If President Obama or Pope Francis asked you if you could spare ten minutes of your time today to speak with them, what would you say? “You want to talk to me? Of course, I’d be honored!” or “Hmm, let me check my schedule; I’m kind of busy today.” I’m guessing most of us would go with the former. Well, then consider this: if we believe that God is the most powerful and influential being of all, then why do most of us deny the opportunity to talk to Him everyday?
Talking directly to God is exactly what religious meditation entails. Putting into words what we are thinking and pouring our hearts out to a higher power, regardless of form or structure, gives us a deep, meaningful connection. In the whirlwind that is college life, most of our days are packed with classes, club meetings, events, studying, and finding time to take care of ourselves. Heads down and headphones in, we are constantly rushing to our next commitment; rarely do we clear our mind, focus on our breath, and look up. If we did, I think we would be surprised at the immense diversity and complexity of the world around us, feeling a resulting sense of awe and connection to the planet and to God. Too often we let our busy schedules stand as an excuse for skipping out on meditation and reflection.
However, on the evening of April 10, 2014, a group of about fifteen Hoyas, each belonging to different or no faith traditions, gathered for an interfaith meditation event. Buddhist, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, and Jewish ministry groups introduced their faith’s take on meditation at a special place on campus and led a guided meditation for all the participants. From the Buddhist Students Association, we all learned the importance of breathing with intention. After travelling to Dahlgren Chapel, the Catholic group taught us the significance of the rosary and the Virgin Mary. Following that, the Eastern Orthodox Christian group led a twenty-minute meditation, focusing on prayer and confession. Moving on to the Leavey Esplanade under the stars, the Hindu Students Association led a chant, repeating “Om Namah Shivaya” 108 times. Lastly, in the Makóm Prayer Space, the Jewish group explained meditation in terms of the metaphor of a train. Usually we are constantly on a moving train, each cab being our thoughts and worries; meditation is stepping off the train and onto the train station. In doing so, we should realize that we are not our thoughts and worries; we are so much more, and we discover our deeper essence.
At the end of the event, each one of us felt a sense of mental clarity, inner peace, and shared humanity. We were amazed at the power of the common thread of meditation in each of our religions. Meditation fits nicely into many if not all of the Jesuit values that Georgetown holds so closely—contemplation in action, for the greater glory of God, and cura personalis (care for the whole person). Any type of meditation, secular or religious, can enhance individual wellness.
All in all, religion and spirituality should be dynamic processes. Thinking critically about personal experiences, widening horizons to other faiths, and pressing the pause button on life guides each of us along our spiritual journeys. Our interfaith meditation was a pivotal event that opened our eyes to the immense diversity of meditative religious practices while simultaneously warming our hearts with the remarkable unity.