Start your day with five minutes of calm and reflection. Get seated comfortably in your own place. Let an experienced facilitator guide you in a morning meditation.
Whether you’re working at home, working alone or with social distancing, here’s another way to stay connected to the University of Virginia community during this unprecedented, stressful time. It’s one small effort that can yield healthy benefits: participating in a short “Virtual Meditation on the Lawn,” brought to you by UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center and co-sponsors.
Anyone can “drop in” virtually for free on Monday mornings at 7:50 a.m. ET (by registering here) and hear a different instructor or UVA community member leading the five-minute meditation. Facilitators from all over the Grounds are volunteering to help guide the community in cultivating mindfulness, compassion, resilience and a sense of belonging – not a bad way to begin the week.
The first session in this new series, held Oct. 19, featured Ian H. Solomon, dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and drew almost 200 participants. Depending on continuing interest, the schedule might be expanded to Monday through Friday and sessions and might be offered to accommodate people in different time zones. The center also takes requests for customized versions for specific communities.
The mission of the Contemplative Sciences Center, founded in the spring of 2012, is “to promote human flourishing at all levels of education,” according to the website, “by advancing the study and application of contemplation – experiential and immersive forms of learning and practices that allow for intentional exploration and transformation of oneself, others and the wider world.”
David Germano, executive director of the Contemplative Sciences Center and a religious studies professor specializing in Tibetan and Buddhist studies, said in addition to helping regulate stress, contemplation can help people better understand their motivations, actions and impact upon others.
The center offers free classes in mindfulness, yoga and tai chi, as well as other resources. Its academic course, “The Art and Science of Human Flourishing,” is part of a larger project, the Student Flourishing Initiative, conducted with partnering centers at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“We want to convey that education is essentially about contemplation – about learning as much about oneself as about external subjects – and that contemplative practices related to being human and flourishing, to actualizing our potentials and cultivating well-being, can be part of all of our lives,” Germano wrote in email.
UVA students inspired the first Virtual Meditation on the Lawn, held in early May after the semester was abruptly changed by the coronavirus quarantine. That prompted a 30-day “gratitude challenge” on social media. The students in turn got the idea from an in-person event the Contemplative Sciences Center hosted in 2013, a Meditation on the Lawn with Deepak Chopra and Arianna Huffington.
Germano emphasized that anyone can meditate and reap its benefits. He said the center is presenting the range of UVA facilitators “to show that this is not an esoteric activity only available to a specific few, but rather that contemplative work is our birthright, it’s what makes us human – and it takes many forms and can be found in all walks of life and varieties of people.”
“We also hope that people will see reflections of themselves in these leaders over time and thus feel inspired and empowered,” he wrote.
On Oct. 26, Lili Powell, associate professor in the Darden School of Business and Kluge Endowed Chair in the School of Nursing, will lead the meditation. Germano will lead on Nov. 2, followed Nov. 9 by Nicole Ruzek, who directs Student Health Counseling and Psychological Services, and Nov. 16 by Dorrie Fontaine, former dean and professor emerita of the School of Nursing.
Even if participants aren’t physically together, knowing others are joining you in meditation can strengthen your well-being, Germano said.
“The presence of others with whom we feel affinity bolsters our own sense of self and a sense that we have social resources, and that further supports our own resilience and grounding,” he said.
In Monday’s practice, Solomon talked about breathing in and out, focusing on the present moment. It’s that simple.
“This morning, we can surrender to the wonder of right here and right now,” Solomon said. “We can offer our most exquisite attention to the experience of being alive.”