There are several psychological programs that have developed over the years to foster personal safety in group situations including the group norms in Alcoholics Anonymous and the protocols of Non-violent communications, Insight dialogue, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. The simplest version that I have encountered is called Dharma Sharing and it comes from the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. This is a modified a version of the instructions. During Mindful Sharing, we practice wise speech and deep listening. It is a special time for us to share our experiences, our joys, our challenges and our questions relating to our practice. By learning to share our personal experiences, we contribute to the collective insight and understanding of the community.
Sometimes it may be beneficial to let sharing come from those who take the initiative to offer their speech and at other times it might be beneficial to take turns around the circle so those who may be more timid can share. There is no obligation to share at any time and it is completely acceptable to simply take a breath, bring the hands together and bow to signal your wish to pass or simply say ‘pass’.
Mindful sharing is not a time to engage in theoretical or abstract conversations about concepts or texts but rather, we speak directly from our own experiences. We refrain from characterizing the experiences of others, giving unsolicited advice, or inserting ourselves into their stories. By avoiding such “cross-talk,” we honor and safeguard each individual’s sharing. We remember not to spread news that we do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord. Whatever is shared during Mindful Sharing is held in confidence.
By practicing deep listening while others are speaking, we help create a calm and receptive environment. Mindful of our own inner dialog, we resist the impulse to agree or disagree. We can then bring our mind back to being present with the person who is speaking. In deep listening, our mind is open, curious, and interested -- as though we were hearing this person for the first time. It is a form of listening that not only hears what is said but also seeks to understand the whole person behind the words.
We will resist interrupting others as much as possible because it will allow us the time to pause to explore whether the interruption is necessary. If someone becomes uncomfortable or emotional during Mindful Sharing, we resist the impulse to comfort them with words or by leaving our seat. The impulse to comfort another who is in pain is a healthy and natural response. However, it is important to recognize that these actions can be motivated by the desire to avoid our own discomfort at seeing someone else in pain more than the desire to comfort the other. It is only when we learn to be mindful and are willing to be present with our own discomfort that we can be available to comfort the pain of others. Validating eye contact and supportive body language are appropriate.
If a friend shares about a difficulty he or she is facing, we will respect that he or she may or may not wish to talk about this individually outside of the Mindful Sharing time. By being witness to community members, we support healing, joy, and the spiritual growth of the individual and ourselves.