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Karuna Reflection Circles

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Our group averages between eight and ten people, and meets monthly at the Halifax Shambhala Centre.  Meetings are generally scheduled on the third Saturday of the month, from 1:00 - 3:00 pm..  The group sits in a circle on chairs or cushions. This form has worked very well for our group.  People both from within and outside of the Shambhala community attend.

The format that has developed is as follows:

Shambhala bow:  The group begins with a Shambhala bow.

Welcome:  The moderator welcomes everyone and briefly touches on the main goals of the group:
  • to be fully present with each other, carefully listening to and hearing what each person may wish to share
  • to create an environment of trust, friendship, awareness and openness
  • to allow ourselves and each other to be who we are, without judgment or embarrassment
  • given the personal nature of what is often shared, all members are asked to agree to keep the contents of our gatherings confidential
Short silent meditation session:  The group practices mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes, sitting on chairs, facing each other.  The practice allows everyone to settle in and to “catch our breath.”  If people are new to sitting practice, the moderator gives simple instructions in mindfulness meditation.

Guided meditation on basic goodness:  Following the sitting practice, the moderator leads the group in a short guided meditation on opening one’s heart and connecting to all beings.  Participants are encouraged to close their eyes and focus on their heart centres, allowing whatever sadness, suffering and rawness, as well as joy and openness, to be there without judgment or preference.  Acknowledging our human experiences as being fundamentally good, we might visualize this goodness as brilliant light and warmth, radiating out from our hearts, and filling our bodies.  The light then extends out to the room we are in, filling the room and touching the other participants in the circle.  Radiating further, this human goodness extends out to the people in our communities, in our country, expanding to touch all beings in the world and universe. As the light from our hearts touches each person or being, we visualize that they connect personally to the basic goodness in their own hearts, and that they, also, radiate unconditional goodness to all other beings.

Listening circle:  For approximately 45 minutes, each person has the opportunity to share whatever she or he wishes with the other members of the group.  This can be something that inspires, confuses, hurts or challenges them.  While each person is speaking, everyone else in the circle listens with their full attention, never interrupting or asking questions of the speaker, not even to clarify something said.  There is no particular order in which members speak or an expectation that everyone should share something.   It’s important that the moderator also be a participant – a peer who is inspired, troubled or interested, just like anyone else in the circle.

Reflection and discussion:  After each person who wishes to speak has done so, people sit quietly, reflecting on what has been shared.  In the early stages of establishing the group, the moderator encourages the participants to enjoy the silence, to not jump at the chance to say something for the sake of saying it, and to not make small talk or rush in to solve someone’s problem.  Out of that wakeful, open space, if something comes to mind that people wish to share – for example, a comment on something that someone said, a common pattern recognized in the stories told, or a response to a request for help – then it is fine to share this with the group or direct a question or comment toward an individual.  The key is to be willing to allow gaps within the discussion and to trust the silence.  The moderator may point out that most of us feel awkward whenever we are supposed to be communicating and nothing is being said.  The power of this form is to go beyond that awkward, habitual reaction and appreciate the non-verbal aspects of communication.

Tea:  While the group discusses their experiences, tea (but not food) is served. People are asked not to have side-conversations with each other, continuing to allow one person at a time to speak and be heard.  The moderator gently intercedes if one or two individuals dominate the conversation, or if people begin to make small talk.

Closing:  After the discussion, we take five minutes for closing comments from the participants.  Generally, people take the opportunity to thank each other and share what was most helpful.

Silent meditation:  The group closes the session with silent meditation for 5 minutes.

Shambhala bow:  At the end of the meditation, the group bows to close.  The date is then set for the next gathering.  The moderator thanks everyone for their participation.

- Alan Sloan, 11 September 2007