The Camas Meditation Group was started five years ago by Chris Robson, one of the cofounders of Portland Friends of the Dharma. Tired of the long commute from Camas to Portland, Robson began to look for a local community where he could share in meditation and dharma practice. After a long and frustrating search, Robson had a serendipitous meeting with Paul Cheek, who had just opened the Rushing Water Yoga studio in Camas. When Robson asked him if meditation was offered at the studio, Paul replied, "Yes, if you lead it."
Attendance for the group–Robson is careful not to call it a sangha, as the community includes people from all backgrounds and walks of life–built up slowly over the years, starting with four attendees with now up to sixteen. Attendance grew organically, primarily through word of mouth. The group now attracts people from Camas, Washougal, Vancouver (WA), and the surrounding area.
Group members hail from such diverse traditions as Zen, Green Tara, and Theravada. Some have a strong background in meditation and for others, meditation is brand new.
The group typically focuses on a particular kind of meditation for a month, such as breath, metta, or walking. Robson begins by describing the type of meditation, and facilitates it along with a sharing of the experience afterwards.
Robson was initially reluctant to start such a group, having never done so before. Also, he doesn't feel he has the authority to consider himself a teacher. So he simply facilitates the meditation. His approach to facilitating evolved over the years, as it took time to work out what people value in a meditation group.
Another challenge developed when the initial enthusiasm markedly waned after the first couple of years. There were times when Robson was the only one present at the meditation. While it was difficult to keep the momentum going at such times, his commitment, as well as that by a few regulars, paid off.
Luckily, finding space was not a challenge. In addition to the studio space, the group is welcome to use the mats, rugs, and props available at the yoga studio free of charge. As a result, the group has virtually no expenses.
It's not easy to start a rural sangha or meditation group. I asked Robson what advice he has for folks wanting to get one going.
First, he says, be prepared to start it, even if you've never done anything like this before. Don't feel like you have to teach if you don't feel qualified to do so. All you need to get things going are just two or three other like-minded people. You can't do it alone.
Also, don't get discouraged when momentum appears to slow or be at a standstill. Stay committed and things will pick up.
Start small, keep it simple, and stick with it. ⊕
NWDA members interested in learning more about starting a small sangha may request the NWDA "Guide to Forming an Alternative or Rural Sangha." Information will appear soon at www.northwestdharma.org.
For more information about Camas Meditation Group, go to www.camasmeditation.com.
Contributor: Kate Forster
Photo: T. L. Trevaskis