When practicing Buddhism, we are encouraged to engage with the teachings through study, reflection and meditation. In our academic studies at RYI we study for quizzes and exams and reflect in class-discussions and writing assignments. Meditation, however, is usually not part of the course-syllabi and it is up to us whether and how we take that extra step. In the fall semester 2020 Prof. Julia Stenzel’s course on Buddhist meditation practices broke this division up and integrated personal meditation practice into the assigned course-work. Instead of merely learning about different meditations in theory, we got a chance to try them out ourselves, following different meditation instructions every week and writing about our experiences in a meditation journal.
The course has opened my eyes to the vast scope of meditations out there and inspired me to add many more elements to my personal practice – which I realized to be quite limited before. I noticed recurring themes, such as letting go rather than ‘doing’ something or focusing on the breath. While I was familiar with those methods before, following various explanations from different traditions deepened my understanding. Who knew that there were at least twenty different ways to utilize the breath in meditation? And each one had a different effect on my mind.
Meditation is surely a very private experience, so it was strange to write about it at first and the main distracting thought was ‘what am I going to write in my journal today?’, but I quickly noticed the benefits of taking the time to reflect on my meditation afterwards. I took note of how different methods affected my mind and found myself going over my meditation journal to see which meditation I might benefit from in a particular state of mind. By engaging in the meditations we were reading and discussing about ourselves, I came to understand many of them in a very personal way and felt like I was studying my own mind in the process.