I’m in the process of creating a “salon” at my house. There will be tea and philosophy. There will probably be wine and cookies too. I’m talking about it here because I think you might want to do the same at your house.
My goal is to “discover the elephant.” Remember the story about the five blind men and the elephant? There are many different versions of it in many faith traditions, and they differ as to what each man thought he was experiencing, but they have the same root meaning. One was touching the leg and thought it was a tree, for instance. Another was touching the tail and thought it was part of a hookah. Each man thought that they had the entire thing before them, and that what they were experiencing was the truth. It was only when they started sharing what they were experiencing did they realize that they were dealing with something far bigger.
So how do you do this? How do you get people together to discover the elephant? Here are some ideas.
There should be no TV or electronic devices. We spend so much of our time these days looking into a screen and not into each other’s eyes. This is intended to be a place where people can be with each other and share their souls. It is a sanctuary for the soul.
I prefer the idea of having everybody sit on low cushions or stools that are on an assortment of carpets, but not everybody may like that. Have different seating options available. People need to feel physically comfortable first.
Encourage each person to bring something from their faith tradition to share, or have a selection of sacred texts available. The goal here is not to convert anyone, but to foster understanding not only within faith traditions, but also towards a bigger understanding.
Each person should be encouraged to talk, but nobody must talk. Everyone must listen fully and respectfully. There will be many different personalities present, and some are more willing to share than others. Be accommodating to different communication styles.
Physically, the space should foster a sense of privacy. This can be done out on a porch if there is no view of neighbors immediately present. The size of the room needs to be considered for the number of people. I’ve got a 12×12 porch, and I think it can hold maybe 6 people. Any more than that and it will feel crowded. Also, you wouldn’t want to put a few people in a huge room with high ceilings. It can be inside or outside.
I encourage the use of candles and focus objects. We humans need a place to send our eyes to and things to play with when things get too intense.
Engage the senses. Have a bell to ring, for instance. Consider using incense – but also be mindful of people with allergies and asthma. Use colorful furnishings.
You want the space to be welcoming but not too intense. All white is too much, but too many colors is too much as well. Seek balance.
Texture is important. If you are going to sit on the floor, how does the carpet feel?
The more physically comfortable you can make the space, the better the conversation will go.
Souls are shy. It may take a while for people to open up. It is a process. Celebrate whatever happens.
Thank each person for coming and sharing themselves.