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Satsang Circle - The New 'Group' ?
In '98, Satyam Nadeen came to London to give a week-end workshop. A workshop ressembling a week-end long satsang, but with one major difference there was no teacher.
In From Onions To Pearls one of Nadeen's basic ideas is that about 1% of the world's population is in the throes of what he calls 'The Shift.' This is an abrupt and dramatic acceleration of evolution as more and more people start to wake up. It's violent, and can be frightening. Everything we took ourselves to be is vanishing.
For Nadeen the traditional master/disciple approach has been outflanked by the sheer size of this crisis and so what he did in his workshop was simply to subtract any fixed teacher from the satsang. Everyone in succession could take the chair and talk about their personal experience of this 'Shift.'
It was fascinating and often deeply touching stuff and at the end of the workshop several of us decided to start, as Nadeen clearly desired, our own 'satsang circle.' We invited all our friends to come to an ongoing weekly group. There was to be no fixed agenda. Anyone could speak about whatever they most wanted to speak about; all we did was use the talking-stick thing so we didn't interrupt one another. Sessions lasted one and a half to two hours; numbers were anywhere between six and twelve, though sometimes a good few more; and we always ended with a small party.
The group really took off, and after two years it's still going strong Essentially I'd say its stamina has come from the fusion of two things. Firstly from its being a 'group' in the old sannyas sense, a 'therapy' group, with people moving out of their comfort zone and taking a few risks; and secondly from its being a 'meditation' group, almost like a talking vipassana. It's been about both telling the truth and listening to it. For when people have said all they have to say, then the silence which has risen among us has had a real resonance, a real ring of truth to it. Repeatedly we seemed to become one entity.
One thing we did was play a game where we drew lots for who was to be 'the guru.' Whoever drew the short straw was in the hot seat for the whole session, fielding questions as any normal teacher would. Despite initial misgivings people came out with some amazing stuff. Shrinking violets who had never spoken 'in public' suddenly flowered. In their own way everyone was as articulate as the stars of the satsang gravy train.
You could see how easy it would be to become a guru. After the first few times you're away;- and how addictive it must become. For there's a sparkling rush of energy from speaking to a whole group of people. Tiredness vanishes, your head clears for me at my more fanciful the group was an insight into 'Pentecost' : the time when the first Christians, scattered and freaked by the murder of Christ, finally learnt to speak, and to speak to everyone. I saw satsang circles spreading underground like the spores of a new religion.
Could such circles be the agent of widespread change?
If you feel that some sort of community is essential to any real transformation, then yes. Satsang circles could prove the basic building blocks of a new commune providing a cell-like structure on the grassroots level, strong enough to resist any tendency to hierarchisation. They could prove a breakthrough in the actual mechanics of democracy.
Do they have fixed size and shape? Nadeen seems to stick to the ABC of group dynamics, that groups to be effective should remain small. But is this so? The Quaker experience, surely a parallel, would indicate otherwise Personally, after some eighteen months I began to feel I was looking for something more subversive than our weekly group, something with more edge to it a sort of Mystery School which has made the creation of something the dynamo of its own meditation but perhaps that was just my own two cents' worth.
Essentially I feel the satsang circle is a response to a society which is edging everyone further and further into isolation. It's a last-ditch attempt to reinvent friendship. As such it could develop in all sorts of ways. Towards some new kind of group therapy (with a good bit to learn from twelve-step programmes) or towards a new kind of group meditation (with a good bit to learn from the Quakers). Or perhaps towards a qualitatively new kind of group of friends, with little to learn from anyone except themselves.
Nadeen's two books, ' From Onions To Pearls' and the more recent 'From Seekers To Finders', are both warmly recommended to anyone wishing to start their own satsang circle. See www.satyamnadeen.com .