On Sunday, Oct. 27, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) hosted the first event of a series of events in the Quiet Room of the library called “Soul Sundays.” At 8 p.m., several students gathered on the third floor of the Library for an hour of contemplative practices including meditation, poetry, song and interactive activities that fostered thought and discussion.
The main voice behind this program’s conception was RSL intern Gabe Dunsmith ’15. He came together with Director of the RSL Office Sam Speers in order to provide an opportunity for students to be introduced to contemplative practices in a space that is not often used for this purpose.
The first Soul Sunday meeting involved an introduction to contemplative practices. The night began with a silent meditation practice and then moved to a discussion about a diagram called the “Contemplative Practices Tree” which detailed different practices for contemplation. Tanenbaum Inter-religious Fellow, Adah Hetko, explained the tree diagram.
“The roots are awareness and community and connection. He is sort of using this as a model for planning soul Sundays. I think the idea is that you can take these practices and apply them to your life,” she said.
The collection of exercises that took place on Sunday were a result of much discussion and brainstorming from many the interns in the RSL office. Starting from the beginning, planning for Soul Sundays was a collaborative effort. According to Dunsmith, even the decision of what to call the program came out of serious discussion among several individuals in the RSL office.
Many noted the feeling of the room as an integral part of the experience. As one RSL intern, Arisa Gereda ’16, reflected, “As an RSL intern, I really, really loved the environment that the first Soul Sunday created. The Quiet Room is such an awesome and important safe space for students that is hardly used to its full potential.”
Adah Hetko echoed the emphasis on the quiet room in the program’s conception. “It was an underutilized space. Budhasangha meets there and different things during the week, but most of the time it is just this empty space,” she said.
Dunsmith also spoke to the choice to locate the program in the quite room. “There was a sense for a lot of people in the Religious and Spiritual Life Office that they wanted to reestablish the Quite Room as a space for contemplation. It’s not actually a space for working.”
She continued, “So [Dunsmith], who is this incredible organizer and visionary and super creative and has a lot of energy and he totally blew us out of the water with this totally complete plan of having this program once a week for people who might be committed to a certain contemplative practice or totally new to these practices, like a sampler plate and a way to start off the week.”
Something else that typified the event was the communal and group-minded approach to a practice that can often take place in solitude. At the event, many expressed excitement at the opportunity to practice contemplation in a group space that allowed for exchange of ideas. Dunsmith agree with this idea.
“Last night we had some discussion and I think it’s nice to have some discussion about bringing how to you feel about certain exercises upfront and learning from others. You can weave your own thoughts about certain practices with other peoples’ thoughts,” he said.
Gereda was pleased with the turn-out for the first event, given it took place before major advertising for Soul Sundays had happened. She said, “The turn-out was also very encouraging, and I hope that, because there will be a variety of themes and activities every week, this sense of community and contemplative support will continue to grow with future Soul Sundays.”
Dunsmith echoed this positive evaluation of the evening. “I was very pleased. One of the things that was so nice about it was that everyone was bringing a different experience to it. Not everyone is going to be involved in contemplative practices before coming and I think that’s really beautiful because it’s sharing the experience and the desire to get involved in contemplative practices.”
Gereda also spoke to the ways in which the event appealed to students who had less experience with the kinds of contemplative practices that the program was trying to promote. As she said, “The contemplative exercises in the first Soul Sunday were very welcoming and inclusive of all different levels of meditation experience, and, as someone who struggles with meditation I felt very comfortable with the group and the interesting practices.”
Asked to address students who had little to no experience with contemplative practices, Dunsmith said, “Your curiosity is the most wonderful thing about this. If you’re interested, then it can be a practice to step away a little from our hectic daily lives, from the work that we need to be doing in class, and realize that we don’t always have to be working.”
He went on, “We spend so much time feeling like we have to be rushing back and forth and [Soul Sunday] can be a space to bring your awareness a little more into yourself.”
Hetko expressed optimism in planning Soul Sundays for the future. She said, “I’m hoping that it spreads, not necessarily in numbers of people attending individual programs, but more that it changes the culture of the quiet room and that people feel more excited about going there on their own.”
She continued, I’m really excited for all of them, but I’ve had the chance to be at a meditation led by Jordan Funk. I’m really excited for more people to get to experience that. Next week, Elana [Fruchtman] will be leading different sorts of sitting meditation, she spent a semester in India at a Buddhist monastery and I’m looking forward to that.”