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There’s an awful lot about religion in the news and it’s not always positive. The protracted Israel-Palestine conflict, massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, ongoing persecution of Uyghurs and Christians in China, increased conflation of religion and state power in many countries – the list goes on. While the root causes of these crises cannot be reduced solely to religion, it continues to play a large role in states’ justification of violence and conflict.
LSE’s Interfaith Week was a chance for students of all faiths (or none) to engage about religion, culture, and spirituality in an open, inclusive, and non-intimidating forum. I was sent to participate in a meditation session, and hopefully, learn something in the process.
Meditation, I scoffed. As a former sales assistant in an aromatherapy store, I had encountered my fair share of customers trying to tell me about my chakras. That was about the extent to which my relationship with zen had progressed over the years. I didn’t purposefully shy away from the spiritual, but didn’t see – or make – room for it in my life.
Part of my reluctance to engage was discomfort with the way “trendy” New Age practices have evolved and divorced with their historical, cultural, and spiritual significance. In Vancouver, where I’m from, there are (very expensive!) yoga studios and juice bars on every street corner.
Wellness and spirituality have become commodities that signify a certain – mostly white, upper-middle class – aspirational lifestyle, and frankly I just wasn’t keen to participate in it.
On a personal level, the idea of taking time out to be alone with my thoughts was a little frightening. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in the Cave, a dimly-lit room in the Faith Centre adorned by rope-knit beanbag seats and candles. In the back of my mind, a niggling thought remained: What if I’m doing it wrong? Can you even do meditation wrong?
My fears turned out to be, thankfully, unfounded. I was pleasantly surprised when the session largely featured breathing and visualization exercises, both of which I was quite familiar with, thanks to ongoing efforts to cope with anxiety through those methods. I was also heartened when the session ended with a series of readings from Sufism, Buddhism, and Kabbalah on the importance of mindfulness and interpersonal relationships.
For all my scepticism, Interfaith Week provided a gateway for me (and hopefully other students) to open up to new ideas and experiences.
Now, I’m not saying that meditation is going to become a major part of my life from here on. I certainly didn’t transcend to some higher mental state or have some sort of spiritual awakening, but the idea of just taking time out to find some inner peace and quiet doesn’t intimidate me as much any more.
I’m glad that it pushed me to do something outside my comfort zone that challenged me and my assumptions.
by student Communications Assistant Mary Leong
LSESU Meditation Circle
LSESU Meditation Circle Facebook
Introducing Interfaith Week 2014
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