c/o September Johnson

c/o September Johnson

7:00 a.m. feels like the middle of the night for most college students. However, from Monday, Oct. 3 to Friday, Oct. 7, Wesleyan community members gathered at this time each day to meditate in the upper room of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL). After just a few minutes of sitting quietly, the room’s motion-activated lights turned off—the technology typically doesn’t need to account for people being present, yet staying still.

These morning sessions were part of an on-campus meditation retreat, organized in collaboration with WesWell and Mindful Wes by ORSL Mindfulness Intern Sydney Slavitt ’23, who took a year off from college to practice meditation in a monastery. Aaron Stryker ’19, co-founder of Dharma Gates, an organization that works to involve young adults in meditation, put Slavitt in contact with meditation teacher Rafa Borges, who led the retreat. 

Borges has traveled the world for the last 10 years, attending meditation retreats. After first reading articles on Reddit about the practice, Borges decided to try online guided meditation. Fascinated by his mind’s response, he began to research Buddhist philosophy. This retreat was the first event he has facilitated.

In addition to the early-morning meditation sessions, the retreat also included an afternoon or evening event on most days. On Monday, Borges gave a talk about acceptance as a path through suffering while Tuesday’s event involved the practice of circling, where participants engaged in interpersonal or group meditation through conversations with one another. Slavitt said that this really helped create a sense of community.

“[Circling] is an interpersonal technique practicing talking with people from the present moment and truthfully,” Slavitt said. “I found that it really fostered connection and vulnerability, but vulnerability in a safe way.”

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s event involved a loving-kindness practice, and on Thursday, Borges gave a Dhamma talk, which is a formal Buddhist talk about first-hand meditation experience. Each event included time for people to ask questions and discuss the practice. For instance, after one of the morning meditations, which Alejandra Martinez Rico MA ’23 attended, Borges said that sustained practice is easier if one enjoys the experience of paying attention to one’s breath.

“Rafa explained [that] meditation can be easier if you perceive it as a pleasure activity for your brain,” Martinez Rico said.

Borges also said that participants were attentive and thoughtful throughout the retreat.

“The students are super engaged,” Borges said. “They ask me really interesting questions…. This is my first time having an extended relationship with the Gen Z-ers and I have to say I’m pretty impressed. You guys are hard to bullshit.”

Slavitt noted that whilst plenty of newcomers were present, many of the retreat’s participants were already involved in the University’s meditation community. WesSangha, a Buddhist meditation club, is currently very active and holds meditation events every day. The club also plans to hold an event with a Zen monk from the monastery where Slavitt spent time and organize a spring break retreat to the monastery.

Having experienced the rigorous meditations of a monastery, Slavitt sees the club’s activities as more introductory, but appreciates the community they create.

“At the monastery, I was studying closely with the teacher and I was in meditation retreats frequently,” Slavitt said. “There’s a quality of deep practice that doesn’t really happen here. But I don’t think that’s the goal of a college meditation group. I think the point of a college meditation group is for people to…cultivate a daily practice, find other people that are like-minded in that way, and surround yourself with wise friends.”

Director of WesWell September Johnson also noted that students can receive help from a University wellness coach if they want to incorporate meditation into their lives, and described how meditation is good for many dimensions of health.

“[Meditation can] help people manage anxiety, stress, depression, and pain while promoting their emotional health and enhancing their self-awareness,” Johnson wrote in an email to The Argus. “As an added benefit, students could really enjoy the fact that meditation can lengthen attention spans.”

Slavitt agreed that meditation provides her with a much-needed break from the fast pace of college life.

“It’s the main thing that grounds me here on campus,” Slavitt said. “College life is really busy and overwhelming…. I find that meditation here is the space where I can put it all down. No one is asking me to do anything or [to] be anyone.”

Sebastian Ramirez, who is visiting from Columbia University and attended many of the retreat’s events, emphasized that meditation is about more than maintaining health; indeed, it helps him find a sense of connection to the world.

“The purpose of this meditation is not just becoming a more powerful man,” Ramirez said. “The purpose of meditation to me is becoming a nice [person] and opening your mind to take you to find love with every being alive.”

Similarly, at one of the events, Martinez Rico raised the point that meditation is sometimes practiced for the sole purpose of increasing productivity, even by people who do not contemplate the moral foundation of their goals and beliefs. She suggested that meditation should instead include reflection and self-examination.

“Meditation can help you find a way to understand, and to be more conscious [of], what your activities are and if they’re good or bad for society and even for yourself,” Martinez Rico said. 

Almost by definition, meditation requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere. However, retreat participants noted that practicing in a community helped them find meaning and direction. 

“It is a way to motivate you [and] to see other people at 7 a.m.,” Ramirez said. “I think that’s what’s important: to do it with other people.”

For Slavitt, discussing Buddhist practice with Borges provided her with a renewed inspiration to meditate.

“Just having the container and structure of a Buddhist teacher here on campus helped my practice a lot,” Slavitt said. “I practice every day, but for some reason, sitting in the room with Rafa, for me, really helped…. I feel this refreshed, reinvigorated, enthusiasm to practice.”


Lyah Muktavaram can be reached at lmuktavaram@wesleyan.edu.

Anne Kiely can be reached at afkiely@wesleyan.edu

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