If you noticed a student sitting on a cushion on top of a table at this year’s fall 2017 student activities fair, you got a little preview of the Bates College Dharma Society. While club members do not sit on tables, they do gather at 5:40pm every day in the chapel to meditate for 20 minutes. Cushions are provided, and no experience is necessary to attend the daily sits, which often feature a mix of community members including students, staff, faculty and local residents.
After a sit this past week, I caught up with some Dharma Society members to learn about their interest and experience with the club in their time at Bates. Co-president Caleb Perlman ’19 describes how daily meditations with the Dharma Society ground him in the present moment.
“I joined because I wanted something that would slow down time so that life wouldn’t roll by me. I wanted to create space with the hazy fog of anxiety, envy, frustration, greed and lust. The candle of your life is burning right now as we speak.”
Ethan Benevides ’18 similarly finds that meditation slows down time and helps practice patience.
“It gets really, really fast all the time here at Bates, and with a lot of anxiety for a neuroscience major going pre-med, it’s good to just sit and breathe,” he says. “It’s easy to forget, but it’s really hard to sit still, even for 20 minutes. Having the discipline to sit that long is important.”
Christina Perrone ’20, the club’s community liaison, appreciates meditation for its ability to work hand in hand with her artistic passion.
“I meditate because I am very visual person,” she describes. “I like to see my problems out before me … Meditation unlocks a lot of my own artistic creativity.”
Co-president Abe Brownell ’20 simply quipped “I sit to meet myself,” prompting Christina to question “What self?” whereby Abe’s eyes widen and he throws his hands up in question.
Sydney Anderson ’20 discusses how essential the group-focus of Dharma Society is.
“It is nice to sit with a community of people who aren’t in your regular group of friends but are committed to the practice of meditation. Sometimes cool things happen here.”
As for me, the reason I became involved with the Dharma Society has to do with its consistency and reliability. As someone who struggles to self-start and has struggled in the past meditating alone, it is very effective to have a daily practice knowing that there will be individuals meditating daily who you want to show up for and be with.
However, Perlman wanted to stress that meditation is not always a simple exercise where one can bliss out and find peace.
“Meditation is not always easy; in fact, sometimes is can be very painful and difficult.” he says. “Nonetheless, it gives you what you need. It’s the space where you do the most essential work to figure out what kind of person you mean to be.”
Aside from daily meditation, the Dharma Society holds a retreat to Shortridge each semester and co-sponsors guest speakers along with other Multifaith Chaplaincy clubs. Caleb described that a great long-term goal for the club on campus is getting one percent of the Bates community (around 18-20 people) meditating everyday together.
While the club is ecumenical, there is a Zen Buddhism service every Tuesday led by Bates Associated Buddhist Chaplain Heiku Jaime McLeod and Brownell. It begins with a 6:40pm orientation for new members, 7:00pm for all others, and lasts until 8:45pm.
To keep up with the club, follow their Instagram @bates_dharma and their Facebook page @batesdharmasociety. We hope to see you at 5:40pm in the chapel!