Meditation on the Lawn: UVA Contemplative Sciences Center

Oct 17, 2013

There was a surprising event at the University of Virginia this week. About 500 people gathered to hear from one of the world’s great spiritual leaders and one of the nation’s new media moguls.

Last year, with a gift from a wealthy donor, the University of Virginia opened a  Contemplative Sciences Center  to highlight the connection between body and mind.  To bring attention to the program, it invited Deepak Chopra, who’s written 75 books on spiritual traditions and modern science, and his long-time family friend Arianna Huffington to lead a meditation outside the historic Rotunda.

On a warm, sunny afternoon, about 500 people took them up on the offer.   Most were mature women rather than students who came to see these new age celebrities.  We spoke with Michelle Packer and Janis Jaquith.  “I’ve done some online meditation actually with Deepak , so one it’s going to be interesting to see him in person, and two, I want to find my center.”
 “Well I wanted to hear Ariana Huffington’s voice, because she sounds like ZsaZsa Gabor.”

“Thank you so much.  It is absolutely beautiful to be here.  For those of you who have not heard me before, this accent is for real.  It has been the bain of my existence.  I tried for many years to get rid of it until I met Henry Kissinger, and he said to me not to worry about it, because you can never underestimate in American public life the advantages of complete and total incomprehensibility.”
Huffington said her mother – an early believer in yoga and meditation – had introduced her to Chopra and they had been friends for many years.  She urged members of the audience to unplug from their electronics  and to resist efforts by organizations like the Huffington Post to get them hooked.

Instead, Chopra told the crowd to turn inward.  He held his fist up and described it as a model of the brain.  He described his thumb as the reptilian brain.   “ When I was in medical school we remembered it as the four Fs – feedling, fighting, fleeing --and reproduction. ”

Unfortunately, he said, humans allowed this part of the brain – responsible for stress – to spoil their lives.  So the next time you feel stress, he said, apply the STOP formula.  
“S stands for Stop.  T stands for take three deep breaths, and smile everyplace in your body.  O stands for observe your body, and P stands for proceed with love and compassion.”
Doing this often, he said, would rewire the reptilian brain – putting an end to stress and allowing us to feel  love, joy and compassion.  He then led a ten-minute meditation – urging audience members to  think about their identity, what they want, what they are grateful for, and he urged them to feel their own pulse.And know that the pulse of life is traveling in every cell."

It was a surprising sight at a traditional school like UVA, but Huffington said she thought Mr. Jefferson would approve.  Chopra agreed, saying schools like UVA should put less emphasis on information and more emphasis on self-awareness.

“Our education right now is information overload.  I don’t need that.  I can go to Google right now and get anything I want.  So I don’t need to go to a university to get more information and data.  I need to learn to integrate that with who I am and what I want and what’s my purpose in being here. “

Students may have been asking themselves that question during the meditation – and the answer may have come back loud and clear.  The Chopra Huffington visit coincided with Fall Reading Days where students are encouraged to clear their minds and prepare for exams, so after a half hour relaxing on the lawn, it was back to information overload for them.