Every afternoon, a handful of Bates students sit together in Gomes Chapel. They aren’t talking or working, rather they are just being. This small group is the Dharma Society, and their regular meditation involves a sitting practice that takes place in the chapel for about twenty minutes a day. Dharma Society co-president Caleb Perlman ’19 describes the practice with the frankness of a regular meditator: “We bring out the cushions…we light some incense. We get out a gong. We do the twenty minutes. Hit the bell three times to start, once to end. It’s silent in the middle. Sometimes we chat at the end.”

The Dharma Society’s daily sits are just one example of mindfulness programming that is regularly offered at Bates. Another is Pause, a weekly secular service of dance, music, art, poetry, and silence that is designed to allow Bates students a break from their busy lives. According to Pause Coordinator Emilio Valadez ’18, at Pause, students can be present in a way that daily life at Bates often does not allow for, “Pause gives you the freedom to let your whole being just choose what you want it want to do, which is different from the set of expectations we find when studying, working, or talking in our everyday ordinary way of being,” Valadez says. “[Pause is] just being and maybe being aware of your being.”

For Valadez, mindfulness is a uniquely conscious state of mind. He says, “Mindfulness is an appreciation and an awareness of ways-of-being.” To illustrate his point, Valadez lays out three examples: a person that finds joy through others, a person that wants to find solutions to tough problems, and a person that is consumed by stress. In each of these situations “being mindful is being aware of the way-of-being they are expressing” reflects Valadez.

For Perlman, group meditation, like the kind practiced by Dharma society, allows for a unique community experience: “There is something intangible about breathing and being aware of what’s going on in the space and being aware of other people that are doing that to,” he says. “Being in the presence of another person, that could be enough.”

Yet Perlman says that mindfulness can be challenging. He likens it to weightlifting for your mind, “It’s not necessarily always pleasant and comfortable in the moment,” he says. Yet it’s worth it in the end, because, “you can live in a mindless state but it is not as pleasant or efficacious.”
According to Perlman, a lack of mindfulness can even show up in our eating habits. Oftentimes, we may find ourselves fast and thoughtless when in commons, our thoughts miles away. To Perlman, “We live in an environment of abundance…if we’re just mindlessly eating, we’re not going to tune into the actual desire to eat.”

His suggestion for eating more mindfully in Commons? “Get small bowls of things, then do multiple trips.” That way, he says, you can break up your meals. Plus, you’ll be distracted between trips by conversations with friends, which will slow even the most hurried eater. This slower eating can lead to more awareness of when you’re hungry, subsequently improving your relationship with food.
To get involved with these mindfulness practices, stop by the chapel at 4:15 p.m. on weekdays for Dharma meditations or 9 p.m. on Wednesdays for Pause. All are welcome to both events. Also, look out for a mindfulness event on February 26 from 5-7 PM in Commons, complete with Zen coloring, a mindful eating exercise, and a yoga class in the Whelan Balcony.