When I started meditating almost twenty years ago, it was very much a solo affair. In the quiet, pre-dawn hours, I would get up and light a candle in the darkness and sit there practicing, trying to hold my attention on the flickering flame without getting distracted or falling asleep.
I loved meditating, and I liked the idea of becoming an expert meditator, but overall I found it challenging to harness my attention, be still, and relax.
At that time, it never occurred to me that meditating with other people might help. But eventually, I found a teacher and a community of practitioners who I resonated with, and I started meditating with them. Did meditating with others erase the challenge altogether? No, but it did make practice easier, and it forever changed the way I relate to meditation.
The Benefits of Meditation with Others
If you haven’t spent time meditating with others, I can’t commend it highly enough. Here are a few things I learned from my 13 years in the ashram about the benefits of meditation with others:
- You Are Not Alone
- A Different Kind of Intimacy
- Tapping the Buddha Field
- Consciousness is Bigger Than You
- Silence is Golden
- You’ve Never Listened Like This Before
- Noble Struggle
- Infusing Your Relationships with Deeper Unity
- Increased Self Confidence
- Positive Peer Pressure
1. You Are Not Alone
For many years, I felt alone and isolated in this world. I felt trapped within my own psychological self, like a hamster spinning in his wheel. But, among other things, meditating with others provided me with an experiential reference point of profound connection with others.
It helped to slowly erode the edifice of isolation, replacing it with an abiding conviction in unity and communion with life. For me, that might be the most powerful and positive aspect of meditating with others—the conviction that I am not alone. We are connected in ways that are profound, moving, and mysterious, and meditating with others makes that tangible.
2. A Different Kind of Intimacy
One of my favorite parts of meditating with others is the quality of intimacy that develops. In the wordless silence, the space between you and your fellow meditators comes alive. Your awareness expands in this space. You become aware of things that you usually don’t notice.
For example, you can feel someone’s intention without even looking at him or her. In the silence, there’s less static and fewer barriers, and you don’t need words to communicate effectively. You tune in to a more essential level of communication—one that is always taking place between human beings, beneath all the noise and distraction.
3. Tapping the Buddha Field
When you meditate regularly with other people, you start to develop sensitivity to the ‘field’ of meditation. It may sound unusual, but there is something like a field of consciousness that develops when everyone comes together with the same intention.
Over time, that field gets infused with meditative stillness and penetrating silence. Once you tune into this phenomenon, you will find that it’s much easier to meditate. Your attention naturally starts to rest on awareness itself. And because everyone is focused on the same limitless dimensions of awareness, it gets amplified.
4. Consciousness is Bigger Than You
When you meditate with others and you start to drop into these deeper states of awareness, it’s hard to miss the fact that something big is happening. When you are really letting go, your attention expands outward and you become aware of Life in a new way. The walls come down and you realize that everyone has his or her attention on the same thing.
At the same time, in this quiet stillness, life is all around you, vivid, awake, singular, and filled with intelligence. And it’s as if your combined attention is part of that intelligence and also fueling it.
It’s hard to explain, but when you have this experience, you know that you are tapped into Life at its core, and its dimensions are infinite. I guess you could say that it’s awe inspiring, and that is what real meditation engenders—spontaneous awe. And the simple truth is that it’s much easier to experience this when you meditate with others.
5. Silence is Golden
Silence becomes something different when you meditate with others. It’s almost like an invisible medium that binds you, and it gets stronger and stronger the more you meditate with others. Communication and intimacy happen more naturally and fluidly in the silence that accompanies meditation. Meditative silence is free of psychic friction. As a result, different parts of the self come to the surface and there is room for more subtle forms of awareness, perception, and feeling.
6. You’ve Never Listened Like This Before
When you meditate with others, it’s like listening with your entire being. What are you listening to? Silence. In deep meditation, your whole being attunes to a sound beneath all the other sounds. It’s a quality of silence that is alive and it’s both inside and outside of you—a bridge between the inner and the outer.
Sometimes you can hear noises in the distance and instead of disturbing your meditation, they reverberate inside of you like a poignant piece of music and expand your awareness.
7. Noble Struggle
When you meditate with others, you experience communion. Like sitting down and having a meal, you partake in a sacred act together. You struggle on your own to let go—together.
Sure, when you are sitting there on your cushion endeavoring to let go of your compulsive addiction to thought, you might not feel together. But afterwards, if your efforts have been genuine, there is a deep and natural bond that arises with others who have been making the same noble effort.
8. Infusing Your Relationships with Deeper Unity
Surprisingly, you’ll find meditating on your own can sometimes reinforce the feeling of separateness from others who don’t share your value for practice. After you meditate deeply, you’re in a rarified state of consciousness. And it can be disconcerting when you meet others who aren’t in the same space.
But when you meditate with others, you consciously share that quality of consciousness, and can speak about it afterwards. They know what you are talking about. You no longer feel like an alien, and even more importantly, your shared experience reinforces the truth of deeper unity.
9. Increased Self Confidence
Nothing boosts your meditation ‘can-do’ confidence like experiencing higher and deeper states of awareness. Naturally, we all experience doubt and resistance as we start on the path of meditation. So these exalted episode, and the confidence they inspire, are key to our long-term success and our short-term morale.
If you meditate with other people long enough and frequently enough, you’ll find it’s easier to have these experiences. And when you do, you’ll know why I’m making a big deal about it.
10. Positive Peer Pressure
As we have mentioned in previous articles, when you meditate with friends, peers, or even strangers, you are much less likely to move your body. When you are on your own, no one is looking, and nobody sees you fidgeting…it’s just you. It may not be the most noble motivation, but you can’t underestimate the power of a little peer pressure to keep you from scratching that itch or shifting that aching knee.
And in the end, whether your stillness comes from an inner urge or an outer injunction, the ultimate result is that same. You are still, and that’s the goal.
If you don’t have friends to meditate with, try going to an open session at a local Buddhist center to experience the benefits of meditation with others. They often have practice rooms and times when anyone can meditate. Or join an organized practice session. And don’t worry, you don’t have to join the religion or spiritual community if you don’t want to. The Buddhists are cool like that. When you go, forget everything I shared with you above, do the practice, and see what happens. I think you’ll be surprised how powerful it can be.