In my nearly four years here at Bates, I have found that spending time off-campus is crucial to making the most out of the college experience. It’s always healthy to burst out of the “Bates Bubble” from time to time, as some students will volunteer in the Lewiston/Auburn area, some ski the slopes of Maine and New Hampshire, some go to the movies in Auburn, and others attend concerts in Portland. I had the pleasure this past weekend of getting off-campus by joining a retreat to Shortridge with the Bates Dharma Society. For those who do not know, the Coastal Center at Shortridge (referred to as Shortridge) is a Bates-owned property in Phippsburg, Maine utilized for field research, meetings, conferences, and retreats.

This retreat focused on practicing meditation and mindfulness, and was strategically timed at the beginning of the semester to set a calmer tone as we head into the heart of second semester and the Maine winter. As we arrived Friday night, we each claimed a bed for sleeping before engaging in our first 20 minute meditation sit of the retreat. After a delicious dinner (a special thanks to the Commons dining staff), we meditated once more for twenty minutes and talked into the night about a range of topics including philosophy, religion, the upcoming semester, and about a time we felt grateful.

On Saturday, we ate a tasty breakfast of bagels, peanut butter, apples, and tea, followed by a particular type of sit called a body scan – in which one student led an exercise where we focused on being mindful of our whole being from the feet to the face. This made me especially present and helped me drive away lingering dwellings on homework and other concerns at Bates. After this sit, we suited up and headed to Popham Beach, which is only a quick drive from Shortridge.

We walked along the sand, chatted, and felt the water and wind. While walking along the beach on the way back to our cars, we practiced a walking meditation, trying to pay particular attention to our sensual experiences at the winter beach. For Abe Brownell ’20, co-president of the Bates Dharma Society, this was one of his favorite moments from the retreat.

“I enjoyed going to the beach, because the sand was so beautiful that it made you think really hard,” said Brownell. We did indeed notice on the way back, through paying attention to the present moment, that our feet were sinking into the sand in ways we had not noticed before the walking meditation.

After the time at the beach, we returned to Shortridge for an afternoon of various activities. These included eating lunch, reading, journaling, listening to music, walking up the hill behind the house, and looking out over Meetinghouse Pond, and more meditation sits. One of the final meditation sits was particularly memorable, as one student, who had not slept well the night before, began to snore, prompting everyone to break their meditation and burst out laughing. As it started to get dark, we finished meditating, packed up our things, cleaned up the house, and headed back to Bates.

When asked about her experience attending her second Bates Dharma Society retreat at Shortridge, Christina Perrone ’20 remarked, “The retreat was wonderful with all the different personalities and ways of meditating. It’s always fun to just be at Shortridge. There’s like a calmness to it that’s really    special.”

Similarly, co-president Caleb Perlman ’19 left the retreat feeling it had been a positive and meaningful experience. “This retreat was special,” said Perlman, “because it offered me an opportunity to be part of a community of individuals exploring the depths of their minds and the depths of their sensory experience. It was relaxing in that it unlinked my mind from several irrational and uncomforting thought patterns that can’t be dealt with in a single meditation in the Gomes Chapel.”

To hear about more experiences from this past weekend at Shortridge and take part in a future retreat, /come join a daily Dharma Society meditation sit at 5:45 p.m. in the Peter J. Gomes Chapel. No prior meditation experience is necessary, and all are welcome.