Being 'mindful' of the spiritual gap


The Interfaith Fellow for Mindfulness will work with meditation and Buddhist groups


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College and Engineering graduate, Chris Johnnidis, will be Penn's new Interfaith Fellow for Mindfulness. 

Photo by Yolanda Chen


A new Interfaith Fellow for Mindfulness just arrived on campus.

The Office of the Chaplain introduced the fellowship this semester to provide Penn a figure to guide meditation and Buddhist groups on campus. Chris Johnnidis, a 2007 College and Engineering graduate , will work to help students become mindful.

The new fellowship position follows the introductions of a Muslim and a Hindu Interfaith Fellow over the last five years. University Chaplain Chaz Howard explained that the creation of the new position is something the office has been “aiming towards for some time.”

The role of the fellow will be “to advise, help guide and be a sounding board” for students and spirituality groups, Howard explained. Johnnidis will lead Mindfulness by example, he said.

Mindfulness is about awareness and equanimity, Johnnidis explained. “It means accepting reality,” he said.

He said that while mindfulness is stereotypically perceived as serenity and reflection, it can also mean accepting that you are angry or responding to heightened emotional states with self-awareness.

Howard added that it is about “being in the present” and “using one’s mind to engage in the moment.” He outlined further how this is particularly important for students, as working out goals and ambitions make college “a challenging season of life.”

Johnnidis’ role on campus currently consists of “information gathering,” Howard said.

“My role is less defined and more emergent,” Johnnidis added.

As meditation and Buddhist groups aren’t as visible as other groups on campus, Johnnidis has started reaching out to these student groups to gauge their engagement levels. He hopes to “support them, however they’re existing.”

One thing he hopes to do in particular is to develop “a space for students and staff to explore spiritualities ,” he said. He will also have one-on-one conversations with any student interested in talking to him about Mindfulness.

“My main feeling is curious[ity] right now,” Johnnidis said. He described his role as small, but added that there is “momentum at Penn for this conversation [about Mindfulness].”

Johnnidis is already working with post-baccalaureate health studies student Elsy Compres to create “talking circles” at Penn. Compres hopes these will consist of twice-monthly dinner meetings at the Greenfield Intercultural Center where “people can bring pretty much anything to the table,” she explained.

Compres outlined how Johnnidis has been supporting her plans by giving ideas and “facilitating that space.” For her, Mindfulness is about fulfillment, she said, talking particularly about the “tug-of-war” which students can experience when trying to plan their futures. She hopes her work with Johnnidis will create a space of “positive reinforcement” where students can “come back to earth.”

Johnnidis also described Mindfulness as having an important place at Penn. “Everyone’s very focused on doing,” he said, “there’s less emphasis on being, but our doing comes out of being.”

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