Each Tuesday evening, a group of between five and ten men staying at the men’s shelter gather for meditation. The group talks about their lives - the challenges and the joys - and how they see meditation as a resource for empowering themselves. Brian Durel, one of the shelter’s interns who trained for four years at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, guides the men through the meditation period. This partnership with Upaya began in January of this year, and the group has met every week since.
Brian starts with inviting the group to ground themselves in their bodies, tapping into a state of equanimity by simply feeling how the floor and chairs support each person’s feet, sit-bones, and back. “The research and methods of grounding are well respected," Brian says. "People like Laurie Leitch, who developed the Social Resilience Model for working with stress or trauma, show how coming into our bodies like this can elevate our mood if we’re depressed or sooth our nervous system if we’re stressed."
Once the group is grounded, he asks the group to recall their intention to reduce the suffering in their lives, their relationships, and the people with whom they’re in relationship. Then, he instructs the group to rest their awareness on their breath, feeling each inhalation and each exhalation without the need to change anything. “When the mind wanders,” he guides, “or you hear a sound in the next room, just gently note the sound or thought without judgment, gently let go, and then return to the breath.” He pauses frequently, reminding the group to return again and again with patience.
He says that for him, it seems that patience is the key. “Our minds think and our ears hear. The point of this style of meditation is not to stop being human, but to develop our concentration with gentleness, so that we can relax into some moments of stillness. Many of the guys tell me how their minds wander during meditation, and yet at the end of each session, they usually speak of feeling relaxed. They also express a sense of stillness in how they talk. There’s a gentleness with themselves and each other that emerges.”
One of the men staying at the shelter shares the effect of meditation on his life, “It helps to stop and pay attention to my breath during the day when I’m frustrated or dealing with depression. It’s good to do. It helps me get to a place where I can do things when I feel overwhelmed.” Another member of the group talks about how a deep love comes up for him consistently as a result of recognizing his intention, an unconditional love for his son that brings him great joy. Another recalls a sense of well-being and wonder he felt when his mind became very still and clear during his most recent participation in the group.
At the end of each session, the group shares these experiences with each other and thank each other for showing up as a group to support each other. There’s a common theme in what men in the group say. They appreciate that being in a group makes it easier to do this practice, which they see as very important.
Responding to this feedback, Upaya Zen Center began weekly meditation groups at Pete’s Place on Mondays at 8 AM and will begin another weekly group at The Lifelink Clubhouse on November 6th at 11 AM. St. Elizabeth Shelter is grateful for it’s partnership with Upaya in serving our community experiencing poverty; and as for Brian, he says he’s grateful to be an intern who gets to meditate at work.
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