We gather every Thursday evening from approximately 6:50 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Friends Meeting House at 1831 Fern Street in Victoria. Please remember that we do not meet during the month of August or between Christmas and New Year’s.
People are encouraged to arrive by 6:50 in order to give themselves a few minutes to relax, get comfortable and settle in. If you are joining us for the first time, we urge you to arrive slightly earlier so that we can welcome you and provide a brief overview of the format for the evening. We begin sitting promptly at 7:00 P.M.
Please note that we are unable to supply zafus and zabutons but several small thin cushions and many chairs are available.
When we arrive on Thursday evening, often we will greet each other with a hug, a bow or a smile. If you wish to talk, please do so quietly in the kitchen area, with the door to the meditation hall slightly ajar. This is in respect for those who wish to start their practice in the quiet environment of the meditation hall.
Once we enter the meditation hall, we do our best to maintain silence. It is customary to bow to the altar, walk mindfully to your seat, bow to your seat and then sit on your cushion or chair facing outward in our Zen rows. When we face outward we are drawing on an historical tradition that aims at reducing our tendency to become distracted, allowing our inner experiences to simply arise.
Generally, the evening consists of several parts and is facilitated by a bell person (who changes from week to week). Often the large bell or the small hand bell is used to signal the start and finish of various parts. In a nutshell, the format for our Thursday evening practice consists of:
Welcome and Incense gatha (optional) – Everybody is welcomed to our sit by the bell person. Provided nobody is allergic, usually incense is lit and a gatha (or short verse) is recited.
First Sit – The large bell is sounded or “invited” 3 times to bring our awareness to the present and to signify the start of our first sit. Customarily this first sit is in silence and lasts for approximately 20+ minutes. Occasionally, it may include a brief guided meditation or a loving kindness (or “metta”) meditation. The large bell is invited twice at the conclusion of the first sit.
Walking Meditation – The small hand bell is invited 3 times: the first asks us to stand and come to the opposite side of our seat and face inward to the Sangha; the second invites us to bow and to turn right in preparation for silent walking meditation; the third bell asks us to start walking meditation.
In walking meditation, we follow the leader and the pace that s/he sets—visualizing an image of a stream flowing, everybody moving together, slowly and mindfully. About 3/4 of the way through the walking practice, the hand bell is invited which tells us to stop walking when we reach our seat. When we reach our seat, we turn and face inwards towards each other. The small hand bell is invited once again indicating that we should bow, return to our chair/cushion and be seated. Walking meditation lasts for 7-10 minutes.
Second Sit – Once seated, the large bell is once again invited 3 times to signify the start of our second sit. This sit also lasts for about 20 minutes and is usually silent. The large bell is invited twice at the conclusion of the second sit. The small hand bell is invited once asking us to turn our chairs and cushions around to form a circle looking inward.
Chanting, Dharma Talk, Mindfulness Trainings, etc. – The next 20 or so minutes are devoted to different things, depending on the week. However, the second Thursday of each month is a constant—it is the evening when we recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings. On other Thursday evenings, we may chant, listen to a dharma talk, share a reading, etc. At times we may experience a sutra service and other mindfulness practices such as Touching the Earth and deep relaxation. To a degree, the choice of what we do is at the discretion of the bell ringer although we prefer to draw on practices that emanate from the Plum Village tradition.
Dharma Sharing—Whether we recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings, chant, listen to a dharma talk or share a reading, often we set aside 5-10 minutes for dharma sharing. This is an opportunity for us to share insights and experiences relating to mindfulness, to the evenings teaching and/or to the joys, difficulties and questions relating to the practice in our lives. We are all invited to speak freely and in confidence from our hearts. We all listen deeply while others are speaking, giving our full attention, creating a calm and understanding environment.
It is our custom to bow to signify that we wish to speak. The Sangha will acknowledge with a collective bow. When we have finished speaking, we bow to the Sangha after which the whole Sangha bows in gratitude.
If you would like to know more about etiquette in our meditation hall, you can find more details here.