Image: PSD Graphics
The basic format
Practically speaking, this involves having a short meditation, say 10 minutes, followed by a moment of sharing. The sharing could be 10 minutes if there are only two of you (i.e., 5 minutes each). During a 5-minute segment, one person is the speaker, sharing their experience. The other is the active listener. That is, every so often during the 5-minute period, the listener MIGHT summarize what the speaker has said. This gives the speaker a chance to hear themselves think, so to speak.
A simple structure, for 2 people, would be to have 3 segments, for a total of 30 minutes. First, a 10-minute meditative moment. Then, a 10-minute segment when each person speaks for 5 minutes. Last, a 10-minute moment of meditation.
While these time suggestions are a great starting point, feel free to adapt them to the specific needs of your group. For instance, some people may want to have meditative moments of 15 minutes, instead of 10 minutes.
If you are more than two people, you can increase the sharing time. So, for four people, the sharing could go to 20 minutes instead of 10 – 5 minutes for each person. Within each five minutes segment one person is a speaker, one person is the active listener, and the two others are simply witnessing this.
If you are more than 4 people, you may want to separate into pairs or triads to do the sharing at the same time. You can then all come back together into the larger group and share some of the highlights with the group as a whole.
The meditative moment
Now, we are going to talk a bit more than what you do during the moment of meditation.
If you already have a meditation practice that you are accustomed to, for instance noticing your breath, feel free to use this practice. If you don’t have a go-to practice, or you are just starting to meditate, you don’t have to immediately start learning a method. It is totally OK to simply pause for these 10 minutes, with some curiosity about what it is like for you. That is, some curiosity about noticing what it feels like to sit still, paying attention to your felt experience, moment by moment. Just noticing your discomfort is fine.
There are two ways to learn something new. One is to get all the possible instructions, and try to do it right from the beginning. Another is to learn by trial and error. You do it any old way, you see what happens, notice what goes well and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly. As you gain experience, you can look for advice on how to do it better. This advice will feel less abstract, because you will have some real-life experience with which to compare it.
Interactive meditation is particularly suitable for this kind of learning, because it includes moments of meditation and moments of sharing. You have an opportunity reflect on what you did, and you can hear how other people might be doing things differently.
The sharing moment
During the sharing moment, try to bring a meditative quality (perhaps the same sense you had in meditation) to your talking, or to your listening. The rhythm of meditation is slower, calmer than the ordinary rhythms of speech. You can aim to keep this rhythm even after the meditative moment itself.
What is it that you talk about during your 5 minutes? You talk about your experience during the meditation that immediately precedes the sharing. This is very focused on the moment’s experience, not a place to discuss generalities about meditation.
You talk about the felt sense of it, whatever the phrase “felt sense” means to you. For some people, it might mean tracking the physical sensations. For others, it might be more like an impressionistic sense of being with yourself in an emotionally embodied way. Here as well, you don’t have to do it right the first time. You don’t even have to know what you are aiming for. You just start, and, overtime, the process of paying attention to what you are doing is going to help you get a better sense of what to do.
What is the focus of the group?
The structure of interactive meditation is suitable for many kinds of situations.
It could be a great format for people who want to deepen their practice of meditation. You are using the blending of meditative moments and sharing moments to learn more about the process and about yourself, as described above.
This structure is also very suitable for a support group. For instance, a support group of people who are on a weight-loss diet. The blending of meditative moments and sharing provides a mindful atmosphere to better understand your experience as you go through the diet and to support each other.
It can also be a great structure for people working together as a team on a project. A period of interactive meditation at the beginning of work sessions could help you find a way to be more grounded and more productive in your work together.
We have found it most useful for the exploration of difficult experiences and feelings because of the natural “distance” one is likely to attain while contemplating.
We hope that this will inspire you to experiment. When you do, please share with us (and the community) how you make it work for you.
How this came about:
The above process is directly inspired by the meditation group led by my friend Bruce Gibbs. A long-time meditator and Focusing teacher, he came up with the idea of combining meditation and Focusing in his group. He invited me to his group to try it, and it clicked for me. It felt so right in combining meditation and connection, inner exploration and sharing, inner calm and co-regulation. I suggested to him that the same basic structure could work without people having to be trained in either meditation or Focusing. Just taking a pause, and sharing in a mindful way. We experimented with this approach and saw that it opened up new possibilities for people. So we are happy to share it with others, and looking forward to hearing about your experiences with it.