Talking Circles: a new space for meditation

The first Talking Circle was held on Friday evening

· March 2, 2014, 7:42 pm   ·  Updated March 16, 2014, 4:00 pm

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A new space for meditation and discussion of mindfulness is now on campus.

The first of a new series of semi-weekly “Talking Circles” was held on Friday evening at the Greenfield Intercultural Center. The session encouraged students to discuss issues they are facing within themselves at Penn.

The organizer, post-baccalaureate health studies student Elsy Compres, hopes the Circles will provide an opportunity to counteract the stress which she perceives students face at Penn. The circle provided “a space where it’s OK to take your time,” she said, “a space where fulfilment is valued.”

Chris Johnnidis, Penn’s new interfaith fellow for mindfulness, helped to organize the evening. He described the talking circle as “a space of acceptance” where he hopes students can learn to align themselves with who they are and where they want to go.

“If you’re not aligned with that there’s a danger of burning out which is very real,” he said, outlining how being too busy to take time to assess your life can have serious negative consequences.

About 20 students attended the first talking circle, which began with a meditation session. The session is open to everyone and Compres taught several students how to meditate for the first time.

The talking circle was then opened up to discussion. Participants were invited to respond to a poem about mindfulness and to discuss their own problems and states of mind.

Students of various years were present at the talking circles. They raised issues ranging from freshmen experiences adapting to college life to upperclassmen worries about employment to graduate students struggling to find time for themselves.

“Everyone was expressing the same things in different ways,” Compres said. She outlined the two key conclusions which the session raised as “being comfortable in uncertainty” and learning that it is OK not to do everything.

She considers these discussions as particularly important at Penn, where students achieve so much. “Everyone wants to give an image that it’s OK all of the time,” she said. She hopes to counteract the negative side of the underlying pressures of comparing yourself to others in “such a large pool of talented individuals.”

“It can be difficult to have that conversation with your peers,” she explained, adding it can be awkward to discuss issues with friends who are facing the same problems. The talking circles are an “authentic space” where “you can bring anything to the table,” she added.

After the circle, vegan chili was served and Johnnidis encouraged “more organic” conversation.

College senior Chantelle Belic outlined how the session “made me feel more secure in my course.” The talking circles address a “very important” issue, she said. “People need an avenue to talk.”

The talking circle was “a moment of growth” for College junior Emanuel Martinez . “It’s incredibly important to get peace and calmness,” he said.

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