Welcome to Dharma Friends. Here’s a bit more information about us. We’re always happy to have people join us at our weekly sittings.
What is the schedule for Dharma Friends meditation sittings? Dharma Friends meets at 7:30 pm every Wednesday except on Christmas and New Years’ Day when those days fall on Wednesdays. Our periodic guest speakers come at the usual 7:30 Wednesday time.
How many people come? Usually, between 6-15 people attend each Wednesday sitting.
Do I have to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans to come to Dharma Friends? No, we don’t ask or expect individuals who come to Dharma Friends to identity in any specific way. Many, but not all, who attend Dharma Friends identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or trans. We expect those who join us to be respectful and supportive of lesbian, gay, bi, or trans people as equals, and to be respectful and supportive of one another.
Do I need to RSVP or let someone know I’m coming? No need to contact us in advance to let us know that you are coming.
How can I contact someone before I come to a sitting? We post notices on Meetup, but do not regularly check or respond to messages on these sites. Best to contact us by email or to phone Robert: 416-929-5205 or Jacqui: 647-994-6965. Please allow a couple of days for us to respond to messages.
Is there a cost or fee to attend the Dharma Friends meditation group? There is no cost or fee to attend weekly meditation sittings or any other Dharma Friends events. We welcome donations, and use donated money (which Buddhists call dana) to pay for expenses such as tea and cookies, insurance, and honorariums for speakers. However, we want Dharma Friends events to be accessible to all, so no donation is required or expected.
Are Dharma Friends events accessible to people of differing abilities? Sittings are held in a large second floor room that is accessible by elevator and wheelchair friendly. We are not, unfortunately, able to accommodate individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
What should I know before my first visit to a Dharma Friends group? Plan to arrive at 7:20-7:25, so you’ll have time to take off your coat and shoes and to find a seat before the sitting begins. The Dharma Friends sitting always starts promptly at 7:30, and we stop answering the buzzer to admit people to the building after this time. Dharma Friends is led by a steering committee of about nine men and women. Members of the steering committee take turns facilitating Dharma Friends sitting, so the facilitator changes every week or two. If it’s your first visit, you can come at 7:00 to meet the facilitator for the evening and to receive an orientation to the physical facilities (e.g., washroom locations, seating options) and to the format used in the group.
What is the format for Dharma Friends sittings? The facilitator starts by asking people in attendance to say their first names and makes any announcements (e.g., about upcoming events or learning opportunities). The facilitator gives a short reading or talk related to Buddhist teaching. The sitting then begins. The sitting is unguided and silent except for the bell rung by the facilitator to signal transitions. Except on evenings when we have a guest speaker, the format is always as follows: 20 minutes sitting 10 minutes walking 20 minutes sitting 10 minutes walking 20 minutes sitting The facilitator rings the bell to signal transitions from sitting to walking and vice versa. For the walking periods, we push the chairs to the centre of the room and walk silently in a circle. Some people prefer to sit during the 10-minute walking periods; that is fine, and there is plenty of space in the room to do so. The sitting always ends at 9:00 pm. After each sitting, herbal tea and cookies are served. The evening ends at about 9:30.
What if I can’t stay for the entire evening? We do not admit anyone to the building after the sitting begins at 7:30. However, individuals who are not able to stay until the sitting ends at 9:00 pm are free to leave early. To minimize disrupting the sitting, we ask the individuals who are leaving early to do so during one of the two transitions from sitting to walking.
Do I need to bring a meditation cushion? No need to bring a special meditation cushion or stool. If you have a meditation cushion or stool, and would like to bring it, you are welcome to do so. The room is carpeted. We arrange chairs in a circle for usual sittings. Some people prefer to sit on the floor and are welcome to do so. Some people bring their own meditation cushions. Some people use cushions or pillows from the sofas in the room to help with sitting on the floor.
Dharma Friends offers an Introduction to Buddhist Practice and Understanding from 7:00-7:30 on four consecutive Wednesdays each January. Check the website, Meetup or Facebook for notices about such teaching.
I've never meditated before. How can I start?
A central purpose of meditation is to be present with oneself in a conscious, friendly and accepting way. This kind of mindfulness involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Sitting or walking quietly is a way of encouraging this kind of mindfulness to develop. Having a focus helps. A way to begin practising meditation is to focus attention on breathing by being consciously aware of breathing in and breathing out. Sometimes people find it helpful to count as a way to keep this focus: Breathe in, one . . . breathe out, two . . . breathe in, three . . . breathe out, four . . . and so on. Continue counting each in-breath and out-breath until a count of ten, then start over at one.
Though this task sounds so simple, a person usually loses focus easily, as thoughts, feelings, or sensations take attention away from the breathing. This loss of focus is entirely common and normal, and not a reason to feel badly or concerned. The way to handle it is to gently refocus attention, for example, on breathing in and breathing out. If counting breaths, resume the count where ever you left off or start again at one. For almost everyone who meditates, the process of losing focus and refocussing usually happens over and over and over again and is a recurring part of practice. What is important is just to keep going. During meditation, it is not necessary to try to feel calm, peaceful, or to have any particular thoughts, feelings or sensations. People who have meditated report a wide variety of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, including some, such as anger or fear, that are not particularly peaceful. Occasionally, people have unexpected or strong feelings. During a sitting, the idea is to be aware and accepting of whatever thoughts, feelings or sensations come into consciousness, while keeping the attentional focus, e.g., on breathing, as much as possible. Interestingly, this approach to meditation often leads to feeling more calm and grounded.
Dharma Friends is a Buddhist meditation community group in Toronto, Canada. All rights reserved, 2018.