Buddhist Study Group seeks to calm stressful students through meditation

Tara English

Relaxation is rare at Northwestern, but some students attempt to rediscover relaxation every Sunday afternoon in Parkes Hall.

Led by Weinberg senior I-Lynn Teh and McCormick senior Caren Nguyen, the Buddhist Study Group focuses on meditation and discussion to help relieve students’ stress.

“We are a very small group that started meeting two or three years ago,” Teh said. “We’re very informal and our meetings are open to anyone.”

Of the dozen students at the Oct. 20 meeting, a few were new to meditation and others have been practicing it for decades. The small group was diverse not only in experience but also in race, age and school. Kellogg graduate student Hon Sing Lee, originally from Singapore, said he has been practicing Buddhism his entire life. Although NU meetings are not as intense as most other Buddhist gatherings Lee has attended, he said they are authentic.

“There is never anything that’s too fundamental,” Lee said. “Everything is profound.”

An average meeting consists of 20 minutes of sitting meditation and 20 minutes of walking meditation, followed by discussion. People take off their shoes as they enter and sit on pillows to improve posture and breathing.

“The most basic thing is to concentrate on breath,” Teh said. “Many people also count, but you can do whatever is comfortable and relaxing.”

Nguyen rings a bell to signal different phases of meditation. Everyone stands with the first chime, and meditation begins by the fourth bell. After two more soft signals, walking meditation begins.

Walking meditation involves slow, consistent movement in a clockwise direction, with a strong emphasis placed on balance.

When both forms of meditation end, the group gathers in a circle for open discussion around a pot of tea and a plate of cookies. Sunday’s discussion focused on an article by Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh, “Feelings and Perceptions.”

Hanh’s asserted: “When you have a toothache, you think that not having a toothache will make you very happy. But when you don’t have a toothache, often you are still not happy.”

Students related this quotation to their own lives, which Teh said is one of the group’s main functions.

“What we are about is not just talking but bringing teachings into the everyday, ” Teh said. “Buddhism is not just a philosophy; it’s a way to practice life.”

David Simons, a McCormick sophomore, said meditation and discussion helps him focus on what is important.

“Society is wrapped up in material things,” he said. “This is a time when it isn’t like that, and you can see a different perception.”

But on a temporary level, Simons said he experienced what most NU students will not experience until Winter Break.

“I feel relaxed,” he said.