As I sat at my computer, an email notification appeared in the corner of my screen at the same moment my telephone rang. I paused, took a deep breath, and answered. Wrong number. I turned back to my computer screen, two more new emails. I glanced at the clock. I scribbled a few more things on my to-do list. Another deep breath. It was one of those days where the to-do list just seemed to be getting longer. I shifted in my chair and glanced at the clock again. Another deep breath.
I pulled on my coat and headed out into the blustery snow, walking toward Hendricks Chapel for the Healthy Monday meditation. The meditation is a secular practice and is open to all members of the SU community, whether they are experienced at meditation or not. As I entered the small chapel on the lower level, I began to feel the tension in my shoulders melt away. The lights were dimmed and I was welcomed by Catherine Landis, the instructor. Silencing my phone, I slipped off my coat and shoes and settled onto a cushion on the floor. If the floor is out of your comfort zone- I’ll admit I haven’t spent much time seated in a cross-legged position since I left kindergarten- there are chairs and small stools for kneeling. Meditation doesn’t requires a specific seated position; being comfortable is most important.
The class begins at noon but the meditation doesn’t typically start until 12:15. The first 15 minutes are reserved for questions and to receive guidance about the practice of meditation for those who are new to the practice. Catherine often brings in literature to share about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. This week she read a passage about brain breathing from Science Digest that describes how the simple act of deep breathing has been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease anxiety.
A student in the class noted that some attendees were absent. “It’s midterms,” he said, “everyone is stressing out. If only they knew how much meditation could help them manage that…” he trailed off. Once we were all seated comfortably, Catherine signaled the beginning of the meditation with a chime. I am familiar with meditation, but am no expert and sometimes my mind wanders- a lot! Each chime helped me to focus my attention on my breathing. After several chimes, the room fell silent. The meditation lasts 20 minutes which may seem daunting to some, especially those of us who are programmed to check cell phones and email every couple of minutes.
Those of you who have never meditated might be wondering how those 20 quiet minutes are filled. Everyone will have a very different experience and there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Meditation is intended to restore an inner sense of calm and often the focus is shifted to your breathing. Other meditation techniques might include repeating a mantra, focusing on the present moment, or visualizing something that relaxes you. Today, I counted my breaths, sang Ed Sheeran “Thinking Out Loud” and slowly felt my toes fall asleep. I felt a little frustrated because I did not attain nirvana or quiet my mind completely but I did come away from the experience refreshed, relaxed and happier. The chime rang again signaling the end of the meditation. It felt much shorter than 20 minutes, I was surprised how quickly the time passed.
I encourage you to give the Healthy Monday meditation a try. Regular meditation can help to reduce stress and anxiety, decrease blood pressure, improve concentration and cognitive processing, boost emotional stability, strengthen your immune system and help you sleep better. What felt most luxurious to me was having 20 minutes of pure, uninterrupted quiet time with my thoughts. Many of us never indulge ourselves in these quiet moments and doing so can be a powerful thing for our physical and emotional wellbeing.
If you are ready to embrace the benefits of meditation, here is more info:
Healthy Monday Meditation
When: every Monday during the academic year
Where: Hendricks Chapel, small chapel, lower level
What time: Instruction time begins at noon, quiet meditation runs from 12:15-12:35
Who: Open to anyone in the SU community interested in benefiting from meditation practice
What else? Wear comfortable clothing if you prefer to sit on the floor. Newcomers are welcome to stay as long as they are able- it is perfectly fine to stretch your legs or leave early if you need to.