Tidying Up

Furnishing Mental Rooms

What do you do when you wake up every morning? Hastily run to class? Check Instagram? I usually lament the fact that that my 9 a.m. starts in three minutes. Other answers are possible. A noteworthy answer is, look at a list of things you are grateful for.

One Saturday morning, I had the pleasure of going to a workshop by graduate Robert Weiner on reflections to deepen meditation practice and daily living. One of the exercises we did entailed making a list of all things we were grateful for and then reading the piece of paper every morning. The task sounds simple enough, but truthfully searching within to find the blessings of your life is actually quite a challenging endeavor. What makes it difficult is the scarce amount of time we usually feel comfortable allocating to introspective discoveries. So much of learning in the traditional school environment is external. It entails the consumption of knowledge and the diligent effort to make sure what is consumed is retained. Introspection, however, involves discovery. Discovery is not consumption; it is innovative, creative, and vulnerable. There’s a very genuine human fear regarding being truly honest with ourselves and delving deep into the spheres of our consciousness. Luckily, an ancient practice has been developed to assuage this fear and encourage self-reflection: meditation.

The meditation scene at Brown is profoundly convenient. Simultaneously true to the traditions of the practice and relevant to the everyday life of a student, meditation “sits” are about opening our doors of perception to a deeper way of experiencing the world. A large part of college education is about gaining completely new information. If we think about the act of information acquisition like arranging furniture to decorate a room, we would not neglect thinking about the room holistically, nor would we neglect cleaning it and purifying it when necessary. Robert Weiner ’16 said, “We often hear our peers saying things like, ‘I spent this many hours in the Rock, studying for this lesson.’ But we never hear someone saying, ‘I spent this many hours today studying my mental patterns.’” Meditation allows us to do this: to look straight in the eyes of what we are experiencing, question our own habitual thinking patterns, and possibly transcend our own limited experience.

As the leading and only student-run meditation group on campus, the Brown Meditation Community is made up of a vibrant, diverse group of people who want to purify their mental rooms. “Most of what we do is hosting meditation sessions Tuesdays through Saturdays between 4 and 5 p.m. at Manning Chapel,” said meditation leader Cooper Schwartz. “We meditate for 20 minutes and have a short break to do walking meditation or just stretch. We then do another 15–20 minute sit and chat for a little while. Sundays between 4:45 and 6 p.m. we have a community building workshop in Winnick Chapel with the specific intention of being mindful and purposeful in the way we interact with each other. On Monday nights from 7:30 to 9 we have a 30-minute meditation session and then tea.”

Another opportunity to engage with both meditation sessions and bring your own tea is the contemplative studies initiative developed by Professor Harold D. Roth. A lot of the courses in contemplative studies have required meditation labs. In these labs, particular techniques and philosophies that are studied in class are put into practice to deepen students’ understanding of the material. First-year student Lauren Yang said about her experience: “I attend medlabs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9 a.m. Sometimes, I become really focused and feel the harmony of body and mind and the sphere of experience that the practice brings to me. Some of my favorite practices are noting practice, stop-drop-and-return technique, and Taoism practice. As for the stopping technique, when I notice a thought has entered my mind, I tell myself to drop it and return to my practice. I also use this technique while I am concentrating on doing my readings outside of meditation. After my medlabs, I am usually very concentrated in my following CS17 and art history classes, and I feel centered for the rest of my day.”

The most curious thing about meditation is that it is a practice that is not limited by the time that one puts into it. It’s almost as if it transcends that input time and impacts one’s crowded room of thoughts in tidal waves. It is challenging to learn how to live day in and day out under those waves and still have space to perform the daily burdens and responsibilities of everyday life. Expressing his idea that meditation practice is about striving to find the balance in all of our waking moments, ancient Taoist thinker Lao Tzu said, “It is easy enough to stand still; the difficulty is in walking without touching the ground.” Such clarity and peace of mind is profoundly useful in a college setting cluttered with deadlines and chaos. If we keep the goal of furnishing and purifying our mental rooms in mind, perhaps the next time we wake up and race to class, we will be able to arrive without touching the ground.