By Sara Halsey
The Buddhist Student Association welcomed Associate Professor of German Erika Nelson, a practicing Buddhist skilled in the art of meditating, to lead meditation on Monday.
The event was held in Old Chapel and had a turnout of both students and faculty alike.
There was a tranquil feel upon entering the room, with students arranged on cushions in a circle and scattered around the room.
Nelson began with a short meditation focusing on breathing, asking the attendees to let go of pressure and be present, and encouraged them to “be sincere about meditation but not serious.”
The only brief disturbance of the silence was from Nelson encouraging participants to sink deeper into their breath and let go of expectations.
After this, she had the attendees go around and say one word about what they were seeking from the meditation session.
Answers ranged from peace, to control, to community. Nelson then shared her experience as a Buddhist. She claimed that she began searching and had something open up inside of her when she first tried meditation.
Nelson recalled that it was difficult at the beginning of her practice, but gradually became easier. She said Buddhism is about overcoming suffering, and that’s exactly what it did for her. There are different forms of meditation, including closed-eyes and sitting, as well as open-eye, which helps to confront things.
Nelson stated that Buddhism teaches that the “fundamental truth” is that there is suffering, and that we all suffer from birth, but suffering can be overcome.
Meditation can be silent, but can also include chants.
Buddhism was born from the teaching of Siddhartha, who was awakened to suffering.
Nelson practices Lotus Sutra, one of the most popular and influential scriptures in Buddhism, according to the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist community.
Among the different forms of meditation, there is loving kindness meditation, which Nelson taught during her session. According to this teaching, the loving kindness practice can mean suffering with others, or bringing a sense of loving kindness that helps to cultivate the inner life force that strengthens us.
Nelson handed out a song of loving kindness that was a prayer for all beings.
As the music started, Nelson encouraged participants to “be free from everything, be with this in whichever way you prefer, bring a sense of love and kindness.”
Jackie Aboulafia ’17 stated, “After the meditation session, I felt so refreshed, renewed and, most importantly, felt I became a better version of myself. Interestingly, clearing my mind of my persistently distracting thoughts actually helped me analyze my life better.”
As the music played, the attendees seemed to visibly relax, some lying down on the floor, others serenely sitting on their pillows.
After a period of silence, Nelson began chanting from the Lotus Sutra in a rhythmic voice.
She brought the session to an end with a few gentle taps of her cymbals.
Following the session, Nelson was available to speak to students about their experience, offering some clarity on her experiences as well.
“Each and every one of my meditation experiences concludes differently,” she explained. “It is constricting to create goals for something that can go in so many different directions.”
Nelson said that she chooses to incorporate the chanting because it helps her bring control and focus, clearing away her outside thoughts.
“Everyone meditates for different reasons,” Jackie Aboulafia added. “These reasons range from something as complex as striving to reach Enlightenment, to something as simple as feeling happy and comfortable sitting silently in a room with peers. Today, I bonded with complete strangers over our shared desire for silence and peace, and that is something to be cherished.”
It was noted that one does not need to be inherently associated with Buddhism to meditate, and there will be more events on campus this term to debunk myths surrounding the practice as well as make it accessible for students who may be interested in practicing.
For those interested in learning more about meditation, there is an American Yoga Club on campus that practices meditating, and there will be an upcoming event held by the Buddhist Student Club on common misconceptions of Buddhism.