Finding Peace in the Chaos
What began as a weekly meditation practice on campus is helping Professor Jeff Miller stay connected—and stay calm—during the worldwide crisis.
There’s no magic cure for what’s going on in the world, nor is there a panacea for the anxiety that goes along with it. A worldwide pandemic tends to take the routine and the predictability out of anything.
But when it comes to reducing stress and increasing mindfulness in this or any situation, one practice that some have found to be effective is meditation.
It’s something that Associate Professor and Chair of Communication and Media Jeff Miller has been practicing with the help of his teacher, Brother Varasami, nearly every Wednesday since last fall.
A practicing Buddhist himself, Miller was introduced by a mutual friend to Brother Varasami, the Abbot of Buddhadhamasukha Temple in Frankfort. They formed a fast friendship.
Brother Varasami shared that he wanted to teach meditation to people in the area, beyond only members of his congregation. An idea struck Miller, and he asked Brother Varasami to visit UC’s campus once a week and sit in meditation for anyone who wished to join in.
It was an opportunity to carve out time in a busy week to practice meditation with the guidance of his teacher, while also offering students an opportunity to decompress, find some peace and stillness, and perhaps relieve stress.
I don’t believe that meditation is some magical cure for the ills of the world. I just believe that when I sit still, I create my own small, peaceful and quiet space.
“A win/win/win,” Miller says, adding that he has personally benefited enormously from this regular practice.
“I immediately noticed how much calmer I was in Wednesday meetings. I hoped that more students would join us, and five or six did sit with us during the first week or two, but 9:30 am on a Wednesday was not convenient for many students, and perhaps the prospect of sitting quietly for an hour with your eyes closed in a very public place like Strebel Lounge was too weird or too intimidating,” says Miller, “but I was committed to sitting in meditation where others would walk past and observe; I wanted to make it natural, normal, just a thing people did in the lounge.”
He jokes that meditation is easy, and yet very difficult. The practice which Brother Varasami has taught him is quite simple: sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, and quieting your mind by focusing on your breath.
“We all breathe, but we rarely take the time to be mindful of our breath, even to the extent that we make it our single point of concentration so that the other things that inevitably enter our mind ... sounds or smells or thoughts, for example, are allowed to drift in but not allowed to linger,” Miller explains. “I'm getting better at not clinging to them and it has a remarkable effect upon the mind. And this is especially helpful nowadays.”
With the Utica College campus closed due to COVID-19, Miller continues his meditation practice alone at home on Wednesday mornings from 9:30 to 10:20 - just as he would if he were on campus.
“I miss Strebel Lounge. I miss Brother Varasami's company. But I have been encouraging friends, family, and colleagues via Facebook to join me virtually every week and to sit still in their own homes at the same time,” he says.
And while there may not be a cure-all for the world’s problems, including its current crisis, Professor Miller just hopes that a little time spent sitting still can help others find their own internal peace.
“I don’t believe that meditation is some magical cure for the ills of the world, or that by more people all meditating at once something mystical or supernatural will happen. I just believe that when I sit still, I create my own small, peaceful and quiet space,” he says. “And if more and more people do this in their own homes during the coronavirus crisis, we're all creating more and more little peaceful and quiet spaces that can add up. And where's the harm in that?”
**Professor Jeff Miller is one of several members of the UC community working with the Diversity Committee to build Interfaith Connections and Resources, a shared Google drive containing resources from a variety of religious and faith traditions that are accessible to any UC community member. Resources may include brief presentations, storytelling recordings, opportunities for virtual meetings, or even sharing in real time religious observations and traditions.
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