Start a group

Perhaps you do not live close enough to an existing Plum Village Group to attend regularly or the group meets on a day that is not possible for you. All is not lost – you can start your own group or “Sangha”"Sangha" is the traditional word for a community that practices meditation together.

People often ask, “How can I start a mindfulness group?” Most of us don’t feel qualified to start a sangha. We are not Monks or Nuns or mindfulness experts. But if our aspiration in starting a Sangha is to make the Plum Village practices available to ourselves and others in a mindful caring way – in a spirit of sharing and mutual learning and growth – it is possible for us to succeed.

Building a Sangha is like planting a sunflower.

Thich Nhat Hanh


Before you start

Where

First you will need somewhere for the group to meet.

Groups may start by inviting two or three interested friends to come to your home to share the basic practices. If the collective mindfulness practice in your small group creates a calm, joyful atmosphere, before long each friend will invite another friend and soon you will have a growing community. As the number of people increases it may mean a move to hiring a local room or hall. (0Some people believe it is better to start by hiring a local room or hall. In this way you provide the Sangha with a neutral space from the very beginning.)

Some practical considerations… Ideally you need somewhere central to those attending, which has a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere with a minimum of disturbance. Having said that, some groups meet happily in places where children and pets provide “bells of mindfulness” (reminders to return to our body and breath) through their presence! Some groups operate on the basis of meeting in various members’ homes in formal or informal rotation.

When and how often to meet

Weekday evenings after work or weekends during the daytime, weekly or fortnightly, work best for most groups. If numbers permit you could consider having two meetings a week at different times catering for different groups of people.

Group size

You need at least one other person to meet with but there is no optimum size. Some groups have functioned very successfully for years with only two or three members. Some people feel comfortable in large practice groups and others prefer small groups. A larger group has the advantage of generating more energy. It can also provide a range of practice experience that the community can draw on. The best way, generally, is to start small but be prepared to grow.

Resources for Sangha meetings

You may find it helpful to have a mindfulness bell, a Plum Village chanting book and a copy of The Blooming of a Lotus (for guided meditations), but these are not essential. The Plum Village UK Book Service sells these.

Some friends may wish to take part in the group who have no knowledge of mindfulness or meditation. Hopefully there will be at least one member of the group who can offer their experience. Attending a Be Calm, Be Happy course, Days of Mindfulness and residential retreats where teaching is given may be very useful to beginners.

Insurance

If you notify us that you wish your group to be associated with us, you are covered by our public liability insurance policy which provides cover for:

Meetings and retreats in private homes, community and retreat centres, village halls and similar premise. Residential retreats. Public meditation events in open spaces. Some meetings and/or retreats may include a country walk.

NB: If your Sangha decides to go “mindful skydiving”or engage in other active pursuits you may need to organise your own insurance cover!

The meetings

Facilitation

Whatever the size of group, someone has to facilitate each meeting. The role of facilitator is not to lead or to teach. He or she enables and tries to create a safe and stable space for people to practise in. The only way to learn how to facilitate is to do it. Sangha facilitation like the rest of our lives will not always present us with what we want. However, over time we can gain serenity about the inevitable ups and downs. It is very helpful for a group facilitator to get support and feedback especially at the beginning. But we must be willing to take the first step and be prepared to learn by trial and error. Many groups have co-facilitators at some or all meetings. This provides group members with the opportunity to learn how to facilitate.

Group Practices

Sanghas include people from all walks of life, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. What everyone has in common is an interest in cultivating mindfulness through the Plum Village practices.

An evening meeting is usually about 1 ½ to 2 hours. The shape of the programme of course needs to fit around the needs and interest of the Sangha members.

Conscious Breathing – The practice of following our breath, sitting at ease, inviting ourselves to smile is a wonderful way to bring us into the present moment and connect with each other.

Sitting Meditation – Many people find it difficult to sit regularly at home alone. Yet when we sit together as a community, the same practice is easy! This ease arises because we are supported by the presence of others.

Walking Meditation – In walking meditation we practice stopping – we walk in peace, supported by our breathing and the earth beneath our feet. In doing so, we are able to transform any nervousness, stress, and anger into calm peace and insight.

Reading or recitation This can take the form of Recitation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, a short discourse or a passage from one of Thay’sBy his students Thich Nhat Hanh is affectionately known as Thay (pronounced “Tay” or “Tie”), which is Vietnamese for “teacher.” books. You could also listen to a talk by Thay or another Plum Village teacher on CD, DVD or via the internet. The Plum Village Youtube Channel is a great resource.

Group Sharing – After enjoying meditation together we can share our insights about mindfulness practice and what it offers our daily lives. This is an opportunity to practise mindful speech and deep listening. We speak from direct experience offering practical insights that may be helpful to others. Dharma sharing is a way of sharing the Sangha wisdom.

Example schedule

7pm Welcome and intros

7.10pm Guided sitting meditation

7.30pm Walking meditation

7.40pm Silent sitting meditation

8pm Reading

8.20pm Dharma Sharing

9pm Close

Other Sangha practices

Tea drinking – we enjoy drinking tea and eating a sweet biscuit together in mindful silence

Songs and Mindful Movements – singing, chanting and enjoying mindful movements together are another way to connect with each other.

Donations

If your group has running costs (eg room hire, website, buying books etc) you might want to consider having a donations bowl to encourage donations to cover these. Letting the group know what the running costs are is generally helpful. Then you can cover not only the current costs but establish a reserve if attendance dips for a while.

Other activities as a group

Many groups organise other activities as a way of building friendships and nurturing the energy of the Sangha. These don’t need to be formal and can involve meals together, walks, meetings to view Thay’s talks etc.

Communications

Publicity

To spread the word you might want to:

  • List your Sangha on our website and in our newsletter. (email hello@plumvillage.uk)
  • Produce posters, flyers or leaflets and distributing them to local centres. Try community centres, doctors’ surgeries, complementary health clinics, Yoga classes, health-food shops, newsagents, libraries etc. (contact hello@plumvillage.uk and we can share some templates)
  • Encourage Sangha members and their friends and colleagues to spread the word.
  • Advertise in a local newspaper or What’s On listing.
  • Set up (and promote) a Sangha website – or Facebook page. Many Sanghas have done this and it’s much easier than you think.

Keeping the Sangha informed

Once you have more than a few members, keeping people informed by way of mouth becomes less easy. You might then consider producing a regular or occasional newsletter sent out by email.

Group principles

Groups may find it helpful to establish some guiding principles for the purpose of the group and how it is to be run. For example:

  • What the group is set up to do (for example, ‘The group is set up to practise mindfulness in accordance with the teachings of Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh’).
  • The purpose of a Sangha is to have friends along the path. Group members should be supportive and courteous to one another, respectful of the Five Mindfulness Trainings.
  • Group decisions should be taken at a meeting of group members and should generally be by consensus. Some groups have special meetings for the purpose of taking decisions while others meet informally over a meal.
  • Groups should be independent of the livelihood of group members.
  • If there is ever conflict in the group, we will actively take steps to resolve it drawing on outside experience in the UK Sangha where necessary.

More help and advice

This page has advice on developing a sangha.

Please contact us if you have questions or need more information about starting or developing your Sangha.

Learn Mindfulness

Get a grounding in mindfulness with our introductory courses and retreats

Practice with a group

Integrate mindfulness into your life with the help of a supportive community

Immerse yourself

Experience the transformative impact of practising the art of mindful living on a retreat