from The Theosophist July 1958
(extract from the book To Form a Nucleus)
As we have seen, the core of the work of a Lodge is its regular member's meetings. Usually the members' meetings cannot be highly specialized but must be so arranged and conducted as to provide interest and inspiration for members of every kind. In a fairly large Lodge there is sometimes scope for one or more specialized groups of members carrying on studies which might not be of interest to all the members. But in a relatively small general Lodge there must always be conscious effort to include everybody.
Purpose - Study - Preparation
If it is realized, however, that the supreme purpose of a Lodge is to form a nucleus of Brotherhood, members will learn to appreciate that they gain their greatest fulfillment as members when they support the Lodge's meetings and activities to some extent regardless of the consideration of personal interest. It is really impossible that the studies of a Lodge should always be of immediate interest to every member; but they will always provide a field in which every member may enlarge his interest and extend his sympathies towards other members. Members, by their very acceptance of the First Object of the Society, have a duty to endeavor at all times not to be boring and not to be bored. What is a major interest to another cannot always be a major interest to ourselves, but it must not be superciliously rejected or swept aside. The interest of another is a key to the better understanding of him.
It is sometimes possible to arrange for short talks to be given or short papers read by the members at a meeting, perhaps dealing with different aspects of some chosen subject. The pressing demands of everyday life, however, usually make it necessary for most member's meetings to be simple study meetings, and these have often to be improvised with little or no preparation.
The subjects to be studied are those which lie within the Objects of the Society. In choosing books or topics for study there must always be this positive consideration. At the same time there is also the negative consideration that we do not want to reproduce unnecessarily within the Society something that can be had better elsewhere. We do not, for example, need to pursue studies for which other separate organizations already exist. We may touch on the specialities of other organizations but we must not allow them to take the place of our own proper work.
Thus psychism as a subject is already largely served in most countries by a wide of special organizations and psychical societies, and our concern with it in the Theosophical Society is necessarily a minor one. The same is true of the special literature of various schools of psychology and of various other organizations. These are the specialized concern of those other organizations and they must not be allowed ever to monopolize the attention of a Lodge of the Theosophical Society, though they may from time to time fall within its interests and awareness, particularly when they illuminate the study of the nature of man.
Where a subject is to studied which requires acquaintance with the fruits of science, scholarship or historical research, care should be taken that solid and well authenticated sources of information are used and not partisan statements, sensational magazine articles and the like.
A substantial place in our studies ought to be found for the writings of our own members of all periods of the Society's history. Not only is it important that member should become acquainted with the literature produced by their fellow-members in the past, but they ought also to interest themselves in what is being currently thought and written about in the Society today, in books recently published, and in the topics under discussion in THE THEOSOPHIST and other journals.
The manner of conducting a members' study meeting will necessarily vary in different countries and even in different Lodges in the same country, according to varieties of temperament and capacity among the members. The amount of preparation to be done in advance will, for example, vary greatly. Unless there is going to be somebody present who is exceptionally well grounded in the subject to be studied, some preparation by at least the leader of the group is necessary. There ought to be some idea, even if only lightly held, of what the meeting is going to do; and a book ought not to be opened just by chance, with the aimless inconsequence of a lottery draw.
On the other hand, too much preparation and planning can have a deadening effect upon a meeting. Much can be brought to the surface by the spontaneous inspiration of the meeting itself and the free and unexpected play of mind upon mind; and the planning out in too rigid a fashion of the work to be done can kill that spontaneity.
Reading and Discussion
If a book is being read out aloud for purposes of study and discussion, the manner of reading it ought to vary with the subject-matter. Thus some passages can be read and discussed almost sentence by sentence, while in other cases several pages may have to be read without a break in order that a complete understanding of the larger meaning of the passages may be obtained.
To chop up the contents of a book into little pieces by causing it to be read paragraph by paragraph, while the book is passed round to each member of the group in turn, can be very deadening and can quite obscure the larger meaning of what is being read. A single good reader, or two or three good readers, will make a better effect.
Speed of reading is also some importance. A slow and dragging pace can stultify the reading of a long passage and cause listeners to lose its meaning. Good, clear, interested reading, a lively sympathy with the meaning of what is being read, and a voice which, though fairly impersonal, is not wholly devoid of color, are great assets.
Reading is usually followed by discussion or interspersed with discussion. But, apart from the study of a book, open discussion of some selected subject can also usefully fill an entire members' meeting at times. The purpose of such discussion ought always to come within the scope of our First Object. That is to say, it is intended to create a deeper understanding among members and to contribute to the building of a nucleus of Brotherhood. For this reason it must not be excessively dominated by any one person or one group of persons, and, so far as possible, all present ought to be given every encouragement to contribute to it.
It ought never to be felt that such a discussion must reach some sort of conclusion which can be summed up in words. Each contributor ought to offer his own thought to the discussion and offer it positively, not in opposition to the thought of anybody else. A discussion is not the reaching of some sort of conclusion. It is the deepening of the understanding of the group and an enhancing of each member's intuitive appreciation of the other members and of the topic that is being discussed. It is right, therefore, that there should sometimes be natural and spontaneous silences in such a discussion. The verbal level of intercourse is only a means of focusing something much deeper in us than itself.
The Inner Side of a Members' Meeting
In a Lodge meeting that is devoted to study and discussion or entirely to discussion, a sensitive participant will sometimes be able to feel the changing atmosphere of the meeting. He will feel a gradual building up of understanding and the breaking down of personal barriers. Then a time comes when the meeting is at its very best, when the members have forgotten their personal selves as fully as they can, when the group consciousness is most rich and free. Often at that time of the full flowering of the meeting it is as if the meeting becomes a chalice into which something is poured, greater than all the contributions of the members.
When that highest point of the meeting or discussion is reached, it is well not to delay the closing for very much longer. Few members are able to remain at this peak for any considerable length of time. It is best to let the meeting presently relax gently, and, as a certain sense of completeness and achievement pervades it, to bring it to a close. Even if members may like to remain discussing informally afterwards, there ought to be a point where the main work of the meeting formally ends. The meeting ought not to be allowed to end merely by disintegrating as people leave.
To bring about a meeting of this kind which is really inwardly creative, which brings a distinct benediction to its participants and to the place where it is held, it is necessary for the members really to forget their personal selves. Any assertion of the more personal side can be destructive, even though it may seem to take an innocent form. At the best an assertion of the personal side is unhelpful and represents a certain loss of opportunity. Such factors as one person holding the floor too long and too often, excessive reciting of personal experiences or opinions, the making of slightly cynical remarks however friendly, anything that deviates from the gentle and impersonal pursuit of truth, can cause a meeting to go wrong.
Sometimes in a discussion one is conscious that many of those present are simply waiting for an opportunity to make some point or express some opinion which they hold. They are not really giving their sympathy and aid to the wholeness of the meeting but are seeking only to use it to make their own view known, often a view which they have expressed in some form many times before. It is a helpful contribution to the success of a discussion if those who are compulsively burning to make some particular point can sufficiently master themselves to drop it, and refrain from giving utterance to that particular opinion. They may find, if they succeed in this, that some other far wiser and more worthy thought will then come to them.
More Hugh Shearman