Awakening en Masse: The New Team Sport

Published on October 24, 2016

Article by Emily Horn for Bodhi Tree

In Manhattan’s Central Park, 2,000 New Yorkers gathered in July for the third installment of The Big Quiet, an outdoor group meditation and sound bath where, for 20 minutes, silence was sacred. The previous year, thousands sat in meditative silence at Rumsey Playfield. And last fall, a group of 600 meditating hipsters boarded a three-story-boat-turned-Bedouin-lounge that floated on the Hudson River. While the events were followed by rollicking afterparties, the organizer of the communal quiet, Jesse Israel (the Los Angeles–born founder of Medi Club and a former record industry executive), believes modern people can have a practice of meditation in their busy lives that aligns with their everyday passions.

“We could be called millennial meditators,” Israel explains on his Medi Club website, “but to avoid buzz words let’s just call ourselves Modern Meditators. I’ve watched meditation become a critical part of the lives of many other modern young people. People with hectic schedules and demanding social lives. People [who] are not master yogis or hippies or Buddhist monks. People [who] are self-starters and designers, bartenders and bloggers, DJs and iOS engineers. Meditation has gone from esoteric and unattainable to trendy and easy to access.”

The New Mindfulness Movement

The Big Quiet appears to be the beginning of a mindfulness movement spreading across the country. During Daybreaker, a pre-sunrise yoga and dance party that takes place every month in an increasing number of cities around the world, crowds practice yoga, then dance wildly before work to “gather in community to participate in something greater than ourselves,” according to its founders.

Throughout the ages, we’ve sat alone as well as gathered in groups to sing, pray, dance, paint, write and breathe our way into remembering our connection with consciousness. The world’s wisdom traditions offer all kinds of techniques to move us beyond the small confines of self-reflective thinking, and today, that interconnectedness has reached far beyond solitary practice. For example, every year, a project called V-Star Change the World brings close to one million schoolchildren from 5,000 schools in Thailand to a Buddhist temple north of Bangkok to meditate for world peace. As the BBC writes, “It is truly a remarkable and moving sight…. The temple has attracted controversy in the past, with critics claiming the meditation exercise is simply for show, and others likening its activities to a cult. But the temple believes that when one million children meditate together it can help to change the world.”

Signing Up to Alter Reality

We need each other to connect, to travel to new territory, to become our best selves, and to create a nurturing world. This interconnection with other human beings is an integral part of life. Research on mirror neurons show us that we do in fact impact each other on all levels—heart, mind and body. The people around us influence what we see, how we feel, and what we think.

It’s one thing to learn from wisdom traditions and say that we’re all one; it’s another to directly experience the breakdown of boundaries to the extent that all experience merges into unity. When we choose to participate in a form of group meditation, we’re essentially joining a team where everyone involved has signed up to alter reality. By sharing the experience, we leave the tunnel vision of our own worlds and share the responsibility of taking care of life.

By playing on this type of team, we can see aspects of ourselves that need to be transformed. They can serve as mirrors in learning the impulses that cause disconnection: the desire to be the right one, know it all, or to be the star. When we learn more about how these impulses cause separation, the boundaries of our teams fall away and we become more fluid in our identities. Life becomes a beautiful display of human abilities. As we play with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, there’s great potential for balance.

Connecting Through the World Wide Web

Today, we live our lives both online and off. The internet enables a kind of fluidity of identity that’s unprecedented, as we’re not limited to our local communities and countries of residence; we’re interconnected with the entire world. As we learn from each other across cultural and temporal boundaries, the joy and pain of life comes together in both our individual experience and our collective one.

Technology also enables practices that were once thought to only happen in caves, churches and monasteries to take place in our ordinary lives. Mobile apps such as Headspace, which describes itself as “a gym membership for the mind,” Calm, a mindfulness meditation app whose homepage is a gentle flowing body of water through the mountains, and Buddhify, where more than 80 custom-made meditations are available for wherever you are or whatever you’re doing, with stats and graphs to track your progress, are reaching those who are turning their attention inward for the first time.

Practicing Mindfulness Online

There are also learning communities that practice together online. The Buddhist Geeks Dojo, a cloud-based training ground that I co-direct, is dedicated to exploring what it means to be a contemplative practitioner in the modern, tech-savvy world. There are opportunities to connect with others from all over the world, sit together in Google Hangouts, and ask questions of various teachers with different practice backgrounds.

In New York, Radha Agrawal, the founder of a children’s nutrition company, and Matthew Brimer, a founder of an adult-education school, came up with the Daybreaker concept in 2013. Their idea—to dance with like-minded people before the break of day to cultivate a community that “values wellness, camaraderie, self-expression, mindfulness and mischief”—grew from a small social experiment to a movement in 14 cities across the globe “connecting incredible humans locally and globally who choose to live life differently.”

The process of life leads us on a journey of discovery. From the time we’re young, we begin to discover what this reality entails. Now, we have a chance to connect and deepen in unimagined ways. As we lean toward this interconnection, we get to choose who will be on our awakening team.


large crowd of people at beach

Awakening en Masse: The New Team Sport

Published on: October 24, 2016

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