Allegheny and community members gathered in Ford Chapel on Thursday, Sept. 8, to hear guest speaker Lordo Rinzler’s speech, “The Buddha Walks into a Bar: Mediation and Saving the World.” Rinzler’s presentation was the first official event of the Year of Mindfulness, Allegheny’s campus-wide theme for the 2016-2017 academic year.
The Year of Mindfulness, as described on the Allegheny website, “is a challenge to live this year with mindfulness and intention, to pay attention to ourselves, to each other and to the world in which we live.” Rinzler, a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, approached the theme of mindful living through the practice of meditation.
“Meditation is the notion that the sheer act of just sitting down and resting with the breath is you sitting down and becoming familiar with all of who you are,” Rinzler said. “Not just the cool, peaceful parts, but also the stressed out parts. We actually become familiar with all of who we are, and we actually start to embrace all of who we are. That’s the beauty of mindfulness.”
Rinzler’s appearance on campus is attributed to the Year of Mindfulness coordinating committee. The committee is composed of Jennifer Hellwarth, associate professor of English and women’s, gender and sexuality studies; Jane Ellen Nickell, college chaplain; and Sharon Wesoky, professor of political science and women’s, gender and sexuality studies. As an academic institution, the committee was attracted to Rinzler’s dualistic message that meditation has both physical and mental effects on a person.
“Our programing for the year is mostly focused on practitioners like Lodro,” Wesoky said. “One reason we’re doing this is because there’s an increasing amount of scientific research, particularly in neuroscience, on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Studies showing that meditation practices help us pay attention better, showing that it creates connections in our brain that make us more empathetic. We’re not explicitly presenting some of this research, but it underpins why we are doing this. There’s a lot of scientific research for the benefits as well as the ethical or moral reasons as well.”
Rinzler talked a s of meditation, referencing studies from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that show how meditation has been seen to increase the amount of gray matter in certain areas of the brain and change how people perceive stress and pain.
Throughout his presentation, Rinzler placed significant emphasis on the understanding mental attitude that people should adopt for themselves when mediating.
“If you gathered a room full of people who had been meditating for 40 plus years and asked them, ‘Who here has had the thought that you are the worst meditator of all time?’ every hand would go up,” Rinzler said. “We beat ourselves up for doing something that the mind is always doing.”
That ‘something’ that Rinzler referenced is thinking. He posited that it is common for a person’s mind to wander during the process of meditation, and suggests refocusing by silently saying the word ‘thinking’ to oneself.
More than anything, Rinzler stressed that there is no such thing as “bad meditation.”
“I had tried meditating in the past but was never really sure if I was doing it correctly,” said Rachel Cohen, ’20. “The talk helped ease many of my concerns, and I now understand that there is no right or wrong path to mindfulness, and that it is different for each and every one of us.”