A guide to utilizing meditation (or staying away from it) in your trainings
Are you (becoming) a business coach or trainer and in the middle of preparing your leadership seminar? Yesterday, your colleague had been raving about how focused her group was during the training day. „It’s because we had started the training session with a 10-minute meditation!“ Let’s say you have two or three days to plan with this group, and you wonder:
Should I start day two with a short meditation session?
Facilitators know how much the first 10 minutes (the opener ¹) at the start of your training pretty much define the group’s mood up until the middle of the day.
Will you introduce a meditation opener into your dramaturgy?
If you went through our business trainer certification program, you will not just do it. Will you? We very much hope that you will have … thoughts. The following are my own second thoughts about meditation in group coaching and business training.
Let me tell you two true stories.
In 2021, I participated in a leadership seminar for entrepreneurs. The program’s description had been promising. Pretty soon, I found myself sitting on the dirty floor, in their seminar room. I was supposed to meditate. It had been the seminar opener. A chopped off Buddha head was glaring at me from the middle of the circle of participants. Four minutes had passed, and all of a sudden, I heard the trainer’s voice: „Now, imagine a green meadow, and how you’re walking barefoot towards this wonderful tree. Hug the tree!“Most seemed to hover in happiness. However, I was reminded of a painful wasp sting I got when I had walked barefoot through our garden. I could not walk for more than one month. And I don’t hug trees. Ever.
The second story happened to me 9 years ago.
José, a good friend of mine, who had served as a Buddhist monk for several years, invited me to his new mindfulness and meditation seminar. I had to go. Few people were more savvy in the field, after all.
It was a great success. We learned about different types of meditation practices and tried many of them. We had a full day, that is: enough time, so everything went smoothly. The best of all, José had secured a quiet room and brought some tea for the group. I liked the way the trainer explained some roots of the practices. During that day, I sat on the floor to meditate, I walked to meditate, and I stood still and tried meditation. It felt appropriate, at least to me.
Four aspects of meditation in groups
While I, the participant, had experienced meditation as meaningful in the second story, I really didn’t in the first. In my experience, and according to what I have heard from other professionals from the training industry, this has something to do with at least four factors:
1) Meaning of the concept
For each individual, meditation can have different meanings. While some people see meditation as a way to improve focus, others will just see it as a distraction from their everyday lives. While some people see it as part of religion, others will utilize it for the purpose of relaxation. Some people just don’t know how to handle the sensations that arise in their bodies while there is this „awkward silence“. That is why they might simply zone out by thinking about their shopping list, for example.
2) Trust among group members
Even though closing your eyes is not a requirement for a meditative state, many will think it is. But how do group members really feel, when they sit in proximity of total strangers with their eyes closed. Our body tends to warn us: „You are in the attack zone of three people, one is sitting behind you!“ Many will tense up. I tend to tense up!
3) For some, it’s more intimate
I have learned most aspects of meditation from two Theravada monks. I am biased. I prefer to have time and stillness for it.
Many Buddhists clean their floor before they meditate. At least, it has become important to me. Meditation is not connected to a specific outcome or goal, at least for me. I confess that I don’t feel comfortable when people feel forced to meditate, or if they have no clue what will happen inside their mind if they try to meditate for the first time.
A dirty floor and a chopped off Buddha head on the floor? Many coaches are not aware that, to quite a few Buddhists, a Buddha head represents no more than a mutilated Buddha statue.
Many people think, guided (thought) journeys represent meditation. I am not here to define meditation. However, participants expecting a guided journey will actually expect your verbal guidance. It doesn’t make sense to let your participants meditate for “a bit” and then you would suddenly start talking them into some journey. As psychotherapists and scholars keep pointing out, guided meditation (or thought journeys) require rooting first: Explain what will happen and why.
You need a good introduction to your canned story you are about to share with the group. Don’t be surprised if a participant suddenly get triggered by the image you painted with your words reminds him or her about a childhood abuse situation or an accident! I witnessed this, it’s just awful because the group will also get distracted and your lead-in for the seminar will be wrecked.
How to do it right, and when you might skip it altogether
1) Does meditation really fit with this group?
Is your target group apt to try a meditation sequence? Do most of them have some affinity to topics such as mindfulness, meditation, or silent reflection? This first aspect is by far the most important to consider.
2) Beware of subconscious reactions
Please allow participants to place themselves away far enough from each other (see „trust among group members“)
3) Familiarity is key
Consider the introduction of meditation for day 3 or 4, if you have such a timeframe available. The more familiar the group is, the better. I would not consider meditation for a new group.
4) Fish or meat?
Either offer a prepared, guided meditation („thought jorney“) where you have printed keywords on a sheet of paper, or explain to them what they could focus on and let them meditate in stillness. warum Explain why you offer the session.
5) Care for silent haters
Meditation or silent reflection is not for everyone. Indicate how long it will take before you begin. Don’t go over five or six minutes with beginners, or 10 minutes with mindfullness-affine participants. You are in a business training, not in your sangha.
6) You are a mirror
Don’t offer the meditation sequence if you feel any hostility towards a few in the group at this day. It is seldom, but if your personal countertransference² contains hostility or anger, it is very probable that group members experience similar emotions (directed against each other).
Maybe „today is an asshole“. If you just had an argument with your girlfriend, consider skipping the meditation part. You aren’t in the zone today. I have also had bad experiences with meditation intros when I had not slept enough.
Has meditation become inflationary in some business training academies of modern Berlin? For my taste, it has. But what you do depends on the preferences of our audience. How could you filter out those who actually prefer to sit in silence with you from all your groups?
Make it an optional part
As you might already know, there will be a few true fans when you are done with your training. These are few participants who just like the way you explain things. Or they just like the way you are. In the past, I have often offered a “bonus part for nerds like me”.
Why not offer a 20-minute segment about resilience and self-reflection at the end of the day. Let everybody leave who is not really interested beforehand. It’s wonderful.
You will have about 9 out of these 24 people who will stay. They will trust you, have spent a maximum amount of time with each other, and now they stayed to try something new. It feels great.
¹ Synonyms for ice breakers are „start sequence“, „problematisation“, „lead-in“, intro or simply „opener“
² Here: the trainer’s feelings or emotional entanglement with his client in a one-to-one setting or participants in a group-setting