blue sanctuaryEvery Tuesday from 7-8:45 p.m., Shell leads an open, dana (donation)-based,  Vipassana (Insight) meditation group (sangha) for those wishing to deepen their practice with others in a group setting. Most nights there are about 30-40 of us.

We meet in the beautiful blue sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley off Route 11 in Stephens City. (*Directions and schedule are below.)

We practice Vipassana, or Insight Meditation, a style of meditation that trains us to live more mindfully in the present moment. Literally meaning “to see clearly,” Vipassana enables us to experience all aspects of life from a greater stillness, and to relate to both ourselves and others with increased clarity and compassion, and less fear, anxiety, and stress.

While the forms of meditation we practice are rooted in Buddhist teachings, the study and practice of mindfulness is applicable to anyone from any background or religion, and all are welcome. There are plenty of comfy chairs.


*You can listen to some previous talks here.

02/20: Setting Healthy Boundaries: The teachings show us that setting healthy boundaries with others is an important skill that can help us to live with more joy and ease in our lives – but of course, this isn’t always easy. Students often ask: “The teachings point to the concept of annata, no-self … so, why is there a need for boundaries? The Buddha urges us to care for others like a mother might care for her only child … so, why do I feel selfish or cruel when I say no?” Tonight, we’ll explore what the teachings have to say about these questions and more as they relate to the question of protecting our limits.

02/27: Who Am I? Often during the practice we are asked to consider the question: “Who am I?” or “What is my real self?” To help us answer these questions, the teachings urge us to closely examine and contemplate what are called the 5 aggregates, or skandhas … things that appear to form the physical and mental continuum of an individual life, or … the way the Buddha describes the totality of what constitutes the “world” and the “self.” Tonight’s talk will explore these 5.

03/06: Mini-Retreat Night: Every first Tuesday, we forgo the dharma talk so that we can dive a little deeper into the stillness and silence of practice. The meditation period this evening will include 10 minutes of guided meditation, 30 minutes of silent meditation, 20 minutes of walking meditation, plus a final guided metta (loving-kindness meditation) to end. We will all leave in silence, too, to respect the retreat-like container of the evening.

03/13: “Wherever You Go, There You Are” – As the title of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book tells us, our happiness doesn’t come from the things that we own, or where we live, or what we have in this life. It comes from the qualities of mind and especially of heart that we’ve cultivated. In the teachings, the Buddha urged us to practice 10 of these qualities that he considered “priorities of supreme importance” on our path towards finding freedom from stress and suffering. Tonight, Shell will give an overview of these ten – the “paramis” or “perfections” – before offering a series of talks on each of them.

03/20: Dana – The Practice of Letting Go: The Buddha taught that if we are really committed to discovering more peace and joy in our lives, the very first thing we need to practice is dana, or generosity, which involves a deep letting go – a release of our strong grip on greed, aversion, and deluded thinking. We also need to consider what we are offering … Are we “giving” others our patience, kindness, and understanding? Or, are we offering them something else? Tonight, Shell will explore the 1st parami, or “perfection” – the rich practice of dana.

03/27: Sila – Learning to Live from the Heart: The Pali word sila (virtue, or morality) is derived from the word for “bed,” and is considered the bedrock, or foundation, upon which the rest of our spiritual practice is built. Yet, these ethical guidelines are less “though shall not do these things,” and more of a map to help us deeply investigate our own mind, body and heart to recognize which actions lead to suffering (for both self and others), and which lead to more joy and freedom. Tonight, Shell will explore this 2nd parami, or “perfection.

04/03: Mini-Retreat Night: Cathy Wolfe-Heberle, Shell’s manager, has kindly agreed to lead us this evening, as Shell will be away on retreat. (Thank you Cathy!)

More soon! 


A 15-minute guided meditation is followed by a 20-minute silent meditation on wide, comfy, padded chairs (or cushions/benches if you bring your own), and a 10-minute walking meditation (you can find instructions here). Following the meditation period, a 40-minute teaching is offered by the teacher. We close the sit with a short guided meditation related to the night’s topic.

(It’s fine if you arrive late! Just make sure to sit in the back until meditation is finished … and, also fine to leave early if you need, too.)

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In lieu of traditional “dana” (generosity practice) for the teacher, there is a suggested donation of $5-$10 for the church for providing the space for us.

Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley6380 Valley Pike, Stephens City, VA 22655

If you’re driving North on I-81, take the Middletown exit (302) to US 11, turn right, then continue north for about 3 miles to the church, which will be on your left.

If you’re driving South on I-81, take the Stephens City exit (307). Take a right off the exit onto Fairfax Pike, then turn left at the traffic light onto Route 11. The church will be on your right in about 2 miles or so.

The white wooden entrance sign on Route 11, sits at the top of a hill, and the church is set at the end of a parking lot below it.


1. If you’re driving in from Winchester, start looking for the white church sign on the right just past the white highway sign that says “All Trucks Left, 3/4-Mile.” In fact, when you see the truck sign, turn your blinker on!

2. If you’ve pulled into the smaller “Unity” church that’s in the property next to it (which, coincidentally, is the old UU church), you’re at the wrong place, but you’re very close – the one where we meet is just south of it, up the hill, almost on the same property.

3. During inclement weather, cancellation notices will be sent out at 4:30 p.m., so please check your emails!


1. There are plenty of big comfy chairs, but if you prefer to sit on the floor, which is hardwood, please bring a blanket or mat AND a hard pillow or zafu, since, when you’re meditating, it is recommended that that your hips be higher than your knees. And, if you’ve never tried sitting on the floor for meditation before, it’s suggested that you use a chair in the beginning, and practice sitting on the floor at home until you get used to it.

2. If you have any back issues, it is suggested that you bring a pillow/cushion to place behind you on the chair.

3. Please remember to turn off your cell phones before entering the sanctuary

4. Be sure to bring a warm shawl or sweater during the cooler months, since your body cools quicker when you’re sitting still.

5. Please be mindful not to wear any perfume to the sit, as it can be very distracting to others. Also, with respect to those who may be allergic, we do not use incense.

6. The group is not recommended for those under age 18.

If you aren’t on the email list, you can sign up here for updates/notices about the group:

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More information can be found on the Meetup site.