Guidelines for Facilitating an ISM Session
by Ed Bastian
Following are the general guidelines for facilitating an InterSpiritual Meditation Session. Mentors and Facilitators will cultivate these for working with individuals and groups.
- The meditation facilitator creates a soft, compassionate and ‘contemplative container’ that honors the diversity of beliefs, styles and practices of the participants. Out of respect for the spiritual and secular diversity of our participants, we are careful not to use a name for God or specific names of deities and truths that are associated with specific religions.
- The feeling tone of the meditation should be soft, inviting and not too ‘heady.’ An opening meditation session should establish a loving and contemplative foundation for follow-up group interactions.
- Begin by stating the mission and purpose of ISM, reminding students that they should create their own personal focus for each step.
- Invite participants to sit in a relaxed but symmetrical posture and to breathe gently. Their hands folded in their laps or resting on their thighs. Their lips softly touching, their tongues resting on the roof of their mouth, their muscles relaxed, their feet touching the ground or folded with crossed legs, their soft healing, subtle breath flowing from the tip of their nose into their lungs and their heart centers, then permeating throughout all the cells in their bodies.
- Introduce each step by name and a very brief introductory sentence.
- Use a gong or bell to separate each step
(If leading the meditation online or via a phone, the gong should have a deep (not high or shrill) resonance and be at least a foot away from the microphone. An appropriate meditation gong App might also be used.
- A very short inspirational poem or stanza might be used to begin each step to help participants deepen into their personal practice. (The choice of a poem personalizes the meditation according to leader, but is not overtly directive or sectarian.) The ISM verses composed by Ed for each step might also used to introduce each step.
- Just before the silence, remind the participants to bring forth their own focus for each step. Their focus might come from their choice of a specific spiritual or secular teaching or their personal formulation.
- Singing the ISM mantra – song at the end, or beginning of the 7 steps. (This will depend on the context, the quality of the Facilitator’s singing voice, and the time for the overall meditation.)
- As a general rule, the verbal guidance should not exceed 1/3 of the allotted time for each step. The leader should not feel compelled to over-lead or to fill up the silence with their own voice.
- In a 20-minute meditation, the contemplative steps of 1,2,3,4 and 7 are about 2 minutes each. The meditation steps of 5 & 6 are about 4 minutes each with the beginning verbal guidance at a maximum of 30 – 40 seconds.
- We are guiding a process for participants of diverse styles and perspectives to engage in their own practice for each step. We are not dictating their specific focus or belief. In unity with each other, we compassionately celebrate and harmonize our diversity.
Guidelines for Facilitating and Mentoring InterSpiritual Discussions
by Ed Bastian
The primary language of InterSpiritual dialog and mentoring is shared silence. We support each other through our compassionate listening and minimal words or gestures of respect and gratitude. Compassionate listening and silence are the soothing elixirs that place each spiritual perspective on a neutral, reciprocal ground. In silence we are liberated from our fixed religious or non-religious identities and the words that distinguish one truth from another. We celebrate and welcome the diversity of our respective spiritual styles, traditions, racial, gender, and ethnic diversity. Separately and jointly we experience a wordless quality or essence of being that unites us. Our rigid identities soften and become porous to the love and wisdom of others.
When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in
the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a
form of prayer in which there is effectively no distraction.
— Thomas Merton
When we enter into contemplative conversation with each other it is helpful if we begin with meditation, then we welcome the silent pauses between sentences and maintain this same gentle and kind quality of being referenced by Thomas Merton. Openness implies vulnerability, therefore we must take great care with our intentions and our words. Opening up to and with each other is rare and delicate occurrence. Therefore we take great care not to cause another person’s shy inner self to recede back into the shadows of their consciousness. We create a safe and supportive container within which this contemplative process can unfold.
Here is a set of guidelines I have compiled to help us help each other. It is based on many years of work with contemplative teachers from many traditions with the Spiritual Paths Foundation.
- Embrace silence as a common language and the elixir of shared experience.
- Don’t feel compelled to preach. In this process we are not guides or gurus but friends.
- Cultivate the art of the question rather than the urge to provide answers.
- Our job is to help others to discover, honor and harness their spiritual styles and questions for their personal spiritual and contemplative practices.
- Genuinely celebrate and honor the diversity of all spiritual traditions.
- Soften the personal boundaries of fixed identity of your own religion and belief system and open your heart for sincere sharing and learning from the experiences of others.
- Expand your exclusive identity to one that is inclusive and universal.
- Do not respond to a statement by another person with disagreement, agreement, or affirmation. Simply listen compassionately, allowing the statement of another to rest in contemplative reflection and silence. We might offer a word or gesture of respect, ‘I hear you’ and gratitude.
- Refrain from imposing or projecting your personal views on others’ traditions, beliefs, or practices on others.
- Do not try to speak for another person’s spiritual tradition or practice.
- Refrain from imposing a single universal truth on all religions and spiritual traditions that might not be shared by the traditions themselves or the person with whom you are working.
- If you belong to a specific tradition, speak “from” it rather than “for” it.
- Be careful not to misappropriate, or lift out of context, a specific practice from one tradition and graft it onto another tradition or your practice without knowing its indigenous meaning.
- Engage in compassionate listening to elicit the experience and wisdom within each individual.
- Help mentees to engage in the steps of InterSpiritual Meditation, to honor, harness and harmonize their archetypal styles, to pursue answers to their deepest questions, and to explore one or more spiritual and secular sources for the development a personal spiritual path and contemplative practice.
- Encourage mentees to journal their personal process of exploration, discovery and practice. Encourage them to use the relevant prompts (provided in the online journals) as a foundation for their personal learning and mentoring sessions.
“Circles of Trust Touchstones”
by Parker Palmer
The following “Touchstones” were adapted from Parker Palmer’s Touchstones for Circles of Trust. More information can be found in his book “A Hidden Wholeness,” or at The Center for Courage and Renewal: www.couragerenewal.org. Palmer’s methodology provides an an extremely important grounding for InterSpiritual dialog.
- Extend and receive welcome. People learn best in hospitable spaces. In this circle, wesupport each other’s learning by giving and receiving hospitality.
- Be present as fully as possible. Be here with your doubts, fears and failings as well as your convictions, joys, and successes, your listening as well as your speaking.
- What is offered in the circle is by invitation, not demand. This is not a “share or die” event! During this time, do whatever your soul calls for, and know that you do it with our support. Your soul knows your needs better than we do.
- Speak your truth in ways that respect other people’s truth. Our views of reality may differ, but speaking one’s truth in a circle of trust does not mean interpreting, correcting, or debating what others say. Speak from your center to the center of the circle, using “I” statements, trusting people to do their own sifting and winnowing.
- No fixing, no saving, no advising, and no setting each other straight. This is one of the hardest guidelines for those of us in the helping professions. But it is one of the most vital rules if we wish to make a space that welcomes soul, the inner teacher.
- Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions instead of counsel, corrections. With such questions, we help hear each other into deeper speech.
- When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, “I wonder what brought her to this belief?” or “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?” or “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?” Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself—more deeply.
- Attend to your own inner teacher. We learn from others, of course. But as we explore poems, stories, questions, and silence in a circle of trust, we have a special opportunity to learn from within. So pay close attention to your own reactions and responses, to your most important teacher.
- Trust and learn from the silence. Silence is a gift in our noisy world, and a way of knowing in itself. Treat silence as a member of the group. After someone has spoken, take time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words.
- Observe deep confidentiality. Trust comes from knowing that group members honor confidences and take seriously the ethics of privacy and discretion.
- Know that it’s possible to leave the circle with whatever it was that you needed when you arrived. Know that the seeds planted here can keep growing in the days ahead