With Brown's Zen group, focusing on breathing

by Brigitta Greene, The Brown Daily Herald, April 29, 2010

Providence, RI (USA) -- There is no “correct” style to sit on the Zafu. The plump meditation cushion ­— filled with buckwheat or kapok fiber ­— can be firm or soft. It can placed directly on the floor or on a zabuton — a stuffed floor mat to cushion the knees and the ankles. Legs can be cross-legged or folded directly beneath.

With three harsh snaps of the Chukpi, the meditation begins. Zach Schlosser ’10.5, one of three leaders of Brown’s Zen Group, settles into his breath.

“It’s a sense of finally, finally resting,” he said. “Of finally, finally being okay. Of finally, finally not needing to get anywhere or do anything.”

The Zen Group was founded in the early 70s when Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn began practicing in Providence. The group holds four open meditations each week in Manning Chapel. On Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons, the sessions are about an hour long. Twenty minutes of sitting meditation is followed by 10 minutes of walking, another 20 minutes of sitting and then a brief reading.

Monday evening’s sessions include an initial half-hour of chanting.

The experience of meditation is different for everyone, Schlosser said, but it is about “attention being right here, right now.” Through meditation, personal conflict and stress come to the surface, he said. “There is a deepening sense of already being fine, of already being perfect, of already being okay.”

And though Zen meditation is one path towards this peace, it “doesn’t have to be done sitting on a cushion.” While students often clear their minds at the gym or on the tennis court, the Zen Group “just created a space to explore and to create dialogue,” he said.

“It’s not a linear thing,” said Adam Yarnell ’10. Though some days it can be incredibly gratifying, “some days it’s really frustrating.”

Zen meditation is a Buddhist tradition, but the Brown Zen Group is practice-oriented. The group brings in teachers to lead meditations and give lectures, and holds one day-long retreat each year.