Emily Perper | Staff Writer
It’s cool outside and probably cloudy, since the sun is still deciding whether to make an appearance this morning. You blink several times, shove your gate pass blindly in the direction of a sleepy attendant and wheel your bike through the Main Gate. You enter the Welcome Center, glimpsing a simple black-and-white sign guiding you toward your destination. You open the door. A blast of heat. You take a seat with 20 other Chautauquans of all ages. You breathe deep and begin.
The Mystic Heart Program is in its 11th season. Its purpose is to educate Chautauquans about the spiritual and meditative practices of traditions outside of the Abrahamic canopy. Participants explore a variety of spiritual traditions over the course of the season, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Sufism, contemplative Christianity and Kabbalah.
“At the heart of each of these traditions is this mystic understanding, which in some ways is quite different from ‘religion,’ per se,” said Subagh Singh Khalsa, the co-founder and director of the Mystic Heart Program. “What we do is not so much based on faith and belief (but is an attempt to discover) that which is ineffable and indescribable but available and accessible.”
His own tradition is Sikh Dharma. He practices Kundalini yoga as well.
Subagh said he considers himself to be a facilitator, rather than an instructor, of meditative practice.
“I make no predictions about what their experience will be, what they might get from it,” Subagh said.
This unpredictability isn’t just for beginners. Subagh has practiced for approximately 40 years and still works this way.
“I maintain that relation in my own practice,” he said. “I don’t sit to meditate so that I can become X, Y, or Z.”
But there are tangible long-term benefits: Subagh explained that his years of meditative practice affirm within him commitment, awareness and gratitude.
His wife and Mystic Heart co-founder, Subagh Kaur, added that daily practice has helped her to deal with adverse situations.
This will be the second week this season Subagh has led the Mystic Heart morning meditation; he led Week Two and will lead again Week Eight.
Each morning, participants will practice silent breathing and other breathing exercises, as well as chanting and use of mantra.
Mystic Heart fills a void in Chautauqua, and the lifelong learners visiting the grounds appreciate the opportunity to experience new practices.
The Fund for the Exploration of World Religions and Spiritual Practices, now in its second year, helps to support Mystic Heart and other programs like it.
“One of the indicators of the success of the program is that every year, more people make the effort to come,” Subagh said.
Subagh also teaches the Tuesday and Thursday meditation seminars. Tuesday’s is called “Healing Ourselves, Healing the World,” and Thursday’s is “Meditation: Tapping into Your Creative Self.”
In an effort to make meditation more accessible for all types of Chautauquan experiences, Mystic Heart offers Wednesday evening meditation at 7:45 p.m., led by Carol McKiernan.
Mystic Heart offers morning meditation from 7:15 a.m. to 8 a.m Monday through Friday at the Main Gate Welcome Center. The meditation seminars are held from 12:30 p.m. to 1:55 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Hall of Missions. Wednesday sessions are from 7:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. 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.