by Garrett Heaney
MONTPELIER — Meditation means different things to different people. There are three groups practicing meditation in Montpelier, and each comes from its own tradition: the Shambhala Center, Mountains and Rivers Order (the Zen Affiliate of Vermont) and a new community meditation space opening above Tulsi Tea Room on Elm Street. I wanted to reach out to all three to see how they differed, what they offered and what their ultimate goals were in meditating. I hosted a roundtable interview and garnered the following:
The Bridge: How long have you been with your particular meditation center and what is your relationship with it?
Sarah Lipton (Shambhala Center): I have been a member of the Shambhala community since 2000. I started out in Boulder where I went to Naropa University. I have been involved here in the Montpelier center since we moved here a couple of years ago, after having lived at Karme Choling (a Shambhala retreat center in Barnet). I do not have any formal leadership role currently because I just stepped down from running the international news magazine for Shambhala called The Shambhala Times, and needed a little break from a leadership role.
Jennifer Canfield (Community Meditation Center): The idea for a Community meditation center has been on my mind for a long time. I’m part of a community group that meets regularly for chanting. We do short meditation together a few times a month and I love the feeling generated by group meditation. I have my own meditation practice but I find when I sit with others it’s different. It’s stronger. But there isn’t any place to go in Montpelier to meditate during the workday. It’s really simple I just wanted to provide a space for even one day a week where anyone can go and sit in meditation.
Tom Slayton (Mountains and Rivers Order): I have been practicing with Zen Affiliate of Vermont and attending retreats at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York, for something like 24 or 25 years … more than 20 anyway. I am simply a member of the local group, and a formal student with Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei, who is abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery and head of the Mountains and Rivers Order. I have taken lay Buddhist vows (Jukai) and so when asked, I identify myself as a Buddhist and a Mountains and Rivers Order student.
The Bridge: What is a typical meditation group session like?
Lipton: At the regular Wednesday evening sit, there is a person greeting new arrivals, and there is a meditation instructor available to offer instruction to newcomers. We usually start with some simple opening chants that pay homage to the lineage and then we practice sitting meditation followed by some walking meditation. At the Open House, the evening begins with sitting meditation and is followed by a talk and conversation. We also like to finish up with tea and snacks to engage in further conversation with one another.
Canfield: The guidelines for how the space is to be used are very simple. Bring your own cushion and sit quietly with no talking. We may offer some guided meditations but to begin with it will just be a space where people can meditate in whatever silent form works best for them. I am not affiliated with any group or lineage. I have worked with many meditation teachers myself and would be happy to offer resources for folks to discover which type of meditation works best for them. As long as children can sit quietly they are welcome as well.
Slayton: Our Montpelier meetings, which are held every Wednesday evening from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., offer two 25-minute periods of zazen, separated by one five-minute period of kinhin (walking meditation) At the conclusion we chant the four Bodhisattva Vows, which are pretty universal Buddhist vows. The rest of the meeting is silent. We are a pretty quiet bunch!
The Bridge: What sets your center apart from the others?
Lipton: The key aspect about Shambhala is that we are a society of practitioners who gather together to work with our own minds so that we can then get up off the cushion and engage in the larger society. We understand that all beings possess basic goodness and we work to create a good human society. Engaging in conversation and community activities allows us to bring our meditation practice to fruition. We are not interested in just meditating for the sake of meditation, but rather to let it extend out and be of benefit to the world around us.
Canfield: We are unique to the other meditation centers in the area because we are not associated with any lineage or teacher. Meditation is such a personal journey and my hope is that by leaving the door open people can just discover what works best for them.
The Bridge: How does meditation help the mind, what are the goals you hope people will garner from practicing?
Lipton: Meditation allows the mind to relax, to open and to find its true nature. Because our lives are so full and busy and speedy, we tend not to know what we think or feel, and meditation allows us an opportunity to slow down and actually feel. Feeling allows us to connect with ourselves and with where we are, right this moment. This is imperative if we want to live a deep and genuine life. Meditation can be done in many different ways, but the best practice is that which allows the mind to be present with things as they are.
Canfield: My goals for offering a community meditation space are simple. In our crazy hectic busy every day lives I often wish for a refuge in town where I could stop even for five or 10 minutes and slow down, quiet my mind, breathe and maybe restart myself or remind myself about being present, being mindful. Offering that to the community seems like a good idea. In my own life meditation is one of the tools I use to deal with stress, to increase productivity, to calm my mind. Since my full-time work is centered around sound meditation I am acutely aware that silent meditation is just as useful a tool and often more widely accepted and well received by the public.
Slayton: Zen training calms and clarifies the mind and makes the practitioner more mindful and aware of what he or she is doing. It also helps one relate to his or her daily life and ultimately to the larger reality of the universe … and this response is really horribly oversimplified and reductive … One of the chants we do suggests that the Dharma is “… incomparably profound and infinitely subtle …” and that is a better way of answering your question.
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