Frequently Asked Questions
We enjoy receiving questions about our practice, and here are some that we have received over the years, with our answers.
In addition, we frequently have students from local colleges and universities attend our practice as part of their course requirements for religion courses. In November, 2012, Susan and Bill, our lead facilitators, were interviewed by students after practice, and you can see the video of that interview here. In April, 2013, Bill was interviewed by students before practice, and that interview is available here.
Q. In what tradition do you practice?
A. Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake in the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing.
Q. What do you do during your practice each week?
A. We usually have two sessions of sitting meditation and one session of walking meditation, with a break for tea and discussion. (For a more detailed description of a typical practice, scroll to the last Q&A.)
Q. What is a “sangha?”
A. "Sangha" is a sanskrit word that, in our tradition, means a community of persons who support each other in the practice of mindfulness.
Q. What are the benefits of meditation?
A. How much time do you have? : ) In addition to reducing stress and tension, regular meditation practice gives rise to a deeper understanding of the causes and conditions of our happiness and unhappiness. The present moment is the only time that is available to us to live. By paying attention to what is going on in the here and the now, we can identify and encourage the development of beneficial mental qualities such as kindness, joy, peace and happiness in ourselves and in others, and we can avoid encouraging the growth ofunbeneficial mental states such as seeds of anger, greed, and despair in ourselves and in others.
Q. Do I have to become a Buddhist to join this practice community?
Q. Can anyone learn to practice mindfulness meditation?
A. Yes. The basic techniques of meditation are accessible to everyone. Cultivating a regular practice, however, can be challenging. This is due in part to the general "busy-ness" of our lives. In addition, we encounter many influences on a daily basis that promote and encourage unwholesome or unmindful ways of living. Meditation practice requires commitment and diligence, in the presence of so many conditions that can lead in the opposite direction.
Q. Does mindfulness meditation focus just on the individual’s happiness?
A. "Buddha nature" refers to the awakened nature that is within each person's capacity to develop. The word “buddha” means one who is fully awake. The historical Buddha Shakyamuni was able to remain fully awake in this deeper sense during all of his waking hours. Most of us only manage to attain “part time Buddha" status, because we are able to maintain fully conscious awareness for only a fraction of our waking hours. The more we develop our concentration, mindfulness, and insight, the more we will water the seeds of our inherent Buddha nature.
Q. How do Buddhist principles relate to those of other religious or spiritual traditions?
Q. Does one have to become a monk or nun in order to become enlightened?
Q. What can a visitor expect when they attend practice for the first time?
A typical practice looks like this:
Each person, after removing their shoes at the entrance to the meditation hall, chooses a seat in the circle (either a chair or a cushion on the floor), and sits facing the center. The bell master invites the bell three times to open practice. Then the facilitator welcomes everyone, and for newcomers, explains what we are going to do.
For the first hour, practice usually consists of three periods of meditation. After this, we have a tea break and an opportunity for mindful sharing.
The first and last meditation sessions are done while seated, with walking meditation in between. One of the seated sessions is often silent, and one is a guided meditation led by the facilitator. The walking session is silent.
For sitting meditation, we are invited to sit in a comfortable position, with our backs as straight as possible, and to bring our attention to our in-breath and out-breath, attending to the entire length of each breath.
We notice if our breath is short, or long, if it is shallow, or deep. We don't try to change it - we just observe the quality of each breath just as it is. When other thoughts or feelings arise, we notice them and then let them go - and we gently return our attention to our breath.
A guided meditation is similar, except that the facilitator suggests a focus for the mind, such as:
"Breathing in, I am aware of my in-breath"
"Breathing out, I am aware of my out-breath."
"Breathing in, I see myself as a flower"
"Breathing out, I feel fresh."
Between the spoken parts, we enjoy silence.
For walking meditation, we start by standing behind our cushions. Then, the walking meditation bell master invites a small hand-held bell, at which time everyone will bow. In our tradition, this bow is an expression of our awareness of and gratitude for the support that each of us receives from the presence of the others, and also expresses the support we offer to everyone else by our mindful presence.
After bowing once, everyone turns to the left, and begins slowly and mindfully walking in a circle around the cushions and chairs. As we walk, we continue to pay attention to our breathing, but we also bring our attention to the physical sensation of each step that we are taking.
With one step, we may silently, to ourselves, think "I have arrived," and with the next step, "I am home." This practice helps us to become firmly rooted in this present moment.
The bell master uses the sound of the bell to let everyone know when each of the three periods of meditation is over.
At the break, we have the opportunity to get a cup of tea, and we then return to sitting in our circle for mindful sharing. This part of the practice is an opportunity for each member to share from their heart something with the assembled community. The subject may relate to an experience that they have had in which they were able to see the benefit of their practice. Or, it may be a joy or a sorrow that they are having. There is no obligation to share, but when a person wants to share they bow to let the group know, and the group bows back. Then after the person has finished sharing, he or she bows again, and then someone else may share if they wish to do so. This wonderful practice allows us to give and receive a most precious gift – the gift of full attention to what is being shared.
The sharing session lasts for thirty minutes, after which the bell master invites the bell three times to conclude practice.
In addition to our usual practice, we sometimes have a speaker, and each year we organize a weekend retreat at the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville. We also organize "days of mindfulness" at different times during the year.
On the first Sunday of each month, all of the meditation is in silence.
On the last Sunday of each month, we share in reciting the Five Mindfulness Trainings during our third session. These trainings are guidelines for living an ethical life. After practice, we then enjoy a vegetarian and vegan pot luck dinner.