SAALIK KHAN | Staff Photographer
Chautauquan Rebecca Cole-Turner leads the Week Three Mystic Heart Community Meditation Program weekday mornings at the Main Gate Welcome Center.
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.
If you’re planning to attend the third week of programming from the Mystic Heart Community Meditation Program, be warned: You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about hazelnuts.
Week Three’s program, led by Ron and Rebecca Cole-Turner, is titled, ”Meditations on the Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.” The sessions, which run every weekday at 7:15 a.m. in the Main Gate Welcome Center’s conference room, will focus on teachings from Julian’s book. Julian is an adopted feminist figure and a key presence to both mystics and feminists alike.
“She [Julian] was unique not only in that she was the first woman to write a book using the English language, but also she, on her own accord, decided to become an anchorite, which was a practice back then for those who felt a special calling of god to devote their lives to prayer,” Rebecca Cole-Turner said.
Before walking into the conference room, the usher hit me with two curveballs. For one, she asked me to take off my shoes. It was laundry day and I was out of socks — so it goes. Two, she handed me a hazelnut — no explanation, just a hazelnut.
Left to ponder the purpose of my hazelnut until the class started, I read through the sheet the usher handed to me, scanning an excerpt from Julian’s book in words to her from God. Only then did I learn of the nut’s purpose.
“It is all of creation,” it read.
I guess I should have known.
The class continued with the simplicity of the hazelnut. All participants sat in silent meditation while the Cole-Turners read the same passage three times. For each repetition of the passage, followed by an extended period of silence, we were given different instructions for how to process the excerpt. We were to taste it, chew it, savor it and digest it.
While meditating, Rebecca instructed participants to fiddle with the nut as they pleased while she reread Julian’s words. The passage tells the story of God handing Julian a nut. Julian writes that upon hearing God’s words, she began to understand that all things are of God’s creation and her superiority to the nut is nonexistent and irrelevant; what mattered was her devotion to God.
“We need to realize the insignificance of creation and see it for the emptiness it is because we can embrace the uncreated God in love,” Rebecca read from the text. “We will find no rest for our heart or spirit as long as we seek it in insignificant things which can not satisfy us, rather than in god who is omnipotent, omniscient and beneficent.”
Segueing away from the other disciplines of week’s past, the meditations of Julian of Norwich left us to meditate in isolation and without guidance. As the class went on, my mind wrapped itself around the nut and its place in creation, and all of our places alongside that nut.
On the flipside of the newfound independence, occasionally my mind would drift to thoughts ranging from the stressful to the irrelevant to the absurd. However, with bits of practice at focused meditation under my belt, I’ve been learning (with some success) to ignore unwanted thoughts — like a schoolboy is taught to ignore a bully — until they go away.
To Rebecca, no matter the religion or amount of practice Chautauquans enter the class with, they should be able to walk out with a few minutes of steady thought on improving themselves and the world around them.
“My hope for people is that they will come away with a deeper knowing of how they might be able to manifest love in their lives, in their families, in their communities, and in the world,” she said.
Being new to meditation, I walk into most classes wondering which of my preconceptions of the tradition will shatter in this class. On Monday, one of my stereotypes finally manifested itself when Rebecca ended the class with pop culture’s favorite meditation-inspired jargon, “namaste.”
Whether it’s new musings on the significance of creation, the simplicity — or complexity — of existence, or even just a few minutes to sit still and play with a hazelnut, everyone can find something to take away from this week’s meditation program.
“I think if the folks who attend are able to focus through whatever meditation or prayer process they choose, they’ll come away with something valuable,” Rebecca said.