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One Example of a Facilitator’s Introduction to an Interfaith Meditation Program

Welcome. Shalom. Salaam. Namaste. Sat Sri Akal. Allah-u-Abha. Peace.

Welcome…whether you may affiliate with a church…a synagogue…a mosque…a temple…a gurdwara…a spiritual community of another name…or none of the above.

Welcome if you call the Divine: Father, Jesus, Adonai, Allah, Bhagavan, Wahe Guru, or none of the above. Welcome if you affiliate with a non-theistic religion and you call that which is beyond human form and ego: Buddha-nature, Truth, Consciousness, Universal Spirit, or none of the above. Welcome if you are agnostic or atheist. There’s room here for all of us.

On the level of religious creed and ritual, there may be irreconcilable differences. Beneath creed and ritual, is there a space where we may meet? Our gathering here is an invitation to explore this. It also is an opportunity when the [church] and the [mosque] come together under one roof to experience one another’s spiritual practice of meditation. What is it like to meditate as a [Jew]? As a [Buddhist]?

Meditation, integral to most traditions, is one approach, among others, for inviting connection with your own spirituality. Meditation, according to the Mayo Clinic, also can bring a sense of calm, peace, and balance that benefits emotional well-being and overall health.

The goal here is not to be a “good” meditator. The intention here is to welcome your own spirituality.

Sometimes in meditation there can be a hindrance or two that crops up from time to time. No big deal. I’ll mention them in case one happens to arise while you are meditating, so you may feel at ease.

One possible hindrance is “wanting mind.” It goes like this: I imagine that a certain experience should happen while I’m meditating – in order for me to feel as if the meditation has been a “success.” If you may have an agenda for how you’re supposed to feel while meditating, it can be helpful to let go of this expectation of yourself.

Another possible hindrance is “not wanting mind:” Something unwelcome arises, internally, while meditating, and there is resistance to the temporary experience. One may think: “This is not what I had planned.” It can be helpful to let go of the expectation for yourself for how you should feel, or not feel.

So, wanting, and not wanting: either may lead to a sense of doubt, which may go like this: “I knew I wasn’t cut out for meditating!” Sometimes, when beginning to meditate, it can seem as if the thinking process actually is more pronounced than before meditating; it’s like tires spinning on a bicycle when the cyclist has stopped peddling – spinning tires gradually slowing down. Or, “The person leading the meditation is not a skillful meditation leader.” (The latter, of course, can be true.)

A fourth hindrance that sometimes shows up is 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.” That’s physical restlessness. (If you are in physical pain while meditating, by all means adjust your position!)

Or, mental restlessness: “If I can just solve that situation from yesterday, or plan for what may happen tomorrow, then I know that I’ll be able to relax and have an A+ meditation experience.” When distracting thoughts arise, or when mind is tempted to follow a train of associations, return, with compassion for yourself, to the meditation.

Finally, fatigue: Drifting off for a cat nap. Instead, maintaining a relaxed, yet alert, attention can invite your own spirituality in the present moment.

So, what to do during a meditation? Relax; allow the mind to quiet; trust your intuitive, inner voice to welcome what matters most deeply to you; and be with That, letting go of all else.

I’ve asked each of the meditation presenters to bring forward authentic meditations. There’s no need to water-down the richness of a tradition in the name of interfaith coziness; we can handle the richness of each tradition, because the depth of true spiritual connection is compelling and transformative.

Naturally, one may ask what to do if there is resistance during a meditation, whether the meditation is of another faith or of one’s own faith. First, you might see if the resistance passes; sometimes, initial resistance gives way to spiritual insight. So, no need to sound the alarm bells; relax and breathe easily.

After a bit of time, if there may be a word of phrase that doesn’t work for you, you might substitute that word or phrase for one that does resonate with you. For example, if a religious tradition’s Name for G-d elicits substantial resistance for you which does not ease, substitute that Name with another that is more likely lead to spiritual connection for you.

If a meditation as a whole does not appeal to you, you might return to the inflow and outflow of the breath as a focus of meditation, or you may wish to return to a meditation with which you are familiar. There is no need to endure a meditation.

As we sample a meditation or two of another faith, with the intention of experiencing that faith for twenty-five minutes, there is no intention for you to adopt any religious belief system.

The format for our time together is simple: In a moment, I’ll be quiet. [Presenter A] will lead a meditation; [Presenter B] will lead a meditation. In between, there will be a one-minute, silent stretch break – silent so as to maintain an inward focus and a meditative environment. Please check to insure your cell phone is off.
(Introduce the two meditation leaders.)

Please introduce yourself to the person on your left and the person on your right.

(IF TIME ALLOWS) I invite you now into a comfortable, attentive position with the spine straight. (Demonstrate.) There’s no need to try to make anything happen while meditating. Meditation can be practiced with the eyes open or closed. You might take a couple of deep breaths. (Pause.) What brought you here tonight?…Of all that you could have done this evening, what called you here and now? (Pause.) What is your heart’s intention for this evening? (Pause.) What matters most to you?

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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