Throughout history, spiritual and religious organizations have practiced meditation in group settings. Rather than opting for private, individual meditation practices, they choose to undertake this intensely personal process while surrounded by others.
In modern day society, it is easy to find meditation groups and collective sessions organized in most cities. There are even apps you can download onto your smartphone so that when you are meditating alone at home, you can log into the app and check afterward how many people you were meditating “with.”
But why? Why choose to meditate in a group? Group meditation can be beneficial on a number of levels.
Firstly, discipline. One of the major barriers to meditation can be having the discipline to actually sit down and begin your practice. Meditation takes a great deal of mental effort and energy and, as such, there can be a lot of resistance to doing it. Making an arrangement with a group to meditate together holds you accountable for actually doing it.
Also, when meditating alone, the temptation to give in to the distractions of your mind, lose focus and not sit out the rest of the session can be overwhelming. Even just the possibility that you might do this can be a huge distraction. However, when meditating with others, it is significantly less likely that you will choose to jump up halfway through to feed the cat, hang the washing out or check Facebook. As such, being in a group of people who are all also meditating can help your focus tremendously.
What’s more, once you’ve broken through the barrier of actually meditating by making that commitment with a group, you learn that you are able to remain seated and focused (Learn more about seated postures for meditation here). The practice of meditation gets under your skin as you begin to experience its tremendous benefits. The connection you find with that quiet space within yourself as you meditate can have a subtle, yet powerful, effect. As such, you’re far much more likely to continue your meditation practice independently.
Then there is the element of support that being around others can give. Meditation is undoubtedly challenging - the mind will likely to continue its chatter throughout, and it can take a great deal of effort to remain focused and present without getting caught up in the narrative of your thoughts (Learn how to quiet the mind's "monkey chatter" here.). It can be encouraging to know that there are others around you who are facing the same challenges. It can also be helpful to share experiences and discuss these challenges after the meditation session. Perhaps others can share their words of wisdom, or their experiences of experimenting with different meditation techniques. Additionally, difficult emotions, feelings and memories may arise during meditation. Having others around to potentially provide support afterward can be invaluable.
It can also be a wonderful bonding experience to meditate with a group. Most of our group-based activities are centered around interacting with each other in a very extroverted way - we talk, we laugh, we work, we play and we dance. But when you meditate with a group you share a very different and often profound experience. You are together, in a sacred space, holding each other in your awareness, but without drawing each other in to your personal dialogue, narrative or actions. This can be new for you and even feel alien at first. But there is real value in finding your community of like-minded people who share your spiritual and ideological beliefs and values. Meditating with others can be a great way to do exactly that.
To look at it on an even deeper level, something powerful happens when meditating with others. One person meditating alone can be a force to be reckoned with. They move into a higher level of consciousness, and in doing so they possess a powerful energy, or shakti, harnessing a direct connection with the Divine within themselves. When people meditate together, this is multiplied and intensified. Many people say that they experience something deeper and a more profound connection with the Divine within themselves when they meditate in a group. We call this shaktipunj, or the accumulation of divine energy.
It’s like when chanting. One person chanting is a beautiful thing: the sound they create, the vibration, the focus and channeling of their mind and awareness. But when many people chant together, it is a whole other phenomenon. The sound and energy they create together is mesmerizing, engaging and magnetic. Meditation is the same. The energy is not expressed out loud, but the cumulative effect of the collective focus and concentration is as powerful and spellbinding as group chanting.
If you haven’t already tried meditating with others, have a look for a group in your area or consider creating one with a group of friends. Feel for yourself the difference it can make and enjoy the experience of connecting with yourself while with others who are doing the same.