Starting an Awakin Circle

Awakin Circles are rooted in stillness, community and service. To get a sense of it, here's a helpful blog entry: The Extra 'Ordinariness' Of Wednesdays.

To learn more about starting an Awakin Circle in your community, read the FAQs below.

Awakin Circles are a grassroot expression of stillness and service. In ordinary living rooms across the globe, people come together to meditate for the first hour, engage in a circle of reflective sharing in the second hour, and conclude by receiving a home-cooked meal. A palpable sense of gratitude and community weaves through it all. The ripples of inner transformation are countless -- and continue on.

Awakin Circles started in 1996, when three friends came together to sit in silence for an hour, in an everyday living room in Silicon Valley, California. There were no teachers, no brand, no marketing, no commerce, no agenda. Just one strong principle -- when you change within, the world changes. And instead of closing the door, they left it open ... to all.

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. Today, Awakin Circles have organically rippled to 80 cities around the globe.

An Awakin Circle typically takes place in the evening, and starts 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, inviting everyone to share thoughts that come up for them. To end the evening, the host offers dinner in the spirit of service, and in most places, it is enjoyed in silence. Afterwards, folks who can stay for informal time can connect in smaller conversations.

The following are the simple guidelines followed by all Awakin hosts: In the period of silent meditation, attendees are invited to practice stillness in whatever form is most accessible to them. There is no formal guidance, nor any imposed technique or overt instructions given. The main guidance to hosts is to ensure that the silence and stillness of the circle during the meditation is maintained. On rare occasion they may have to gently remind individuals that lying down or moving meditation or loud breathing exercises etc are not in the flow of the circle. Meals served are vegetarian, and free of alcohol, and the number of attendees should be capped at what the location can comfortably hold without disrupting or inconveniencing the neighbors.

To host an Awakin Circle, it really helps to understand the nuances of generosity and organizing. In addition, it also takes:

  • A personal commitment to spending time in silence and helping others do the same.
  • A small, quiet room where people can sit in silence for an hour. Many host these circles in their living rooms, moving aside any furniture and laying out cushions in a circle, as support for those who aren’t used to sitting on the ground.
  • A coordinator who can manage the logistics and moderate the circle of sharing in the second hour.
  • And food. As a part of the evening, a simple pre-prepared meal is offered to everyone as an expression of service

If these values feel resonant and commitments sound doable, the first step would be to register with ServiceSpace, create a volunteer profile, and complete an online orientation.

Here are the basic steps to start an Awakin Circle:

  1. Deepen your context by reading up on the nuances of generosity, organizing, and other Awakin Circles around the globe-- from Silicon Valley to Dubai to London to San Francisco to Mumbai to Oakland.
  2. Register with ServiceSpace, create a volunteer profile, and complete an online orientation.
  3. Decide on a date and time for your first circle.
  4. 1-3 weeks prior: Invite folks to the circle. See our event logistics page for tips and templates. In some cases, it can be helpful to send an email invite, with:
    • Brief description of Awakin Circles (and perhaps link to website for more info).
    • Date, time, and city/neighborhood.
    • A selected “Wisdom Reading” for the circle of sharing. You can select one from Awakin, or use a reflective passage of your choice.
    • Instructions for folks to RSVP, so you know how many people to prepare/cook for. To help streamline things, you may like to create an event RSVP page (like this).
  5. 1-4 days prior: Decide on a menu and pick up groceries, ingredients, and enough plates/cutlery for your meal. Based on your RSVP count, you can estimate the number of people to prepare food for. (To be safe, you may like to prepare enough food for 110-120% of the number of folks who RSVP.)
  6. 1 day prior: Send a “details note” to RSVP’d guests, with the location address, time, and reminder of the selected reading.
  7. 0-1 days prior: Cook the meal. Arrange the room (move any furniture, layout cushions on the floor).
  8. 1-2 hours prior: Add any finishing touches. Such as:
    • Check that the bathroom is equipped with adequate supplies (like soap or toilet paper).
    • Leave the door unlocked for late arrivals. To minimize distractions, you may also like to put a sign on the door that says, “Welcome. Meditation in progress. Please enter mindfully.”
    • If you’re so inspired, light an incense or candle, and/or create a small decoration for the center of the circle.
    • Start meditating 5-15 minutes early, to encourage folks to enter in silence, and ensure that you start on time.

With the experience of thousands of circles, we've setup a bunch of (strictly non-commercial) tools that make it easy to manage the circles -- ranging from event management to mailing list. Once you're registered and oriented on ServiceSpace, you can access all this by clicking on 'my teams' in the lefthand sidebar and 'Awakin Circles'.

Yes, lots of tips-- see our Event Logistics page.

After the first hour of meditation, in the second hour, you’ll go around in a circle and share reflections on a selected “wisdom reading” passage. This is simply a space to collectively reflect on the themes and values raised in the passage, and an opportunity for everyone’s voices to be brought into the circle. Some best practices include:

  • 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. Here are some general tips for opening.

  • 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. In addition, invite everyone to share their name when they speak, and give them the option to pass if they prefer not to share. 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 interrupted during their sharing.

  • Close the Circle with Gratitude. After everyone has shared, the host or a regular attendee closes the circle with some words of gratitude and a couple minutes in silence. A general closing format looks like:
    • Thank the hosts gently, mentioning their commitment and service in doing this for __ months/years. If the host is closing, s/he can reference the global context/beginnings of Awakin Circles.
    • Share some personal story/expression of what this means to you
    • Thank the guests for holding space, mentioning how we all co-created the space
    • Invite everyone share the merits and gratitude with those beyond the four walls, in silence.
    Ideally, the closing should be about 2-3 minutes of sharing, followed by another 2 minutes of silence, and then the anchor will invite the bell, and share closing logistical instructions (e.g. where to put away cushions, process for dinner, if the meal is in silence and/or if folks can talk in certain areas, etc.)

Congratulations on hosting your first circle! To follow-up, you may like to:

Once you've hosted a few circles and feel you.d like to continue, it helps to chat with another Awakin host. To start with we will put you in touch with an Awakin Circle Buddy, a fellow host whom you can share initial reflections and any questions you have with. Your Buddy can also connect you to our quarterly Awakin Host Calls, where hosts swap stories, pose challenges they might face and tap into the global resonance of these values.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Over time, as you and your Awakin Community deepen in service and stillness, you may like to experiment with special events, such as...

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 Silicon Valley archives:

Thanks again for your resonance with our shared values, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be connected in this way. If you have any questions or comments, or want to get more involved, do feel free to write to us anytime.