Last night, I went on my third weekly visit to the Shambhala Meditation Center. On Thursday nights, they have what they call an "open sit". At 7pm, the large meditation room is open to all who want to come meditate. There are cushions set out in rows, and chairs in the back for those who need them. Their are candles, and incense or scented oil. A "moderator" acts as timekeeper. The person sits facing the room, sounds the bell that starts the time period, meditates, and sounds the bell again at the end of the session (about 45 minutes). During meditation the room is silent, except for the occasional cough, or the sound of someone shifting position. It is quiet enough to hear someone's stomach gurgle in the row ahead of you. It is amazingly peaceful and welcoming.
After the open sit, there is an open house. People drink tea, eat snacks that have been prepared, and socialize for 15-20 minutes. If you choose, you can attend a dharma talk after the tea. These talks are on meditation or buddhist dharma. They generally last an hour.
There is no charge for the evening, although donations are accepted. They just leave out a bowl for this.
I have really gotten a lot out of this. There is a difference to meditating in a room with others versus doing it at home. A different energy? I am not sure really. It may just be the length of time you meditate. At home, I generally do 15-20 minutes. This is 45 minutes. That is a long time to sit, at least for a relative beginner.
The dharma talks have been helpful, and enlightening. Not a religion, but a way of dealing with what is. No salvation, no higher power, no faith. I love the pragmatic, the practical approach that this center takes. It is not so much about the theory, the philosophy, as it is about the practice. "This is the way it is, now what do we do about it" I have not heard anything I have opposed, or disagreed with. I find myself nodding in agreement or recognition a lot. I am in the right place for me, I think.
It feels really good.