Well, it all worked out perfectly~! Of course.
The first three visits no one showed up. On the third visit the volunteer coordinator was kind enough to bring me to the women’s floor and called all the women out to listen to me talk about what this “Buddhist Service” was all about.
I kept it simple: sitting meditation, a reading, and discussion. Immediately the women asked if they’d be chanting or bowing to “some statue or something or other.” They strongly said that they believe in God and won’t participate in any other “weird” ideology. And surprisingly, a feeling a relief washed over me!
I was brought into this institution as part of a program that is already up and running for the men and offered through the Chaplain’s office as a religious service. I have visited this group a few times and found that they were very much interested in the ceremonial and devotional aspects of Buddhism. I now realize that was a big part of my nervousness of leading my own group for the women. I don’t know Buddhist ceremonies or liturgy by heart. My practice focuses on daily practice (sitting and lifestyle choices) and service to others more than devotional practices.
What a relief! These women don’t want ceremony. Once I started talking about mindfulness, relaxation, getting to know your own mind/emotions/self, they were totally into it~! And three people showed up to the next group!
It was great. They touched in so easily to following their breath. And they were excited to sit on cushions on the floor. They smelled the flowers I brought for the altar (the only thing I put on the altar, foregoing the Buddha statue, incence and candle). They also promised me to relay to the rest of the bunch how non-religious and great mindfulness practice can be. We’ll see who shows up next time!