Contemplative Practice: Support in Staying Grounded
by Lizzie Stephani '18
Among the central priorities of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL) is to encourage contemplative practice and mindfulness. A number of events sponsored and supported by the CRSL affirm contemplative practice including Pet-a-Pet day, Mindful Mondays, and the Fall Mediation series.
Many smith students, myself included, get caught up in the hustle and bustle of course work. It can be difficult to take a step back, breathe, and quiet your mind. Pet a Pet day and other events like it on campus provide a space for students to take that first breathe. It may not quiet the mind entirely to pet a dog, but it certainly provides a break from circular thinking that doesn't seem to subside until the list of to-dos has shrunk. Pet-a-Pet day included more than just dogs this year too with the welcoming of miniature ponies, as well as caricatures and face painting available.
Mindful Mondays not only provides a space for students to take a break from the busyness of the academic semester, the series incorporates contemplative practice into the start of each meeting. Before having a conversation about mindfulness, students have the opportunity to actually practice being mindful and contemplative.
The Fall Mediation Series fully encompasses contemplation and introduces members of the Smith and greater Northampton community to the practice of quieting one's mind. I had the opportunity to attend two different kinds of meditation practices, Abrahamic and Zen. Understandably, there was a significant amount of commonality between these two kinds of meditation. Both practices emphasized noticing your body and focusing on your breathing. They also both encouraged those of us in the room to firstly accept that our thoughts will wander and secondly, to calmly redirect your mind back to the quiet space it occupied. I noticed a cycle in my thoughts for both of these practices, as I am sure many other people have.
Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser, the advisor for Jewish students at Smith, led the Abrahamic meditation. She is trained in mindfulness and western traditions of meditation. She is a Jewish Renewal rabbi and has been involved in creative work with liturgy focusing on integrating Jewish tradition with meditation and music.
Ruth Oseki, American-Canadian novelist and professor of Creative Writing at Smith, lead the Zen meditation. She is the author of A Tale For the Time Being, the book selected for incoming first year students to read this past summer and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award. Oseki is a longtime Buddhist practitioner and is affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation.
The mediation practices useful as well as a good starting point to build contemplative habits. Students could focus on western traditions when they meditated, integrate scripture into their practice, or embrace Zen mediation and focus on posture and different hand positions. It is important to breathe and notice the environment we are in. Too often we lose sight of the beauty in breathing and let quiet moments slip away. Even more so now in finals season, taking time to reflect and gain a clearer perspective is critical.