Dharma Teaching - Beginners Meditation: Six-Week Foundation Course and Practice Diary (Maitreyabandhu)On Sat, 16 July, 2016 - 22:35
This is a six-week foundation course based on a practice diary. This course aims to support people in establishing a meditation practice, breaking down teaching into day-by-day experiential exercises and reviewing how the meditation is going. The materials include a meditation diary, handouts with reminders of the practice, and Teachers Notes. Developed by Maitreyabandhu and peer-reviewed by the Lighting the Flame Group.
Notes on the Practice Diary
This post introduces the context for using the Diary in a course you are leading.
2. How best to introduce and use the Practice book
3. Weekly meditation reviews
4. Diary structure
5. Course plan
6. Class plan
7. Encouragement not guilt
8. ‘What next’ section
9. Producing the diary for your class
10. Anything else?
11. Will this cramp your style as a teacher?
1. Supporting people to meditate regularly. From my evaluation and feedback from courses, this is the area that people need most help with. We have always encouraged a daily meditation practice but not given much to help to support that. I hope the Practice Diary helps by:
- Suggesting particular approaches for meditation each day (exploring the themes taught on the course).
- Providing people with a meditation diary that they can fill in every day.
- Providing a series of handouts, reminding them about the stages of the practice and giving concise teachings.
- Weekly meditation reviews and by creating a dedicated space every week to talk about how the meditation is going.
2. Breaking down teaching into day-by-day experiential exercises. The Practice Diary explores the teaching of the preceding class (e.g. Breadth and Focus); the following week’s diary suggests different ways into this teaching, different methods of exploring it and leaving a space for people to write down what they have discovered. Hopefully this will mean that the meditator is more likely to learn the principles of meditation effectively rather than simply hear about them from the teacher.
3. Reviewing and assessing how the meditation is going. At the end of each week of practice, the diary asks various questions about how the week has gone; did you meditate? What have you noticed? and so forth.
How best to introduce and use the Practice book
The Practice Diary needs to be carefully introduced on the first day of the course. It only works if people take it seriously and use it. This means that the teacher needs to be behind it and see its potential value. (It is ideal if the teacher uses the diary too – I use them and find them very helpful).
Give out practice books at the first class, asking people:
- To fill in the Practice Diary as instructed (see above).
- To come a bit early to the class to fill in their weekly review (otherwise this aspect of the book might well get forgotten).
- To bring the Practice Diary with them each week, as we will be using it to review our meditation practice in pairs. (Having dedicated time for people to talk about their meditation practice and using the diaries as a way of doing this is vital.)
Weekly meditation reviews
At each class, allow between 10 or 15 minutes for meditation reviews (in pairs). This needs to built into the class structure (not during the tea break). I tend to do the review just before tea (and after the first meditation), then they can continue talking at tea break if need be; as they have already meditated that evening, they can at least talk about that (if they haven’t meditated during the week).
The diary only has six days per week – so they can have a day off if they want, or do it their own way on the seventh!
I suggest that if people miss a day of meditation they cross that day off, and if they want to go back and try out that day’s ‘instruction’ they could do so after the course.
I run the course as follows:
- Week one – Mindfulness of Breathing and body awareness.
- Week two – Broad Awareness.
- Week three – Metta Bhavana.
- Week four – Mature Effort.
- Week five – Hindrances (this course does not concentrate on the hindrances and antidotes – I feel it becomes too technical too quickly, I mainly concentrate on ‘cultivating the opposite’).
- Week six – Fruitful Attitudes to Meditation (exploring the kind of attitudes we need to develop in order to progress in meditation).
7pm – I encourage people to come early and fill in the week’s review, then lie down in the Alexander position.
7.15pm start – brief teaching, preparation and meditation (I find that because of the diary, I don’t need to teach and explain so much, as they can read it in their own time. Instead, I concentrate on creating a meditative atmosphere and making sure that we do at least two sessions of meditation).
8pm – meditation reviews in pairs using the practice diary to remind people.
8.15pm – tea break.
8.45pm – this week’s practice theme (e.g. mature effort).
9pm – meditation.
9.40pm – finish.
Encouragement not guilt
The main thing again is to encourage people to use the book to help them meditate regularly at home and to help them make the teachings their own by giving them different ways of approaching the meditation each day. Make sure at the same time that by doing this you don’t make people feel guilty about not meditating.
‘What next’ section
I have included a ‘what next’ section. The teacher needs to fill out what classes, courses, retreats and so on you recommend for people if they want to carry on meditating. In this section I also recommend a selection of Windhorse books for further reading.
Producing the diary for your class
I have formatted in Word and you will be able to change things once you have downloaded it. It has a contents page, a cover and a ‘how to use this diary’ introduction. I prefer to create an A5 booklet (as it is much easier for them to handle and therefore more likely to be used) but I have put it on the web as an A4 book, which I would suggest you put in a plastic binder of some sort. I hope to get someone to design an A5 version that is more pleasing to look at (the diary is at the very limits of my design capacity).
The cover of your Practice Diary needs to have your centre’s contact information, phone number, web page and charity number. This helps people contact you easily.
You may want to charge more for the course to cover costs of producing the book.
Will this cramp your style as a teacher?
Understandably, this is a teachers’ main concern when it comes to the Practice Diary: will it mean that they have to teach in a prescribed way? Obviously the diary works best if the teaching sessions follow the broad format of the diary (i.e. teaching metta on the third week) but this still, I hope, leaves space for your own personal approach. Some teachers have used it whilst teaching quite different things – I think this diminishes the effectiveness of the diary but it is still useful, especially if the teacher recommends it and dedicated time is put aside to share how the meditation has been going. A plus of the diary is that it reduces your preparation time, and, if nicely produced, helps people take the course more seriously.
I hope you enjoy using the book and that it helps people in their meditation. Any feedback would be gratefully received.
Maitreyabandhu November 2004