Vipassana Meditation: A Firsthand Account

SAALIK KHAN | Staff Photographer
Paul Lukasik, Week One teacher-in-residence with the Mystic Heart Community Meditation Program, leads his first Vipassana Meditation session of the week at the Main Gate Welcome Center Monday.

Editors’ Note: Jake Zuckerman is the 2015 Interfaith Lecture coverage reporter for the Daily. Part of his beat, including attending and writing about each 2 p.m. lecture, is the Mystic Heart Community Meditation Program. Zuckerman will attend Mystic Heart meditation every Monday and share his experiences in the following day’s Daily.

Kicking off the season’s Mystic Heart Community Mediation Program, Paul Lukasik is offering classes in Vipassana Meditation at 7:15 a.m. every morning this week in the conference room at the Main Gate.

Coming in, I had no idea what to expect.

Descending from Buddhist traditions, Vipassana focuses on engaging its practitioners in awareness of both mind and body. Despite its origins, Mystic Heart coordinators selected the practice for its ecumenical nature and its accessibility to first-time meditators.

“What we’re trying to cultivate is the shared spiritual values among all the traditions,” Lukasik said. “And really, to come together in this contemplative way to do our spiritual practice, regardless of the religious tradition.”

Raised in a secular household that put its emphasis on skepticism bordering on cynicism — above all other “isms,” — I felt unsure walking in, despite Lukasik’s welcoming presence. He radiates benevolence, yet all I could do was worry about just how “out-there” the session was to become.

The class began as I’d have expected any meditation session to begin: Roughly 30 practitioners filtered in slowly as Lukasik played a recording from his iPhone of a Tibetan monk chanting to his llamas, accompanied by one of his students playing piano.

As the song ended, Lukasik introduced himself and the practice, as well as a bell he would use to signal the start and end of the meditation.

Despite all my cynicism, what I took from the session is exactly what both Lukasik and Subagh Khalsa, co-director of Mystic Heart, promised.

“We want people to come together and realize that the practice is universal because humans are universal,” Khalsa said. “We share more at the soul level and spirit level than we tend to recognize.”

As per Lukasik’s advice to begin the class, despite all my preconceptions, the process was just a time to turn off devices, close one’s eyes and take a few minutes out of the day to reflect on the smaller aspects of being that are often put to the side.

It teaches a person to look inside and pay attention to these marginalized sensations: the thump-thump of a slowly beating heart, the throbbing ache from a stiff or damaged joint, or even the way a hand sits, resting upon the legs. As the week continues, Lukasik plans to use each session to guide participants to mindfulness in different aspects of the mind, body and soul.

As Lukasik rang the bell to signal the meditation’s end, I was left with a feeling of inner tranquility and reinvigoration despite the early hour. My worry about the presence of religion in the session was an unfounded fear.

Despite the Buddhist roots of the practice, it was little more than 40 minutes of steady breathing, closed eyes and clear minds — something all faiths can appreciate.

As Lukasik said, “What’s Christian about the breath?”