Awakin gathering are rooted in silence, community and service. To get a flavor of it, here's a helpful blog entry: "The Extra 'Ordinariness' of Wednesdays".
To host an Awakin gathering in your community, read about the basics below and contact us so we can connect you with an experienced host.
What are Awakin Circles?
Awakin Circles are a grassroot expression of stillness and service. More than a dozen years ago, a small group of people came together to sit in silence for an hour, share aha-moments in the second hour and eat dinner in the third hour. There were no teachers, no brand, no marketing, no commerce, no agenda. Just a humble space for anyone to enjoy. Over the years, more than 20 thousand people walked into that living room, many of whom were visiting friends who wanted to start "Awakin Circles" in their own local community. Hence, this guide.
What is the process?
We typically start with an hour of silence at 7PM; a bell denotes the opening and three bells indicate the end of the hour. People are welcome to come in at any time of the hour. Following that, we open the second hour with a weekly reading from Awakin, have the moderator share some opening thoughts, and go around in a circle. To end the evening, we have some dinner in silence -- after which we also host a volunteer opportunity of sending out "smile-cards" for those who can stay for some informal time.
What is required to start an Awakin Circle?
First, it takes a personal commitment to spending some time in silence and helping others do the same. Second, it takes a availability of a small, quiet room where people can sit in silence for an hour. Third, it takes a coordinator who is good at coordinating and can moderate a circle of sharing. More concretely:
- A room: we move aside our furniture in the family room and people sit in a circle in the ground and on the couches.
- Cushions: although people sit on the carpeted floor, cushions are helpful support for those who aren't used to sitting on the ground.
- A moderator: for the circle of sharing, where each individual is sharing aha-moments, you need a moderator who can keep time. If your group is over 15 people, a mic (karoake machine w/wireless mic is around $200) helps keep focus during the second hour of sharing.
- Food: as a part of the evening, a simple pre-prepared meal is offered to everyone as an expression of service.
What are some best practices?
- Coordinate diligently. Send out a reminder (people usually use the weekly Awakin mailing) a couple days before, ask people to RSVP (people create an event listing like this), and then send out the details to the people who have RSVP'd. At the event, please remind everyone to ensure an RSVP. Having access to emails helps you connect after the event and even share post-event updates. Be sure to not make inappropriate use of the emails or make them publicly available, but that'll result in lost trust.
- Be open. Don't associate the group with a particular technique or a teacher or an agenda. Of course, everyone may have their open practices but in this space, it's best to just share a space of silence. Print out a basic introduction for meditation, for those who have never meditated before.
- Open second hour with thoughtful remarks: the opening remarks set the pace for the circle of sharing, so share some reflections of the reading, a personal story and focus on one or two questions that everyone could zone in on.
- Provide guidelines for circle of sharing. Don't debate during the circle of sharing. Everyone is free to share anything, but it helps to keep the focus on personal experiences instead of preachy sermons. A pre-announced time limit (usually a minute or so) helps people to self-regulate themselves. Beyond that, though, don't control the content of the circle and make sure that no one is interupted during their sharing.
- Serve. The easiest way to do this is to offer food (and clean-up) for everyone who attends; and vegetarian meals ensure that the evening is inclusive to everyone. In general, offering selflessly tends to create an ambiance of abundance and draws people through word of mouth. Typically, people will offer to do the dishes and/or help in other ways to ease the load.
- Don't sell anything. People are wary of hidden agendas and commercialized propaganda, so it's best to stay away from it and allow the space to unfold organically.
- Make it personal. Add your own flavor to the evening. Have fun. People in other locations have experimented with music, guided meditations, sharing of meditation experience rather than "aha" moments, potlucks for food, guest speakers post-meditation, "Popcorn" style (ie. anyone inspired can speak) circle of sharing, meals shared without silence.
- Be flexible. Don't have an agenda. Remember that size doesn't matter at all; even if it's just two people, it can be a very beautiful thing. And people are welcome to arrive anytime before the circle starts, and are welcome to leave anytime as well.
- For a larger context, sharing about the "gift economy" work of ServiceSpace has been helpful for those who appreciate the big picture.
Do you have tips on managing the event and doing outreach?
Yes, lots of tips. So much so that we've created a whole new Event Logistics page.
Are there helpful guidelines for the opening speaker, in the circle of sharing?
The opening is critical to the life of a circle. Here are some guidelines that have been helpful for some:
- Touch on the edges of the weekly reading and make it more accessible, but avoid strong opinions
- Avoid any particular philosophy (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, etc.) and try to keep the language accessible to people who may not be into any particular tradition
- Share a personal story, if possible, because everyone will related to it.
- End with a question that people can latch on to, especially those who are new to the format. The question is an invitation for them to contribute.
- Try to stay within 3 minutes. If you have something deep to share, then don't rush it -- the quality is more important. Remind people that everyone has 45 seconds.
- The relevance of the piece should be established in the context of your own personal journey. While that's not hard to do with most of the pieces, occasionally, there will be a piece which gets analytical/critical about the world out there. Those are the more difficult openings, where we'd need to set the self-improvement lens in a constructive manner.
- Generally, we've found that stronger overall circle-of-sharings tend to have stronger beginnings, and it also extends to the next 3-4 people. So be mindful of the direction in which you pass. Folks who tend to share things that are insightful, broadly relatable, heartfelt, and appropriately lengthed are better off setting the tone for the evening.
Ultimately, of course, all of this is beyond any of our planning, so it's just an intention.
How have you benefitted from hosting these meditations?
Initially, it helps you stay committed to your own practice of meditation. As you serve others, you learn to art of giving without any strings attached. And finally, you start to create deep relationships that are rooted in goodness. Once you start receiving the fruits of silence and service, it's really a point of no return. :) Here are few stories from the Santa Clara archives:
If you any questions, please feel free to email us anytime.
This document is a work in progress. If you have any additions, do let us know.