Welcome to the Infinite Smile Sangha. Whether you are new to the idea of meditation or you’ve been doing it for some time, we’re hopeful that our group will offer you something valuable. We’ve combined a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that should help make your time with us more meaningful.
What should I expect when I arrive for one of your sittings?
People are asked to arrive no later than 7:30 pm. Getting there a little early is helpful, especially if you are new. Usually, one of the regulars will be available to help answer any questions you might have, but if you are ever in doubt, just follow what everyone else is doing.
The schedule of each sitting is simple:
1.) We get something to sit on and find a place to sit. There are blankets, bolsters, some cushions, chairs and other supports that will make your sitting comfortable.
2.) We simply try to quiet down while you wait for Michael to enter and give a quick introductory talk.
3.) We meditate for around thirty minutes.
4.) We listen to Michael’s talk.
5.) We have a question and answer session until 9:00pm.
What does the word sangha mean?
It’s a Sanskrit word that means something like “group.” This can be a small sitting group like ours or as big as the global community. Regardless, it’s all sangha.
Are you a Buddhist organization?
We are a group that has formed around Michael McAlister’s teachings. To the extent that Michael’s training involved Buddhist monastic stays in Thailand, Nepal, and here in the US, you could easily say that we follow a Buddhist approach. On the other hand, much of Michael’s communication of these teachings integrates the wisdom of many different traditions. This often makes things easier for those of us raised in the West to understand, but it can also make things harder to categorize and label. Just know this: regardless of your tradition, Michael’s teaching will afford you the opportunity to deepen your relationship to whatever you consider sacred.
Why is everyone so quiet before the meditation period begins?
The idea behind the silence is to make a space where everyone can enjoy and uncover the peace underneath all of the stress they might feel during their day. It can sometimes feel a little weird since many of us are used to chatting during any type of social gathering. But over time, we hope that you will find that the silence usually becomes a welcome container for our sittings.
Do I need to get my own sitting cushion?
No, but some sitters like having their own so they purchase one. It’s really a personal choice.
Is there really a difference between sitting on a chair and sitting on the floor?
This is yet another one of those areas where we buck tradition. There is no “correct” way to be still. Just do your best to create a space where stillness can be recognized. For some this situation is supported best on the floor. They feel that it grounds them and forces them to stay alert. Others of us have bad knees and backs and need the full support of a chair. This is fine too. The main thing to remember is that we want to sit as still as possible for as long as possible, without getting so comfortable that we fall asleep. After all, we are here to wake up.
What if I can’t make it through the whole meditation?
No worries. Just sit quietly and wait for the bell to ring. The idea of meditation is not to be in pain but to be alert and relaxed. Do your best to be in that space of alert relaxation for as long as possible.
Are all of Michael’s talks recorded or video taped?
Yes. As a matter of fact, nearly all of his talks are listed on our website, www.InfiniteSmile.org where they play to a global audience. To this end, we ask that participants understand that events with Michael may be recorded for use by Infinite Smile Sangha, Inc. Also, some events will be video taped. So anyone participating in Infinite Smile Sangha activities may also end up being photographed by Infinite Smile Sangha. If any participant wishes not to be photographed or not to be featured in a photo displayed on our website, please notify us in writing.
What do you do with the donation that I make?
Without your help, we wouldn’t exist. Your contributions help us pay for operational expenses like our weekly facility rental, our quarterly intensives and retreats, our advertising and outreach, as well as our web presence. It all adds up, but your gift helps us spread what we consider to be a relevant approach to spirituality. Thanks in advance for your contribution.
Do you share any of the mailing list information that I offered?
No. Never. Your privacy is important to us.
What should I expect if I attend a One Day Intensive?
Intensives offer participants a gentle way to “turn up the heat” on their practice, as Michael says. Our day will have several periods of meditation, two dharma talks and discussions, a lunch, and time for either a hike or a walk, depending on our location. Intensives are held in silence since this supports a deep and transformational stillness for all participants. We also work to give ourselves over to the schedule and structure of the day. Participants are asked to come to the intensive prepared to be fully present, with loose ends tied up at work and at home, completing all business before arrival, making arrangements with loved ones to help maintain the silence. This allows for an undistracted experience of surrender that is often hard to come by in daily life.
What should I expect if I attend one of the Weekend Retreats?
Weekend Retreats offer each participant time to step back from the course of daily life and enter into the Unknown, in an environment that provides both structure and support. Like our One Day Intensives, Weekend Retreats are held in silence. Retreats are also a time for each of us to question our most cherished ideas, opinions, and beliefs. This may sound intense, but that’s the point. The structure of our retreats is something we’ve developed over the years to support stillness as well as challenge the various ways that we cling to what is small in us and resist letting go into what is Infinite. All Weekend Retreat participants should arrive on time (between 3-5 PM on the first day) and plan to stay at our retreat site through the end of the retreat (just before lunch on the last day).
Because the schedule is a vital part of the retreat container, if you cannot arrive on time and plan to stay through the end, you should not attend the retreat. This shared commitment supports the group as a whole to experience the depth of our time together.
Day 1: Check-in is 3-5 PM. After check-in, there is a dinner break followed by a retreat orientation and a short dharma talk.
Daily Activities: Each full day of retreat begins at 6:00 AM and ends at 9:30 PM. Each day includes several periods of meditation, 2 dharma talks followed by a Q & A session, and 3 meal breaks.
Last Day: The retreat officially ends just before lunch.