Meditation Hall Customs
1. Why do I remove my shoes?
We ask that you remove your shoes unless you have a health reason for not doing so. This is an ancient custom in many religious traditions. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Moses takes off his shoes because he is on holy ground. Likewise, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims typically remove their shoes before entering a place of spiritual practice. At the very least, the practice is a signal for bringing us to the intention of mindfulness.
2. How do I prepare for class or practice?
We ask that you keep silence in the hall before class. This is, at the very least, a courtesy to other meditators who may have arrived early so that they can begin their meditation. Learning not to fill up time with socializing and chatter is an enormous aid to contemplation for all of us. Wait until after class to make conversation, please. If you need to speak to a teacher (even if it is just for a “quick word”) it is generally more helpful to wait until after class than to try to have that conversation beforehand.
3. How should I dress?
Please dress comfortably, but in a way consistent with respect for our purpose – that is, spiritual practice. Gentlemen, we ask that you remove your hats in the hall unless you are Jewish and wear the yarmulke or are of the Sikh religion and wear a turban as a spiritual discipline. For both sexes, please do not wear clothing of a revealing or otherwise distracting nature. If you plan to sit on the floor, consider that when choosing clothing for class. Many people are sensitive to perfumes and lotions, so please be considerate and do not wear them to class. Please do not chew gum in class.
4. What do I call the teacher?
The Center’s director is happy to be called “Ellie”, Sister Ellie” or simply “Sister” as you prefer. Most staff members and guest teachers are likewise happy to be called by their first names. When in doubt it is thoughtful to ask. It is never appropriate to address a teacher with terms of endearment.
5. What about posture?
The main custom to remember is in regard to sitting on the floor. As a mark of respect, we do not point our feet in the direction of the teacher or the shrine. If you need to stretch out your legs, please point your feet in a direction away from the front of the meditation hall. If the need to stretch out the legs is severe, it is probably best to sit in a chair for classes.
6. Are there any guidelines for discussion topics?
St. John’s Center is open to all people of good will from any faith tradition or from none. Meditation classes are intentionally inter-faith in philosophy and practice. All are welcome to engage in the practice of and discussion about any religion, but no one religion will be promoted over another in meditation classes. Please feel free to ask any questions about any tradition, but try not to “lay any trips” on people regarding specific belief systems.
7. What if I’m late to class?
Please come in and get whatever cushion or mat you need and then find a free space that will not block other people’s entrance. Please do not sit just inside the door as that makes it difficult for other latecomers or people who need to leave the hall. Take your time, read the white board and pick up any handouts you need, even if you are late. There is no merit in rushing or trying to sit without a cushion.
We must insist that you turn off all signal watches, pagers and cell phones!