Henry Monroe, Heather Hummel, Vivan Pham and Megan McDaniels were among the hundreds who came to the University of Virginia’s Lawn this afternoon to participate in a public meditation session led by spiritual leader Deepak Chopra. Each had their own reason for coming.
Monroe is a 9-year-old third-grader whose mother, Laura Monroe, pulled him out of school early for the event. Sitting in a shady spot on the Lawn, Henry explained that he decided to come to the event “because I haven’t done something like this and I like to do new things with my mom.”
Laura Monroe, who works at the School of Law, said she and Henry meditate together at home. “But I thought this was a good way to expose him to universal energy,” she said.
Henry and his mother arrived early for the 2:30 p.m. meditation, but Hummel was already there. The community member, who said she has enjoyed Chopra’s guided meditations for years, claimed a place close to the base of the Rotunda steps at 10 a.m.
“How can you not show up for an event like this? It’s free and right here in this amazing setting,” she said. “I work from home, so I figured I’ll just come and sit on the Lawn. It’s a beautiful day after all of the rain we’ve had so I figured I’d make a day of it.”
Pham and McDaniels, both U.Va. students, took the meditation as a welcome break from studying for their physics midterm exam during U.Va.’s fall reading days. Once the session ended, both said they felt ready to tackle the books again.
“I feel so refreshed now,” McDaniels said. “This whole morning I was just so worried about this test we have coming up… After this I just feel like ‘I can do it.’ I can just go and study now.”
A reading day was specifically chosen for the event so that students can benefit from the positive effects of meditation, organizers said.
Chopra and prize-winning journalist Arianna Huffington visited the Grounds today as guests of U.Va.’s Contemplative Sciences Center, which launched last spring backed by a gift from Sonia and Paul Tudor Jones of Greenwich, Conn. Paul Jones is a 1976 graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences. David Germano, the center’s director and a professor of religious studies, introduced Chopra and Huffington before the meditation session began.
In her remarks, Huffington extolled the restorative value of meditation. “The way I see it in my life, you move from struggle to grace, and bringing that sense of grace into life means that we are now connected both to each other and to ourselves in a deeper way,” she said.
The meditation got under way and silence fell over the Lawn, disturbed only by a distant train whistle or an airplane flying high above. Standing on the bottom step of the Rotunda stairway, Chopra guided the crowd through stages of meditation: “Let your mind settle into your breath,” he said. “Think of who can use your help. Ask ‘What am I grateful for?’”
The crowd numbered about 300. Some stood, some laid down on blankets; most sat upright, while others leaned on the bases of Jeffersonian columns dotting the Lawn.
As the half-hour session drew to a close at 3 p.m., the University Chapel bells began to chime the hour, marking an end to the event.