"Clear, strong mind" - Meditation group aims to help students focus on the moment

By Nancy Cicco, Portsmouth Herald, Dec 13, 2004

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire -- "May you be safe. May you be peaceful. May you be healthy. May you be at ease." Meditation class participants at the Portsmouth Center for Yoga and the Arts sat on plush purple and indigo cushions and chanted this "maitri," or contemplation, Sunday morning as part of a class on the teachings of Ane Pema Chodron.

<< Stephen Clarke, left, leads a group of students in Tibetan meditation at the Portsmouth Center for Yoga and the Arts. Photo by Andrew Moore

Chodron - a Shambhala Buddhist nun from Nova Scotia, Canada, who is a master of meditation - is the author of "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times."

The book, her latest in a series, aims to teach readers and those who practice meditation "how to keep (an) open heart in the midst of pain and suffering," said Stephen Clarke, a meditation instructor and Buddhist chaplain who led the class of about 20 participants.

Clarke?s students did not need to have read Chodron?s book before attending the session. The $5 class was the second of two focused on Chodron?s book.

Clarke, 28, a Buddhist chaplain, moved to Portsmouth in August and plans to begin weekly classes at the Portsmouth Center for Yoga and the Arts next month. He said he hoped Sunday?s 90-minute class would offer a good introduction for people who may be unfamiliar with meditation and its purpose.

"Meditation is basically a tool you can use to train oneself to be in the present moment," he said just prior to the start of the class Sunday.

"Just as any athlete would need to train to be at the top of their game to have the skills you need, meditation is a tool you practice with. The goal of meditation is to have a calm, clear and strong mind."

Class participants Sunday also performed a "tonglen" contemplation.

"That literally means sending and taking," Clarke said of the word.

During this exercise, participants "breathe in the suffering of others, and when we breathe out, we send (sufferers) whatever will help them," he said.

Portsmouth resident Amanda Donovan, 60, came to the class because she wanted to feel connected to a group, she said afterward as others gathered their jackets and put on their shoes before returning to their everyday lives.

"It?s a nice feeling to be part of a group of people all breathing," she said of meditating. "It?s just a way of being able to be centered and think of things differently."