Meditation and Awaken

There’s a buzz in the air about VMFA’s next exhibition, Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment. That’s because, unlike any other art exhibition, Awaken is about you as much as it is about the art. Opening April 27, the exhibition is an immersive experience that addresses the noise and fragmentation of our daily lives, inviting you to consider what it means to be enlightened or fully awake rather than lulled by chaos and clamor. The innovative multimedia installation takes you on a journey that culminates with a representation of clarity as powerful as the intense visuals and sound encountered at its entry point. As you engage with spectacular art along the way, the journey becomes one of self-reflection and discovery.

After you visit the exhibition, complement your experience by continuing to investigate ways you can turn down the noise in your life. Consider mindfulness and meditation. Increasingly popular, these tools for reducing stress and improving overall health have been proven to yield benefits. As a complement to Awaken, VMFA has developed a Meditation & Mindfulness Series as a mid-day break. These hour-long sessions are guided by guest teachers from the local community and welcome anyone at any level.

While the sessions are free and open to the public, space is limited. You can check out the complete schedule and list of guest teachers. Or find sessions at one of several meditation and mindfulness centers in the Richmond area.

Here, four of the guest teachers—Kay and Philip Davidson, Susan Wilkes, and Jacquelyn Pogue—answer questions about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, explaining why one should give it a try and offering personal reflections.

Left to right: Kay and Phillip Davidson, Susan Wilkes, and Jacquelyn Pogue

Why should someone try meditation?
Jacquelyn: In a world of personal, political, social and economic stress and spin, we all need a respite from the constant input. There are many ways to escape and unwind, but meditation allows one to turn inward and gain the peace, wisdom, and understanding of oneself at a deeper level as well as insight into world conditions and questions such as Who am I, What is life, and Why am I here?

What benefits can one gain from meditation?
Jacquelyn: Benefits can range from stress relief, healing of the body, quality sleep, emotional calm, self love, joy in simply being alive, compassion for others, feeling connected to all life forms, ability to differentiate between appropriate fear and fears that control us, mental clarity, and a power that comes from realizing that we are not limited by our past experiences and can choose to change. Just to name a few!

What role does meditation play in your life?
Kay: For me, I have developed more patience which was really important during my mother’s two-year decline following her stroke.
Philip: And for me, regular meditation has helped me become less reactive to daily events that used to trigger exaggerated emotions and words.
Susan: My daily practice is a complement to my physical exercise program, mind training to go along with my physical workout! It’s helped me stay steady on even the tough days and to respond more skillfully in difficult situations. My favorite teacher says that meditating is like a “homecoming” where we come home to ourselves. That feels true for me.
Jacquelyn: It plays a major role in how I live my life and relate to others. I do not see people as mere personalities but as spiritual beings having a human experience, and that we are all in this life together, both serving others and being served by them. We are all equally important and when we cooperate together, life becomes more beautiful and we can face the challenges with loving support from others.

Was meditation something that came naturally to you or did you have to work hard at developing this skill?
Susan: Actually, we try not to “work hard” too much in meditation. A challenging part for everyone is that our minds tend to wander while we are meditating. So, we learn to notice when that happens and, without judgement and with some self-kindness, bring the mind back to the meditation. We say that we “practice” meditation and that is just it—we practice knowing we are developing skills but without expecting to be perfect at it.

What do you enjoy most about leading meditation exercises?
Kay and Philip: As to leading a meditation: there is something so peaceful and refreshing and restorative when meditating with others, as if a gentle, calm breeze is touching each of us.
Susan: I love those moments when someone shares the difference meditation is making in their lives. That makes it a very meaningful endeavor.