Emily Perper | Staff Writer
Now in its 11th season, the Mystic Heart Program continues to offer opportunities for meditation, led by Subagh Singh Khalsa and other returning Chautauquans.
Throughout the summer, Mystic Heart Program participants will experience Sikhism, Islam, Sufism, Judaism, Kabbalah, Kundalini Yoga, Zen Buddhism and Christian methods of meditation.
“The purpose of the Mystic Heart Program is to give people the opportunity to meditate together in a half-dozen different disciplines … delving into the commonality of all the wisdom traditions, hence the name ‘the mystic heart,’” said Subagh, the Mystic Heart Program founder and co-director.
During Week One, Dariel and Michael Woltz will return to lead the Mystic Heart Program. Dariel will lead the morning meditation and Michael will present at the afternoon seminars on Tuesday and Thursday.
When she’s not at Chautauqua, Dariel operates Studio Panterra, her own yoga studio in nearby Westfield, N.Y. At the studio, Dariel teaches the eight limbs of yoga, striving toward “samadhi,” or enlightenment. Yoga, while associated frequently with Hinduism, does not have to be a practice religious in nature.
“Most of the physical techniques of yoga are used specifically to withdraw the senses so you are more attuned to your inner self,” Dariel said.
At the Mystic Heart morning meditation, Dariel will begin with a specific activity but will base her instruction for the rest of the week on the energy of the attendees.
“I feel what the people there want, and (I) evolve day to day,” she said. These practices will include breathing exercises, chanting and the use of mudras (hand gestures which accompany breathing exercises).
While Dariel facilitates the morning meditation, her husband Michael will lead the afternoon seminars. Tuesday’s session is entitled “A Balanced Mind is a Healthy Mind.” Thursday’s session is called “Peace is the State of a Healthy Mind.”
Michael, a physician’s assistant, has practiced yoga for 40 years. He began to experiment with yoga as a teenager, and later he and Dariel lived in a yoga ashram (community retreat center) for six years, practicing yoga and its philosophy and principles.
As he reflected upon the theme of Week One, “Global Health and Development as Foreign Policy,” Michael emphasized the importance of the effects of yoga.
“Before we can bring peace and balance and hope to the world, it’s nice if we can do it in our own lives,” he said.
Peace and balance do not come naturally to human beings, he added.
“Neurologically, our species has a little imbalance to it,” Michael said. “Just as we are symmetrical creatures but have a dominant hand, we also have cerebral dominance. We also have the ability, neurologically, to have many other experiences that people would say are spiritual, deep intuition or an unspoken ‘not-knowing.’ These are part of our potential, too, but have been dominated by our cognition. We think about things all the time, and that has led to our survival, but also to our imbalance.”
Michael said he sees the need for meditation not only as a global imperative but a neurological necessity.
“Meditation is a way of trying to foster the non-dominant neurologic functions,” he said.
Recalling the purpose of Mystic Heart, Michael explained that many world religions have similar mystic practices and beliefs, including traditionally Western religions like Christianity. (Week Nine’s Mystic Heart leaders will focus on centering prayer, an integral part of contemplative Christianity).
“There are other world traditions that basically have a lot of the same techniques but call them different things,” Michael said. “We may need a new story.”
For the first time at Chautauqua, Mystic Heart will offer a Wednesday night session from 7:15–7:45 p.m. Subagh explained that the Wednesday session provides a meditation opportunity to those with morning commitments.
If the later time proves popular, he added, Mystic Heart might expand its nighttime activities. Lifelong Chautauquan Carol McKiernan will lead the Wednesday sessions for the entire nine-week season.
The 2011 Season marks the second year of the Fund for the Exploration of World Religions and Spiritual Practices. The endowment was founded to support programs like Mystic Heart that are dedicated to exploring spirituality outside of the Abrahamic traditions.
“(We’d like to see) some form of spiritual practice and awareness of so-called ‘world religions’ always be a part of (Chautauqua Institution),” Subagh said. “We’d like to see that grow.”
Mystic Heart offers morning meditation from 7:15–8 a.m Monday through Friday at the Main Gate Welcome Center. The meditation seminars from 12:30–1:55 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays are held in the Hall of Missions.
Night sessions are from 7:15–7:45 p.m. Wednesdays in the Main Gate Welcome Center Conference Room. There is no charge, but donations are accepted.
Gate passes are required for events held in the Main Gate Welcome Center. Chautauquans of all ages, traditions and levels of experience are welcome.