Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Group Meditation - A response to the article by Nick Thomas

- by Élyse Pomeranz

I am grateful to Nick Thomas for his article on Group Meditation.  Mark McAlister asked if anyone has read the books by Arthur Zajonc and Michael Lipson. I have worked with both individuals and read Arthur's book. It is out of a conversation with Mark that this response to Nick's article arises.
Nick Thomas points out that we are vulnerable to influences from other members of our group when we are involved in meditation. It is his view that none of us are really morally strong enough to be able to step into meditative work in a group setting.

.. when through his esoteric development man has gradually succeeded in making his astral body free and independent of the members of human nature, it is necessary that he should arm and protect himself first of all against possible influences of other astral bodies.  For when the astral body becomes free, it is no longer protected by the physical and etheric bodies which are a strong citadel for the astral body.  It is free, it becomes permeable and the forces of other astral bodies could easily work into it.  Astral bodies stronger than itself can gain influence over it unless it can arm itself with its own forces. -   Rudolf Steiner, The Effects of Spiritual Development, Lecture 7, (Translation by A H Parker 1978).

I appreciate that meditative work takes us into the spiritual world and requires great care.
What denotes the dangers of group meditation and how can we discern that they are present? Most important, how do we “arm ourselves with its ( astral body’s) own forces” that are the protection or precautions necessary to be fruitful in the work of Group Meditation?

The first and most obvious protection in this work is to give attention to the presence of the Christ impulse in relation to inner work with others.

for where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

The Christ presence,  or the  “I am” of the individual, is the place out of which each person may work. In that sense it is the individual ego that is the guide in group work.

In my years training with the Foundation of Shamanic Studies we were taught to find our spirit guides and to be entirely obedient to these spirits, most often in the form of animal guides. In giving over our own responsibility to choose our own path in the inner realms I can see that this work was atavistic, a turning back to a time when one person, the shaman, was active on both sides of the threshold simultaneously. This is no longer the work of a single individual, you could say that we are all required to learn to navigate consciously, fully awake on both sides of the threshold . We are not to rely on another to do this. Nick Thomas suggests that we might be led in a direction without our awareness as the astral body would be free and unaware it was being influenced. That is where the work must stand strongly in an awake, ego consciousness activity.

Although meditative work is described as taking place outside of the realm of the senses, I can see that in many meditative practices arising out of Anthroposophy there is an activity of what are called the higher senses (in Steiner’s picture of the twelve senses). The sense of the other (Ego Sense), the sense of thought (conceptual sense) , and the sense of language . These senses are called upon in the preparation and focus of many meditative practices (such as working with a phrase or verse).

We begin with a grounding in the world of sense perception (including the higher senses).  That gives us the presence in our “ I am” out of which we can surrender the sense based experience to allow a spiritual experience to occur. We then use those higher senses to reflect upon what we experienced. It is particularly fruitful to create an activity of listening openly to all experiences. Each individual can receive the work of the others and discern from that what they can take up in relation to their own individual tasks and life work.

I have attended five weekend workshops with Michael Lipson.  He took great care to create a mood of reverence and to offer to the group a text that was sacred, such as a phrase from the New Testament. We were encouraged to explore this text and he suggested various techniques. We were free to explore them as we could and felt comfortable to do. Afterwards he created a very strong attitude of respectful listening where we “ harvested” what we had experienced. The gesture was of respect and interest in the individual experiences. We opened and closed the work very consciously so that our attention was directed towards the work. We did the work and then our attention was directed back to everyday life .

I also attended two weekend workshops with Arthur Zajonc.  He spoke at length about the hygienic practices that ensured a “safe” practice where one would not be subject to dramatic Luciferic encounters but rather where one could take steps every day to strengthen and clarify the experiences one has in meditative life. This practice was encouraged whether meditating individually or in a group. He spoke about the entrance or gateway of humility, and letting go of expectation or the need for any particular result. He described a practice of inwardly creating an image, a sound, a phrase and then dissolving it to allow an after-image to appear. We were instructed to leave the meditative activity with a mood of gratitude and reverence.

Last year at the Toronto Waldorf School the faculty took up Arthur Zajonc’s work setting aside 15 minutes in each meeting to practice in this way. 7 minutes was the practice and 7 minutes sharing the experiences in small groups. We did this for 15 consecutive meetings. There were several key attributes to this practice.

1) The choice to participate or not was a free deed.
2) Each individual decided what they would work with as they created an inner image/phrase. There were various suggested questions related to the school that were possible focal points. No one was required to work with any of them.
3) Each individual was free to share or not out of their experience.

Coming together at the end of a long day to give our attention to the school in this way was rejuvenating and created a very warm presence in the room out of which to work. Many people spoke to me over the weeks of feeling more connected to the spiritual world on a daily basis. Each person had an experience that related to their level of interest in the work and in response to their individual questions.

Out of my experience, I would say that the clarity of intention, the freedom to participate or not, the mood of reverence and finally the open non-critical sharing of experience are necessary to mitigate the dangers that Nick Thomas has pointed towards. This topic deserves ongoing sharing of experiences and questioning of practices.

Two closing questions: Why would Steiner suggest that we arm and protect ourselves if we were not being asked to step towards this work?  Can group meditation provide a vessel where beings of the hierarchies can present their gifts such as courage, wisdom, story or imagination - gifts that cannot always be perceived or received out of individual work?

No comments: