In March, COVID-19 forced an abrupt transition to working and learning virtually. There was an early recognition that lives of quarantine and physical distancing could lead to social isolation and disconnection. The SCS community worked quickly to address these potential harms by outlining a series of digital activities that could bring together students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Among the menu of options presented, daily digital meditations over Zoom during the work week quickly became a nourishing resource for the community to engage. This week we turn our attentions to the SCS daily meditations and ask: What good has come from these digital meditations that have been offered continuously since March 13, 2020? Why might you consider joining this growing community of meditators? As we continue to journey an indeterminate period of pandemic, how can meditation meet some of our personal and communal needs?
Research clearly indicates that regular meditation leads to significant health benefits, including improvements in mental, physical, and social well-being. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine and founder of the Center for Mindfulness, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation leads to reductions in stress, anxiety, and pain. Kabat-Zinn was worked for years to integrate mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine and healthcare, arguing that mindfulness helps us to accept that while suffering is an essential part of lived experience it does not have to control us. The practice of mindfulness, rooted in silence and non-doing, allows us to be fully awake to the present moment. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness actually leads to biological changes in our bodies that enable us to better deal with stress:
“Now, ironically, biologically, just that has huge consequences in the body and in the mind, and probably for health. So, the non-doing, in the apparent non-doing of meditative practice, actually every atom and molecule and neuron in your body is listening to this, and your genes. And there’s evidence that our biology is actually changing in relationship to how we hold the present moment.”
In addition to physical and mental health benefits, regular meditation practice contributes to spiritual growth and development. Many spiritual traditions have made meditation central to their practices. At Georgetown, where we affirm a diversity of religious experience and a commitment to being contemplatives in action, regular meditation practice brings us closer to our truest selves, encourages interior freedom, and, ultimately, cultivates us to act more generously in the world. For Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and spiritual mystic grounded in the Christian tradition, the silence at root of meditation is actually a great teacher. Rohr writes that: “We must find a way to return to this place, live in this place, abide in this place of inner silence. Outer silence means very little if there is not a deeper inner silence. Everything else appears much clearer when it appears or emerges out of silence.” Various Eastern and Western traditions have made silence an essential part of the spiritual journey toward greater union with God, transcendent mystery, and our truest selves.
Regardless of the motivation or intention one brings to the type of silent mindfulness offered in the SCS daily digital meditations, there is a rich resource to be explored in this practice and the community that has formed over the last five months. In order to fully appreciate the meaning and value of these meditations, I’ve asked some active participants to share their perspectives on the experience.
Melanie Goerke, a student in the Master’s in Urban & Regional Planning program addresses how she overcame some initial doubts and committed to the regular practice:
“One of my goals for 2020 was to spend more time listening to my mind and body and to challenge myself to do something different. I’m one of those exuberant extroverts, and I often do not appreciate my surroundings enough because I’m racing through my tasks. Whether that be my full-time position, my full-time grad school schedule, or my additional volunteer and social events.
When I started daily meditations, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I felt that I couldn’t “quiet” my mind enough. The more I continued to do it, the more I realized how beneficial it was for me in my daily routine. I’m able to allow my mind ten minutes of time alone, time to reflect, and time to prepare for the remainder of my day. The value to me, is that I’m able to gain a wider perspective, to detox from my busy schedule, and to let my body rest in a way that’s different than sitting on the couch or going for a walk outside. Meditation leads me to a deeper inner strength and lowers my stress levels in a way that feels healthier to the mind, allowing me to fully relax.”
Alexis Fox, who works in Georgetown’s Office of Advancement and is also a student in the Master’s in Artificial Intelligence program discusses the mental health benefits:
“For me, meditation is a way to help center and relieve frustrations. It’s so easy to get annoyed by inconsequential things, which can then affect your whole day. The experience that the meditation leader provides daily is invaluable; the format, at less than 20 minutes, is a very doable amount of time to take a step back for mental health and the guided meditation is soothing. Meditation in general is so highly correlated with brain and mental health. I see this great opportunity as a way to help learning and memory long-term in addition to staying sane during all this craziness.”
And a regularly participating faculty member describes the joys of being in a community of meditators:
“I joined the SCS daily meditation group in the early days of the COVID-19 shut-downs to deal with feelings of anxiety and isolation. Because meditation has always felt like a deeply personal experience to me, I wasn’t sure how I would feel practicing meditation with a group. As it turns out, over the past several months, I have found a community of individuals who share a common goal of sitting in silence to contemplate whatever they are dealing with on any particular day. Perhaps it is the sense that none of us are alone in our fears, anxieties, or frustrations, but I gather strength and perspective from regular participation in this practice. I do not use the word ‘gratitude’ lightly, but I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.”
Interested? Want to learn more? Consider signing up for SCS Daily Digital Meditations offered over Zoom each day of the work week at 12 pm EST.