by Matt Moore
Nutrition and fitness now have company as components of wellness at Friedman. Students and staff have a brand new opportunity to practice meditation and improve their mindfulness skills at weekly sessions facilitated by Kurtis Morrish (FPAN ‘16) and Micaela Karlsen (PhD, NEPI ‘17).
Although the stress of finals may be a distant memory (or looming dread) for some, the life of a Friedman student rarely slows down. Those who would like a break from their busy schedules can meet for meditation and reflection every Wednesday morning at 9:30 am in Sackler 854.
“I see meditation as a tool to get in touch with your true self and to let go of whatever barriers might be in the way of expressing yourself fully in the world. Most of the students at Friedman have long-term goals, missions, or specific paths to follow, so meditation can support a person’s ability to be effective in following their path. Sitting in silence allows you to get a break from your thoughts, which are unhelpful in many situations,” said Karlsen, who has over a decade of experience with meditation.
She and Morrish were inspired to bring meditation to Friedman after meeting at meditation classes taught by Dr. David Arond at the Tufts School of Public Health. While Dr. Arond has since taken a sabbatical, Karlson and Morrish decided to continue meeting and create a new community.
In contrast to the formal classes at the School of Public Health, Morrish explained that the sessions in Sackler would be less of a commitment for interested participants. People can come once a week, once a month, or once a year.
At a typical session, the first 20 minutes are devoted to meditation, which can be loosely guided, more closely directed to develop concentration, completely silent, or done while walking, which is Morrish’s favorite format.
“We really have a perfect little space. People are invited to remove their shoes as a way to help literally ground themselves, but it’s not required. There are no rules: they can sit in a chair, lie down, stand, or sit on the floor. It is primarily a venue for people to get together and enjoy meditation,” he said.
Following the meditation, in the democratic spirit of the group, attendees can choose how to spend their remaining time together. Possibilities include listening to guided meditations and readings for reflection or discussing their meditation that day, what the experience was like, and any challenges they encountered.
Like Karlsen, Morrish believes that participation in mediation can help Friedman students with not only their day-to-day lives but also in preparation for their post-graduate careers. He attributed improved focus, clarity, and mindfulness to practicing meditation over time.
“Meditation develops people’s ability to be more present and better understand who they are, how they interact with one another, and be more mindful. Mindfulness skills can then be applied by any healthcare professional. What you’re doing when you shut your eyes is not just self-serving—it helps the people you are helping,” he said.
Not only could mindfulness help professionals interact with their clients, patients, and colleagues, but recent studies have suggested benefits like pain-relief, improved social skills and cognition in elementary school students, and decreased stress among diabetes and heart disease patients.
Morrish and Karlsen are encouraged by the interest generated at the first two sessions, and they are enthusiastic about the future. They eventually hope to welcome guest speakers, and Dr. Arond has already expressed interest in leading a session.
For those who are curious or might be hesitant about giving meditation a try, Morrish explained that the majority of participants have been beginners and arrive hoping for guidance. “All you need to start meditating is curiosity and an open mind,” he said.
“The practice of meditation, I think, is a response to an impulse to listen to your inner voice. [The sessions are] an opportunity if people feel drawn to it. If anyone knows they want to be part of a meditation group, or if a person keeps remembering the email invitation and wonders about it, feels curious to try it, or feels sorry to have missed it, any of those are good reasons to come at least once and check it out,” added Karlsen.
Karlsen and Morrish were once brand new to meditation themselves. While they met through Dr. Arond’s classes, they have very different backgrounds.
In 2004, Karlsen began a three-year personal growth program at Light on the Hill Retreat Center in Van Etten, New York. The center’s mission is “to provide a place where individuals and groups can find solace from their everyday pursuits and space for reflection,” and Karlsen explained that meditation is a core part of the program.
Since then, she has gone on multiple silent meditation retreats there that have lasted from two to ten days. She is still involved with the retreat center and belongs to a meditation group for graduates of the program. The group meets five times per year, and each member has committed to individual meditation practice between meetings.
Morrish started out by practicing yoga, but he found classes to “not even scratch the surface of the practice’s mental impacts.” He was drawn to meditation as a means of improving and better applying his mindfulness skills.
While working in Zambia in 2013, he tried Brahma Kumaris mediation, a spiritual practice that emphasized reflection on the soul rather than the body. He personally preferred a more secular experience, and while he stopped practicing after returning home to Canada, the desire to meditate remained in the back of his mind. After learning about Dr. Arond’s classes upon arriving at Friedman, Morrish jumped at the chance for more formal experience.
Now, both Karlsen and Morrish hope to share their experience at Friedman. “It’s nice to have a community of fellow meditators. It supports your commitment to yourself. There’s also something better about meditating in a group compared to by yourself—it’s just a different experience,” said Karlsen.
Matt Moore is a first-year AFE student and is still dismayed about the Royal Rumble. Instead of watching the Super Bowl, he is counting down to Spring Training.