was simply this: she had called us on our little judging bubble. Is it good to get caught up in materialism? No. But we are all human, and flawed, and imperfect. And judging other people isn't something to aspire to, either. Even the Buddha, I am learning, advocated the Middle Way. Not totally ascetic, nor totally indulgent. Just muddling along trying to do the best we can in the middle of things. Sometimes we meditate. Sometimes we eat chocolate. Sometimes we put on makeup, or we drink too much, or we sleep too late. Sometimes we go shopping.
Instead of telling myself not to do normal human things, I opt for liking it all as much as I can.