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RESOURCES FOR ORGANIZATIONS TO OFFER AN INTERFAITH MEDITATION PROGRAM

If you’d like to host an interfaith meditation program (without IMI), or to coordinate a program on your own, please continue reading; we’d like for our nearly five years of experience with interfaith meditation programming to be useful to you (and you should feel free to contact us with any questions). If, however, you’d like for IMI to coordinate and facilitate a program, in the Washington, D.C. region, or elsewhere, simply let us know.

Hosting an interfaith meditation program can be uncomplicated. An interfaith meditation program can be held almost anywhere, whether at a faith organization, university, community center, or institution. What is needed are two meditation leaders from two faiths, announcements for inviting participants, a space in which to gather, and (if desired) a program facilitator. Co-leading a meditation and serving as a program facilitator also are straightforward, though a dedicated meditation background is strongly suggested.

From our experience, here are suggested steps for offering a program:

  1. Choose a space. Where practical, chairs arranged in a circle may be a conducive and inviting arrangement.
  2. Select a convenient day and time. This may be a weekday evening. Or a weekend that does not overlap with an established religious service (unless it has been decided that the program is to be offered within the service). For two meditations from two faiths, we suggest a program of 60-75 minutes.
  3. Invite two ordained or lay leaders from two different faiths who meditate regularly and also have experience leading meditation. (If you wish, invite three leaders from three faiths during a ninety-minute program.) You might share with each leader our own letter as a guideline for co-leading an interfaith meditation program.
  4. Pick a program facilitator to introduce and conclude the program. It is preferable that this person meditates regularly and has experience facilitating groups.
  5. Determine the ways in which the program will be publicized. We have found that a majority of participants often tend to be from the organization hosting the program.
  6. Reflect on financial needs.At the entrance to the program, a contribution basket, sign, and a volunteer may invite donations, with those donations utilized as a modest offering to the program co-leaders and the facilitator, or else to a worthy charity.
Format of the program

Opening: A representative of the host organization welcomes the gathering (usually one or two minutes).

Introduction: The program facilitator introduces the program, speaking about the practice of meditation generally and about sampling meditations from two faiths (usually for ten minutes). Please see our sample introduction for laying a foundation for participants to explore two meditations from two faiths during a single program.

Meditation A: One of the program co-leaders guides an authentic meditation from her tradition, usually for 20-25 minutes, including 10-15 minutes of shared silence. Please see our sample letter as a guideline for co-leading an interfaith meditation program.

Stretch break: The facilitator invites a two-minute silent stretch break. Silence is encouraged to maintain a contemplative atmosphere. If a yoga teacher is known in advance to be present – as is often the case during our programs – a gentle, standing stretch break may be guided for those participants who prefer a guided stretch break. (This is not a time to check emails or text messages!)

Meditation B: One of the program co-leaders then guides an authentic meditation from his tradition usually for 20-25 minutes, including 10-15 minutes of shared silence.

Optional structured dialogue (and as time allows): The facilitator invites every other participant to ask the person next to him, “During the program, what surprised you?” The participant asking the question of their neighbor simply listens without interruption to their neighbor’s 45 second stream-of-consciousness reflections; then the participant who had replied to this question asks their partner the same question, and listens without interruption. As time may allow, the facilitator encourages a few participants to share their own reflections with the whole group.

Closing: As time allows, each of the co-leaders offers a blessing (usually less than 30 seconds apiece). The facilitator closes the program with appreciation for the host organization and each of the co-leaders; with encouraging words to meditate daily (in the tradition of one’s own affiliation); about local or national meditation resources; and to drive mindfully after meditating for sixty plus minutes.

Fellowship: Light refreshments may be available following the program, so participants can meet and may share their experiences with each other.

Facilitating the program

Facilitating an interfaith meditation program encompasses: offering a ten-minute introduction laying the foundation for participants about meditation in general and trying on two meditations from two traditions; monitoring the pulse of the program’s progression; keeping track of time limits; allowing for (or guiding) a brief, silent stretch break between the two meditations; facilitating a brief period of structured dialogue (if any); and closing the program.

Although our model introduction is provided, facilitating the program is intuitive: attuning to what is transpiring and what the participants as whole may need to hear from you during the brief break between meditations and at the conclusion of the program. Occasionally, when necessary, a gentle reminder to a meditation leader may be helpful (i.e. to allow time for shared silence). The facilitator’s intention is creating a safe atmosphere for participants to explore meditation without self-judgment and to experience meditation from two faiths without needing to adopt any particular creeds.

On the day of the program:

The space in which the program takes place is arranged. If there is a religious symbol present in the meditation space, consider inviting the program co-leader(s) to bring a religious symbol of their faith as well for inclusion in the space.

One or more volunteers greet arriving participants. A basket may be available for suggested donations. Also available may be an email sign-up sheet for future announcements, a brief biography about each of the co-leaders, or a handout about approaches to meditation in

If either program co-leader, or the program facilitator, is travelling a long distance to the program venue, a quiet room in which to center oneself for a few minutes before the program may be appreciated.

A BASIC GUIDE FOR MEDITATING

Overview:

For me, the goal of meditation is not to be a proficient meditator. Or even a “good” meditator. (Some will disagree.) Neither is the goal to experience a pre-conceived objective, however well-intentioned the objective. One can spend a lot of time trying to “get it right” when the point is something deeper than any specific technique or pre-conceived goal.

How frequently people may give up meditating, or simply not begin, because of the view that “something” is supposed to happen – or else the time spent meditating has been a failure (or, even sadder, the meditator is viewed as a failure).

When there are pleasant states such as serenity, joy, peace, or clarity of mind, I incorrectly may interpret these states as signposts that I am meditating “correctly.” Yet, these states are byproducts of something else, and that “something else” is entirely beyond my ability to will it into being.

Whatever name you choose for this “something else,” whether external to you or already within you, what is offered below, as one person’s meditation guide, is offered in the spirit of your inviting That which matters most to you (and allowing yourself, for just a few moments, to let go of all else). May this be for your spiritual benefit and the spiritual benefit of all.

Settle into a relatively quiet space where you can be undisturbed for the amount of time you wish to meditate. Allow yourself to refrain from responding to the phone, emails, and text messages; it can be helpful to silence electronic devices.

Choose a comfortable seated position, such as in a chair or on the floor with a cushion. Experiment with what works best for you. Keep the spine straight to promote an alert attention. Make accommodations for your physical limitations. Do not ignore physical pain. It is not uncommon for feet to fall asleep. (This doesn’t mean that you should intend to as well!)

Do you want to meditate for a specific period of time? If so, you might set a timer, so you do not need to interrupt the meditation to glance at a watch or a clock every so often. Or do you want to meditate for an open-ended period of meditation? Either way, the routine of meditating each day, at the same time(s) each day, may be highly beneficial, even if for five minutes. You can always increase the amount of time after a few weeks. Five minutes may be just right when beginning; twenty-five minutes can encourage the wandering mind to experience instead greater clarity, focus and peace.

To begin:

Meditation can be practiced with the eyes closed or open. Experiment with what may work best for you. (If open, some prefer a downward gaze, about three or four feet away.) If sitting in a chair, feel physical points of contact where your feet touch the floor. If seated on the floor, feel points of contact where your legs contact the floor and/or one another. Feel yourself sitting in the chair or on the cushion. Allow your spine to be straight. Let your shoulders relax.

Notice sounds in the distance…Notice sounds near. Without “fixing” on sound, allow any sounds to be as they are, arising and fading…arising and fading.

Notice the breath. At the nostrils, notice the inflow and outflow of the breath; or notice the rise and fall of the chest, or the expanding and contracting of the abdomen.

It can serve to inquire inwardly, briefly as a felt intuitive sense, “What is my deepest aspiration for this particular time meditating?”

If you have a chosen meditation, you might begin using it now…

Or, from our sample meditations from the major religious traditions, you might select a word or phrase to repeat silently in the mind/heart (as you maintain awareness of the present moment).

…meditation in progress…

When distracting thoughts arise, even pleasant or holy thoughts, allow the train of thoughts to pass on by, rather than hopping on the freight train for an extended ride. If self-judgment arises (which is not uncommon), gently return to your meditation with compassion. Smiling may ease any tension.

When your meditation has ended for this single sitting, notice what feels new or different. And do refrain from grading yourself as a meditator!

Intend to practice meditation for a set time – even if for five minutes – daily at the same time each day. Or a couple of times daily. Consistency can be beneficial, and you may notice the positive byproducts of meditating daily. If you choose, allow meditation to be a priority during a specific time of the day.

Supplement – Common Meditation Hindrances:

There can be some limitations that crop up from time to time. If one, or more, does, not to worry, this is common.

Wanting: I imagine that a certain outcome should happen during or after meditating. My agenda isn’t unfolding as I would like or within the time frame as I would like (such as instant deep peace, akin to “enlightenment in sixty seconds”). Consider releasing your agenda and your timetable.

Not wanting: Something unpleasant arises, internally, while meditating. “This is not supposed to happen; it’s not what I had planned.”

Doubt: “I knew I wasn’t cut out for meditating.” This is just the mind judging – truly, no need to hang your hat upon this thought! Sometimes, when beginning to meditate, it can seem as if the thinking process actually is more pronounced than before meditating; usually, you simply are becoming aware of the thinking process that already has been spinning and, with some ongoing meditation practice, can decelerate and unwind.

If someone is guiding a meditation, doubt may say: “The person leading the meditation is not a skillful meditation leader.” (This, of course, can be true. Please meditate with people who are kind, where you are treated well, where there are no hidden agendas or unwholesome belief systems, and where you notice positive changes in yourself from meditating over time.)

Restlessness: “If I can just find a somewhat more comfortable sitting position, then I know that I’ll be able to relax and have an A+ meditation experience.” (Note: An occasional physical adjustment, at times, can be beneficial. Do accommodate your physical limitations, and do not endure physical pain.)

Or, “If I can just solve that situation from yesterday, or plan for tomorrow, then I know that I’ll be able to relax and have an A+ meditation experience.” You can always plan, or reflect upon that specific situation, if helpful, after meditating.

Fatigue: Drifting off for a cat nap; instead, maintain a relaxed yet alert attention to the present moment. Fatigue can be a sign of relaxing from stress, and it can be a sign to cultivate a more awake, alert attention of mind to what is happening now.

A Concluding Reflection:

Meditation may be viewed as a tool, an approach, a practice, and a way of being. It is not, in my view, a technique to be perfected, like so many things in life we strive to “get right.” The outcomes of any single period of meditation, whether of five minutes or twenty-five minutes, are unknowable in advance. Over time, you may notice some beneficial and tangible outcomes. The point is to practice meditation, preferably daily. A measure of guidance from a skillful and kind teacher can be useful, while recognizing that your own intuition and “inner guide” is the best teacher of all. Invite that which matters most to you, and set aside the rest. Relax. (And, yes, be amazed after a period of time.)

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"I've co-led two interfaith meditation events, each time with Jewish and Muslim faith leaders...I connected with the devotion of my colleagues, and the language of their meditations became a portal for me to a place beyond words.” Reverend Randy Lord-Wilkinson, Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Maryland; IMI meditation co-leader