Zen and the Art of Meditation Maintenance

By Kirsten Allen & Bethany Carlson

022_ppCell phones, texts, Facebook, iPad, Twitter: the list of technological distractions is constantly growing. With so much information being jammed in our faces, it is easy to get caught up in the world displayed on a screen, and even easier to lose touch with ourselves. However, Corvallis offers many options for reconnecting with the one we miss the most.

For many, the concept of meditation is hard to grasp, and the word “mindfulness” seems like some abstract destination that only those keen on Buddhist teachings have the directions to. Luckily for us, there are plenty of people in our community willing to share those instructions.

The Corvallis Zen Circle’s Sunday meeting is currently held from 10 a.m. to noon at the Corvallis Yoga Center. Attendees participate in several periods of sitting meditation or zazen in which they focus their attention on their breath. “It’s a way of getting the mind to relax and be comfortable without extra things going on. Zazen is a place of refuge for the mind,” said practitioner Luma Litman. The challenge of meditation for a new practitioner lies in letting thoughts pass, without causing either distraction or frustration at one’s difficulty in truly “clearing the mind.”

The Zen Circle also includes walking meditation, chanting, and a teaching. There are “Three Jewels of Buddhism”: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Abby Terris, or Mushin, is one of the founding members of the Corvallis circle, and continues to provide leadership. She said, “The Buddha is an example of a human being who woke up and inspired others to follow this path.” Buddha may also be seen as an idea of perfect wisdom and understanding. Terris says the Dharma or teachings are “precepts that help us sort out more and less wholesome behavior,” which are focused on reducing greed, hatred, and delusion, as well as raising awareness of how our actions impact the world. “Nobody awakens without everyone awakening,” said Terris. She noted that one individual can strive for freedom from suffering, “but it doesn’t mean much unless I really can be here for other people and help them out.”

“For such a small town, we have a lot of people who practice,” Terris says of the Corvallis Buddhist community. 

Plans for a centralized Buddhist temple move forward. The Sangha Jewel Temple, as it will be called, would offer meditation seven times a week, a memorial garden, a kitchen where Terris says they hope to provide meals to the hungry, and a large meeting room. It would also provide a place to host visiting teachers, and will be used by the Buddhist groups that meet in Corvallis. Terris, who was involved in starting two other meditation centers, says the fundraising campaign has met all of its goals so far. “We’re receiving contributions from people who are practitioners, and also people who are not but really like the idea of a meditation center,” she said. 

They want to purchase a property and avoid debt, and are beginning to look for properties that are centrally located. “We want to create an environment in the midst of a busy world that’s very quiet, a sanctuary.” The other benefit of a central location would be easy accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians.

localmeditationresourcesWith 46 dues-paying members, along with plans for ongoing fundraising and outside donations, Terris speculates that by the end of next year purchase plans will be moving along. 5 Stone Sangha and the Dharma Study Group are currently the meditation sitting groups that would comprise the Sangha Jewel Temple, although the idea is to host a general community of practitioners.

Terris is currently very involved in hosting sittings, as well as leading retreats and giving talks. She feels that practicing meditation allows people to get to a quiet peaceful place in busy and chaotic lives. “The community needs stable, calm grounded minds to deal with the very complicated problems we face,” she said. Once the building is complete, Terris wants people to know that it’s there and available. The atmosphere will be non-proselytizing, and anybody who wishes to enjoy some solitary time will be welcome.

Carolyn Schechtman leads the Corvallis Meditation Community group, another group which often meets for sittings. Though there are numerous Corvallis Zen groups that have been around since the 70s, Schechtman is a fairly fresh face to the Corvallis meditating community. Schechtman (pronounced Shek-man) began her meditation journey at the San Francisco Zen center and with Jack Kornfield in northern California. After a 16-year career as a civil engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area, she journeyed to India in hopes of answering questions nobody in the states was able to help her with. She began studying more intensely after meeting her teacher in Rishikesh in the Himalayas, and eventually moved to India where she studied for more than a decade. 

Schechtman teaches meditation without the “McDonification” that currently surrounds much of yoga and meditation taught in this country. Her sittings consist of walking meditation, breath work, simple yoga, guided imagery and visualization, toning and chanting, as well as readings from various traditions and poetry. “It is simply meditation and the techniques that lead one to meditation. The goal and path of each class is always mindfulness; we learn to meditate by engaging in the present moment breath after breath.  We simply practice the techniques that lead one to meditation proper.” She believes in a “take what you like and leave the rest” approach to her classes. “Not everyone will get everything I say, and that is okay. If students stay around long enough to get through their own baggage, their own insight will open and their understanding will grow.” She encourages questions, and asks only two things: don’t come to class with a full belly, and let go of judgment of yourself and others, at least for the duration of the class. She will occasionally present slide shows to the public, discussing pictures of her travels in India, explaining what it is like to be a westerner living in a third world country, and answering any questions people may have. She provides guidance and information for those planning to visit India. Her sittings are non-denominational, and can be individual or group based. For those who attend classes continuously and maintain a desire to venture deeper into meditation practice, Schechtman is available to guide them on their journey.

Seven Thunders is another Zen group, and although the majority of its members reside in Bend, there are about seven or eight people who attend sittings in Corvallis. The sittings are led by nobody in particular, and consist of two 25-minute periods, five minutes of walking, and a short chant at the end. There are also breath instructions where focus is emphasized on presence. They also host studies where they listen to phrases recorded from teachers throughout history and really focus on absorbing those phrases.

“There’s no reason why you can’t use Buddhist practices to enhance your own religion. I really think it’s beyond barriers. I came from a Christian tradition and I don’t see anything inharmonious,” said Litman of the Corvallis Zen Circle. Her words highlight how this “research into the nature of our minds and the world,” as Terris describes it, can be relevant and helpful to people from any walk of life.