The “monkey mind” is an anxious, active mind, and USF’s new sessions are aimed at disciplining and controlling that anxiety, according to Asian philosophy Professor Geoff Ashton. Zen Meditation for Beginners was started by Ashton, philosophy and environmental studies Professor Gerard Kuperus and the University Ministry. “Meditation is very helpful for students, especially with finals coming up. The use of your body is a great way to clear your head and relieve stress,” Professor Ashton said.
The weekly meetings consist of zazen meditation and tai chi meditation. The session begins with zazen meditation for 15 minutes, follows with tai chi for an hour and finally ends with zazen meditation for its last 30 minutes.The posters around campus mention a Buddhism element, but Ashton said that the meditation classes welcome all people. “This isn’t a prayer practice, but it is a practice of contemplation and self-study,” Ashton said.
Zazen is one of many forms of Buddhist meditation practices. It’s one that’s physical. “You’re focusing on using your belly. You’re trying to draw the breath in your belly and fully emptying it out with a breath. You really have to engage your body and in order to have that very long exhale, you really have to work on your posture, you want to be relaxed but not slouched,” Ashton said. Tai chi is a form of movement meditation also designed to calm the mind. Ashton explains that zazen is different after doing tai chi. “The experience of zazen meditation after a movement meditation is often more powerful, and I want people to have a first-hand experience of that,” he said.
There are many other forms of meditation, including mindfulness, where you practice being conscious and aware of the present moment. Other practices are heart-centred. These are to help someone gain more intimacy with their emotions and develop appreciation for all things. The Zen meditation for beginners sessions, however, focus on helping students with anxiety and difficulty in focusing.
Aaron Bermillo, a sophomore environmental science major and philosophy minor, said that studying Buddhism had made him feel less stressed, especially during these sessions. “I really appreciate the Buddhism ideals with Zen especially, and it’s interesting watching an academic idea turn into something practical,” Bermillo said.
Ashton first became fascinated by meditation practice 15 years ago, during his time as a philosophy student at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. His purpose for these meditation sessions is to serve the general community, as well as USF students and faculty.
The sessions meet every Thursday evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the basement of St. Ignatius. The entrance is in front of Fromm Hall and behind the bell tower. It is open to students and faculty. For the fall 2018 semester, there will be two meetings per week. Details will be confirmed later on by Professor Ashton.