Breath, body and mind: O’Sullivan leads Week Eight Mystic Heart

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. This is his last reflection of the summer.

Monday morning’s session with the Mystic Heart Community Meditation Program marks the end of my experiment practicing the art of meditating. Looking back on it now, I’m still wondering if I figured it all out or not.

Michael O’Sullivan taught the discipline of Zen Buddhism meditation for Week Eight’s morning sessions. As one could expect from any Buddhist teaching, the class was a trifecta of minimalism, silence and breathing. After teaching the class the three tenets of sitting Zen — breath, body and mind — O’Sullivan said the key state of mind for Zen meditation was to ask oneself, “What am I?”

“You’ll just watch thoughts coming and going through the white space,” O’Sullivan said. “Just wait until they drain out.”

Stakes were high for me, as Monday’s class was likely to be the last I attend until I retire 45 years down the line and come to Chautauqua with a wife, kids, debt, stress and arthritis.

O’Sullivan broke the class up into two 20-minute meditation sessions, with a seventh-inning stretch in between. Not much was said during the meditations. Barring a few pointers here or there from O’Sullivan, the class was just a cruise through my mind before the day started.

Yet one question hung over my head: Why won’t I meditate anymore after the sessions?

For the most part, I enjoyed meditating each week; the science on meditation’s benefits for the mind and body have swayed me; and it doesn’t take a lot to practice, but that honest voice in the back of my head tells me it won’t be a lasting practice.

However, come the second block, I realized this wasn’t indicative of a failed summer experiment. In fact, it was just the opposite. It was success, one with flying colors.

I felt dragged into covering meditation this summer. As I said from Week One, I grew up in a household that valued skepticism far more than any religion and would have lumped meditation in a bucket with astrology, Power Bands and kale. But, in the past eight weeks, I’ve walked into eight meditation sessions with an open mind, my eyes closed and my mouth shut — for once.

Over time, I’ve come to a middle ground. Am I sold on meditation, and do I plan to do it every morning before I get to work? No. Do I continue to equate it with pseudo-science? Also no.

While meditation may not have won me over, I’ve seen hordes of Chautauquans come, and I’ve listened to them chitchat about how each teacher was better than the last. I see them sticking around for up to half an hour just to thank the teacher before they leave. They all love it.

Even if I’m not enamored, at least I can hold my head high and say I came in with an open mind, and I tried something new instead of harboring some snarky, sarcastic and uninformed opinion on it my entire life.

Within the ideology of meditation, open-mindedness is probably not the end goal. But it takes people to meditate, and if being more open-minded isn’t a goal of most people, then all is lost to ignorance.

And if open-mindedness isn’t the point of Chautauqua, then I have no idea what is.