Roughly 100 students, professors and members of the Orono community met for a panel on meditation Feb. 1 at the Pleasant Street Grange, thanks to the University of Maine’s Yoga Club and the Maine Peace Action Committee. The panel of meditation instructors and practitioners represented the practices of Tai Chi, Shamanism, Zen Buddhism, Sahaja Yoga and Meditation, and Indian Tantra Meditation.
“Many of us may be familiar with the term meditation, but we may be less familiar with the philosophy and the mechanics behind the practice or the diversity of the traditions that they come from,” said John McCullum, one of the event organizers, in his opening remarks.
The goal, McCullum concluded, “is to inspire you.”
In addition to explaining the unique qualities of their respective schools of meditation, as well as their personal and spiritual backgrounds, practices and experiences, the instructors shared insights about the physical, emotional and spiritual value of meditative exercises.
Panelist Rev. Dr. Bruce Young holds a third-degree black belt in Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do and is a Karuna Reiki master and practitioner of Tai Chi. Panelist Paul Knoll spent the last 10 years working with natural energy, dowsing and completed an apprenticeship in the shamanic practices. Panelist Theodate Lawlor, a student of the Thich Nhat Hanh school of Zen Buddhism for 15 years, is a lay member of the community in the Order of Interbeing. Jane Gagnier, a practitioner of Sahaja meditation and yoga for over 20 years. Panelist Didi Devanistha, who trained to become a teacher of Tantra meditation in India, meditates according to Rajadhiraja school and works with Ananda Marga, an organization centered on meditation, yoga and social service around the world.
A series of questions was put to each practitioner concerning the themes, goals, tools, methodology and the even definition of meditation itself. For Young, Tai Chi is “moving meditation” and a “health practice.” Young emphasized that Tai Chi evolved as a means of self defense for Chinese peasants, but it is inherently a set of defensive movements to restore peace and balance.
Despite its origin as a martial art, Young claimed that Tai Chi also functions as a “defense against disease,” especially chronic illnesses. Young clarified that Tai Chi was no replacement for western medicine, but he did say that students with arthritis and diabetes have seen remarkable improvement.
“It has healed me, and I have watched it heal others,” Young said.
According to Young, the goal of Tai Chi is to provide people with the opportunity to live happier, more harmonious lives, with better physical and emotional health.
Knoll’s work with environmental energy and shamanism began 10 years ago after he suffered a life-changing head injury.
“Alternative therapies were the only thing that seemed to help me,” Knoll said.
According to Knoll, meditation — or journeying — is “taking the time to be.” As a practice, it can be used to look inward toward one’s deepest desires, sometimes with the help of shamanic, animal or ancestral guides. Once those desires are found and clarified, they can be sought and fulfilled in daily life to achieve great personal and interpersonal satisfaction.
“What do you want? What is your passion?” Knoll questioned, concerning the goals of his practice. “My goal is to help to realize your passion.” He explained that shamanic practices often employ drums, rattles, flutes or bells.
“You don’t need tools,” he concluded. “Whatever feels right to you — that’s probably the right way to go.”
“It is a spiritual and ethical practice with the purpose of stopping, looking deeply and developing compassion,” Lawlor said of Buddhism. “We try to look deeply at what’s happening in the present moment and practice, approaching life with mindfulness.”
Echoing the other panelists, Lawlor explained that the purpose of meditation is to discover and connect with the inner world.
“[The inner world is] where one can address obstacles and thoughts and feelings, with the ultimate goal of connecting with joy and happiness,” Lawlor said.
Bangor local and longtime yoga student Jane Gagnier emphasized looking within for answers — a connection to “mothering, spiritual, energy” — in order to reach the “natural, highest self.”
“The computer and information technology that is bombarding us” can be offset by meditation, by making life simpler and more balanced, she claimed.
“Everyone has a reason for considering meditation,” Gagnier said.
“In every human being there is a searching for limitlessness,” Devanistha said when asked the same question.
Devanishta advocated for a style of meditation that can be “adapted to our active lives in the world, gradually building up to greater complexity.
“It’s not only about being calm,” she said in clarification of some of the stereotypes about meditation. “It’s also about the strength to stand up to the obstacles in front of us.”
Devanistha explained that, along with social activism — specifically in India — her school of meditation involved mantras and ideation to “stretch the mind.”
“I want to say that if you meditate that your problems will be solved, and everything will be fine, but that’s just not true. But if you do meditate, you might find that you have new tools to handle problems,” she concluded.
The panel collectively emphasized that meditation can be just one tool among many to live a more balanced life and that the goals of meditative practices universally seek to improve the experience and quality of life.