I start a conversation with a stranger and we start sharing our interests and hobbies. I mention I’m interested in Vipassana meditation and naturally they start asking questions. I explain how the practice helps me and how it has helped other people and they become interested enough that they what to try it. What do I do?
The answer I’ve tried for 2.5 years is, “Well to learn the technique you need to take a 10 day course. The closest center is 7 hours away and you need to apply a couple of months in advance to make sure you get a spot.” The salesman in me knows this is a horrible answer but until recently it’s the only one that Goenka provided me. As you would expect, I’ve yet to successfully convince someone to take a course.
Goenka has recently released a 15 minute instructional video to teach anyone Anapana meditation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5CJLKTn47k). This is the technique people learn and practice for the first 3.5 days of a 10 day course before being taught Vipassana. This is helpful and gives me something to share but is this really giving anyone an idea of what Vipassana is all about?
So how do I help people get a little better taste of the Vipassana community? Approved Goenka local group sittings can only be attended by those who have sat a 10 day course. While I understand the value of having these exclusive group sittings do they need to be the only opportunity available? I don’t know if it’s an American thing, a Western thing, or a human thing, but everyone I know wants to test run something before the commit 10 days to it. 10 Days is over half of many people’s annual vacation allotment so I think that’s fair and understandable.
So we have outreach events where we hand out pamphlets, show a documentary about Vipassana being taught in a Southern Alabama high security prison (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgfVLXMqLpQ) and send them on their way. While this might keep Vipassana on their radar, is it really enough to convince them to try a 10 day course? Did they really get a feeling of the Vipassana community or how this practice could impact their lives?
One reason it’s hard to introduce people to the Vipassana community is that it barely exists. I’ve been to 4 different Goenka group sittings and they usually have two or three people attending. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a community. So I believe in this technique and I want to share it with people but I don’t have a community of people to introduce them to. What do I do?
I think the answer is having an open group meditation. Luckily for me, this already exists in Carrboro through a meetup group (http://www.meetup.com/Vipassana-Meditation-Meetup-Group/). I’m not running it but I really enjoy supporting this group that allows anyone who wants to try out meditation an opportunity to sit in silence for 45 minutes with a local group and hang out briefly after the sittings. This is a space where people with different meditation backgrounds can come together to support and learn from each other and for newcomers to explore. Maybe after a couple of months of attending this group someone would really be able to commit to a 10 day Vipassana course. I know this isn’t necessarily supported by Goenka but it seems like the best option I can find to encourage me to continue my practice and to introduce newcomers in a healthy and supportive way.