Improving Group Meditations

What Is Group Meditation

People view group meditation as a possible way to energetically ground the group you are performing the meditation for, help them focus, or maybe even set the mood for a ritual the group might be doing later.

There’s a lot of information crammed into this post that I could go on about given more space and time, but I wanted to try and summarize my Mystic South workshop into a written form for people to benefit from.

One thing I’ve noticed when people performed group meditations, they’ve tended to mainly be straightforward grounding meditations. I’ve heard interesting meditations in recordings where people who had a ton of experience with providing group experiences would describe scenery and environments the meditator is to experience in more detail, or books I’ve read had much more description than I normally have heard in rituals.

So, I started to experiment with group meditations and taking people on all sorts of mental journeys. Luckily, I had friends in the group meditations I led who would give me feedback. “This was awesome, but this kind of took me out of the meditation” or “It’s distracting when you do this” or “This was amazingly powerful for me!” My friends enjoyed the basic meditations I was providing them, but they wanted them to be better—so I heard both the good and bad feedback.

One thing that if you want to improve at anything, people you know who want you to succeed, are invested in your improvement, and you are comfortable hearing feedback from is essential. I’ll go into feedback more at the end of this post, but it is important to find out what worked and what didn’t. And maybe, what didn’t work didn’t work because of one small, easily changed thing that you can fix and try again next time.

It’s a Kind of Magic

One way that I found that empowers me when I’m designing my group meditations is viewing it as a form of group spellwork, but the magic is happening within the spellworkers. When I’ve designed my group meditations as if they were some magic the group was all working on, it has helped me focus on the how, why, and what I want them to get to therefore create a better meditation.

When casting a spell, you need to have a purpose and goal in mind. There is an idea, a want, a need that you are trying to fulfill. The same goes for creating a guided meditation, even if it is for yourself with the intent to record it for your own usage. Viewing the process as weaving together the various strands and threads of a spell can help you take a mundane meditation and make it extraordinary.

One thing I’ve noticed that I find magical about the process is how powerful a meditation performed by a group can be. When everyone’s minds are in sync, there’s a power and connection that gets created and how you use imagery that reinforces that connection can unite the meditators to help make a ritual much more powerful.

Also, having a connection through the meditation can help as a teaching tool. I’ve heard of people who have struggled to meditate have a powerful first experience in a well-done group meditation. And once you’ve experienced a bit of what is possible with the visualization in meditation, it’s easier the next time.

Visualization is essential to performing magic and manipulating energy. A well-performed guided meditation can be a tool to teaching people the mental mechanics of casting a spell, journeying, interacting with deities or ancestors, visualizing shielding, other protective actions, and more.

Push the boundaries of your guided meditations in the same way you’d push the boundaries of your magical practice.

Planning

First step is to create an overarching purpose which guides everything else. This is a spiritual or energetic purpose. Do you want to have people have a powerful experience that’s connected to the ritual or do you need to ground and energize people? Whatever you choose for your overarching purpose guides both big and small details as well as design choices for your meditation.

What do you want the participants to take away from the meditation? This is connected to whatever the overall purpose is for your creation. Do you want them to connect to the energy of the holiday or to empower some magic? Do you want them to experience a myth or perhaps go on a spiritual journey that they will remember? Maybe you want them to create a mental space—some call it a temple of the mind or other special location where they can do work or communicate with the deities. Knowing what you want people to remember after the ritual is done is an important step in the design process.

How familiar are you with the meditators or expected audience? Comfort is essential when planning for what you want the participants to do. Will some need to sit? Will it be safer if participants are sitting or will standing be okay? How long will the meditation be—if it is too long, people might need to sit while others would be fine with standing for long periods of time. If someone starts feeling their hips or knees hurting from standing, it will take them out of the meditation. Also, some people are truly uncomfortable closing their eyes—I know veterans whose training makes it highly uncomfortable for them to close their eyes because they were trained to protect people. Give them something to stare at like a fire or candle (even an electric candle can be helpful).

Also, do people have allergies if you are wanting to use incense? Safety and comfort can help take distractions away so they can get lost in the mental spell you are creating with them for them. One person told me I could use whatever incense I wanted, just not sage.

Once you’ve gotten the purpose, takeaway, and the audience figured out, decide if you want to keep them in the place the meditation will occur or do you want to mentally take them away from where they are to somewhere else, either real or imaginary. A meditation rooted in the here and now in the location you will be performing the meditation can be just as powerful as taking them on a journey if the meditation is well designed.

And a final piece of the planning stage is what tools can help you create this theater of the mind? Will incense or a scented candle work for what you imagined? What smells will help create the environment you want them to experience?

What about sound? Would a simple bell or Tibetan bowl help as a start and finish sound or maybe a shamanic drum that’s quiet enough to be background noise in the sound of a heart beating could connect people to their bodies while you are speaking. Would a recording of a rainstorm or a babbling brook help people envision what you want them to when their journey takes them outside? Maybe some new age music or primal music can help give people the experience you want them to have. When using sound, experiment with volume beforehand in the space because if you are too loud, it will be distracting while being too soft will undercut the desired outcome except for people closest to the source of the music or instrument being used.

Pieces and Parts

I tend to be a bit freeform when I’m performing a group meditation. What I do is I put down specific imagery I want people to experience in the meditation in the order I want them to experience them in, whether it be certain locations (an old, mossy covered stone wall or a babbling creek with the sunlight playing on the surface of the water) or another sensual experience (the sound of the wind in the trees that carries freshly cut grass on the breeze or the sound of an old rusty swing creaking as it moves by unseen forces or the wind). Such descriptions all serve a purpose. If you write them down, even in a bullet format, it can help you play a little loose with your meditation while still giving them something to connect to.

NOTE: Why be a bit freeform? Sometimes a bolt of inspiration (Awen to the Welsh, Imbas to the Irish, and óðr to the Norse) can inspire you to add something you didn’t plan on it. Call it inspiration from the gods or divine spirit, but I’ve planned out a meditation before only to have something make me feel I needed to scrap the plan at the last minute and to ground them in the space we were in around a fire and after that to sing a song of dedication to a goddess I was going to do later in the ritual. Ended up being extremely powerful for the rest of the ritual as people told me later and all because I was a bit freeform (well, a lot in that situation).

Poets are taught to use concrete imagery in their work, otherwise abstract thought can lose people. If you look at some of the more famous poets who do reference something abstract (sorrow, joy, frustration, or fear) will then root the abstract in an experience that the senses can interact with.

For example, if I wanted to have people feel a thrill of standing in a field right before a rainstorm were to pour down, I might describe the strength of the wind brushing across their clothing (playing with their hair doesn’t work for everyone) and the smell of imminent rain in the air as the scent of rain comes before the actual rain as the environment prepares to welcome it, with distant thunder echoing across the open field, reverberating in their bones.

There is a way to help ground someone in the here and now when they are experiencing a panic attack which is to have them notice and point out five things they can see, four things they can hear, three things they can feel, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. If you take that and apply that to either creative writing or guided meditation with that same sort of percentage, people will be better able to experience your meditation in their imagination and where you want to take them.

Many people forget to include the temperature or other weather/environmental things in their descriptions which can help deepen the experience. How warm is it for them? If they are mentally traveling to a snow covered mountain, how would you describe it compared to taking them to a misty rainforest where the heat is turning the moisture on the surrounding plants into a thick experience?

Another piece to consider is whether or not you will be guiding them the whole trip or will you provide them with the time to experience the various destinations in your meditation for themselves. From the meditations I’ve studied, I’ve noticed that the speakers tend to allow for up to 15 seconds or so of silence if they want meditators just to experience the space a bit, up to 30 seconds if they want the person to really check out the space, and from anywhere up to 1 minute to 5 minutes or so if they want the meditators to create a mental sacred space for themselves to explore and be able to return to on their own. This is where the first steps can help you make the decision about pausing your meditation while the participants check out their own personal mindscapes.

Sometimes, a removed point of view from their own is helpful. A bird like a raven or a crow can provide viewpoints they never would have otherwise. A wolf would give the meditators a very different experience from that as a human point of view or even a deer. In each of these possibilities, you have to ground the person in the experience of the animals so much that they can imagine feelings what the animal feels. Allow them to imagine what it feels like as the wind plays across their feathers as a bird or their fur as a wolf. What sort of experiences would a raven have compared to a wolf? Maybe the wolf smells the strong musk of a deer which distracts them for a second or the wind playing along the raven’s feathers as they stretch their wings out and feel their feathers ruffling as the breeze plays across them.

Also, you need to figure out how to slowly slide their thoughts and experience both into the animal and back out at the end so that there is a separation between the animal and the person. They’ll first need to be grounded in their own bodies and reality before they venture forth into an animal form and then, at the end you’ll need to remove them from the animal and put them back into their bodies.

I recommend having the animal in both the start and finish be watching or observing the meditator so they can see themselves and start reconnecting to the image of them in their own bodies before the mental shift into the animal or back into themselves occurs. You can even have them notice a bird, but don’t describe it—let them decide what the bird is they are flying around as if you don’t require a particular bird as part of the experience.

Techniques

When you start writing out or performing your meditation, it’s important to center them and get them grounded in their bodies. If people are seated, have them explore the feelings of the seat they are sitting on through the contact points they are touching it with (their legs and back, for example), the clothes they are wearing, how the fabric feels against their skin, and the ground beneath their feet. Getting them to experience their body helps get them out of their head which is where the mundane world can be still impacting your meditators if they aren’t grounded.

Another important point about why to help the participants ground is because if you aren’t truly grounded in yourself, you might not be in tune with energies that you are bringing into the ritual like worries or concerns about annoyances that can pull people out of the ritual and slam them back into the mundane world like bills and other worries.

Also in magical work, if you aren’t grounded in yourself and who you are, you can take energies away from the ritual that aren’t part of you and think they are part of you and your energy which can start to mess with your life or cause harm to you in small and large ways. And finally, grounding can put them in the here and now so they can be present to experience the power of the ritual.

One way to help get people into their bodies as part of the meditation is to have them stretch or move parts of their body like stretching from side to side, wiggling their toes, rubbing their hands together and then rubbing their hands together, or something similar. This is a faster way to get them to be aware of their body before you start the meditation which can potentially speed things up with the grounding.

An essential part that is also sometimes overlooked is breathing. Most meditations do some variation of “breath in to the count of four and then breath out to the count of four.” Some have people breathe in for a four count, hold their breath for a four count, and then breath out to a four count. There are other ways to play with what you want the meditation to be.

I’ve heard that OBOD meditations have the participants breath in three breaths with one being the land, one the sea, and one the sky which helps them connect to the energies that are important to their druidry practice. You could also do the four elements (or five if you want to include spirit) where each breath they are breathing in the essences of the element (the heat, the warmth, and power of fire as compared to the cooling, soothing touch of mist filled air for water). The sense of smell can help with people experiencing each of the elements. It also doesn’t have to be a one for one per element. It might take two breaths for fire, two breaths for air, and so on. It all depends upon how you want your pacing and experience to be.

Another option could be using their breathing to create the sacred space, whether it be them filling in the space with the exhaled light to make the space safe and sacred or their exhalations creating a mist which makes the space magical or sets the stage for their otherworldly journey.

Pacing is another important part. I’ve experienced meditations that felt stilted as the person was reading the script and not giving the participants time to move naturally from one set of imagery to the next or to allow them to experience the imagery on their own. Too fast and it’s hard to mentally keep up. Too slow and they might start tuning out. You also might want to be slow in parts to allow them to experience the sensations you’ve described and then faster in others as you return them back to their bodies or help remove the grounding or empowering energies.

What about volume? Most tend to try and stick with a good non-boring vocal tone and volume, but what about maybe getting louder for dramatic parts and a bit quieter as you want them to pay attention to their surroundings like the sounds of nature or the crackle of the fire? You don’t need to be monotone—you don’t want them falling asleep right before the ritual starts. Just play with what is possible concerning your presentation and how you want the whole meditation to impact them.

The Journey

The first step of the journey is setting the stage. To set the stage, you first need to ground the participants in the here and now. Ground them by getting them to focus on their breath and where they are in their environment. If they are standing, have them notice the ground beneath their feet. If they are seated, have them notice the seat beneath them and the ground their feet or body is on. Have them notice the sounds of the room or, if outside, the sounds of the birds and the wind. This all helps them be present to what’s going on around them and the sensations their body is experiencing.

If they feel safe and present in the moment through breathing and being aware of their body and surroundings, this is when you start describing the way they will be journeying (if this is indeed a journey). If it isn’t a journey, but they are just exploring the space they are in by empowering or grounding them before spellwork, then the journey will be anything from them helping you create sacred space with their energy from the meditation to powering up before some spell work as you take their senses and energies deep into the earth, reaching out to the nature around them, or up into the sky and into space. Whatever way you end up taking the meditation, you need to establish them in the physical space they currently are in.

The second step would be starting the journey. If you are taking them in their minds to somewhere else than the location they currently are in, this is where you would describe how the journey starts as they leave the location or where they start from if the starting location is imaginary. I’ve started by describing them leaving the location they are currently in, but describing just outside of the ritual area as being somewhere very different—familiar to the magical and fantastical.

Are they on a shoreline, the banks of a creek, walking into an ancient forest, or are they about to mentally shift into the body of a raven, a wolf, or a deer? Creating details in the listener’s minds are important in the beginning of the meditation. It can make it more tangible and real to them. The easier the details are for them to imagine (like things they can hear, see, feel, and smell in their starting space) at the start, the more grounded they will be in the visualization which then allows you to more easily start creating an imaginary space with their help in their minds.

Describe the path or the place they are exploring. Describe what the ground feels like under their feet, the wind under their wings, the long grass brushing against their legs, the warm (or cool) wind blowing across their skin, the damp salty smell of the ocean, or whatever you want them to experience.

Usually, having them cross some sort of border between the mundane and the magical, a liminal boundary of sorts, can help you start the magical and fantastical aspects of the meditation. A stone wall, crossing a stream, stepping into a forest, entering a cave, putting their feet into the water on a shoreline, opening the door of an old house, or whatever it is that makes it something that separates the normal (or maybe not so normal but with a touch of magic) into the Otherworld or a world where magic and possibilities aren’t limited.

Describe the liminal boundary as being something very different from normal or, if appropriate because you want them to understand the possibility of liminal boundaries are everywhere, describe it as being something that looks normal, but feels different and makes them take notice. Describing it like that could help them to start trusting their senses and intuition other than their eyes.

The third step is arriving at the main goal or location which is the heart of the meditation. It can be more than just a single location, but the third step is where the main event will happen in whatever form you create. If it is an old house, each room can have a different experience. If it is an ancient forest, there can be a special cabin in the woods where people can talk to deities (loved this meditation when I got to experience it before) or a grove where they can interact with something or someone. If it is a shoreline, they could find a cave that the tide has retreated from with an ancient and forgotten altar to a sea god or goddess. Each setting would have a different set of descriptions and ways of interacting with their senses to make the space more real in their imaginations.

Here is where, if you want them to have their own unique experience, you would get them to a space and let them explore it without guidance. Pauses where you don’t say anything for the times I listed earlier (15 seconds for them to see the space, 30 seconds for a casual exploration, to a minute or more for them to explore it more fully) would happen here.

Another possibility is to help them with their imagination by telling them what they come across, but giving them ideas for what it could possibly look like. What is the cauldron in front of them made out of—iron, silver, gold, clay, glowing light? What does it look like—dirty, clean, boiling with food in it, green glowing goop, or is it a bottomless cauldron with no end in sight?

By giving them a few ideas, you are helping them jumpstart their imaginations which can help with them creating a unique experience for them to be affected by. If it is part of your meditation plan, you can allow them to write down their experiences in some way.

After the main event and experience you wanted them to have, the fourth step of leaving the location happens. This is where they have a chance to try and memorize the space if desired before leaving or you simply start walking them back out of the magical space you created with them. Start adding the more mundane details into the meditation and less and less of the magical to help the transition back to the real world. Trace back the steps they took from the magical space to the liminal border and out.

The final step of bringing them home would be getting them back into the space their bodies are in. Get them to sense their bodies again, the ground under their feet or the chair they are sitting in, help them reground themselves with breaths and the sounds of the environment they are currently in. Those details with help them with their transition back into their mental and physical bodies before the ritual or the discussion or whatever you are going to do next.

The whole five steps I listed above follow the five stage story structure of start to rising action to the main event to descending from the action and calming things down and then to the resolution.

Much like a way I was taught about casting a spell using a pentagram as an image where you prepare, center your mind by getting into the right state of mind, linking it to your desired outcome or intent, directing and releasing the magic, and then letting the outcome happen or creating a channel between you and the outcome to keep things in motion.

Viewing meditation as spellwork can bring a meditation to life in ways most don’t think about.

Extra Observations and Tips

One thing I’ve noticed is that if I kept getting feedback (especially being open to it), as I stated before, hearing their thoughts can help to improve my meditation skills or better fine tune them for the people I’m performing the group meditation for.

Another thing to think about is if you are going to be doing group magical work afterwards or need people to feel connected to each other in the ritual, giving them a visualization where they are exploring the environment together or start together and end together can help. Also, doing something like having them reach their energy up like tree branches where their branches brush against those also present can give them a sense of connection.

Much like being a priest, checking in on people after the ritual is important. Giving them an opportunity to share their experience can help make what happened for them that much more special. People want to talk about their unverified personal gnosis (UPG) and experiences with people. Sharing what has happened with people who would not only get it, but also appreciate and possibly benefit from them sharing can have a profound impact on the quality of their meditation experience. It’s also great to hear how your magic helped them create their own spell for themselves.

I hope this brief writeup was helpful for those who want to improve their group meditations. I’m sorry if this felt rushed or crammed with information. There’s a lot more I could go into on each step, so I just hope this can help the readers out in some way.

You can easily apply this to creating your own personal recorded meditations that no one else will experience.

Remember, practice makes perfect and, most of all, enjoy yourself and the mutual magic you are making with those you are working with.

(Top image courtesy of Pixababy)

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