On a recent evening, Bowdoin meditation instructor Ouda Baxter ’11 decided that instead of leading her usual one-hour meditation, she would bring her students to watch a kabuki performance happening that night on campus.
“We can practice mindful watching,” Baxter suggested. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of storytelling through dramatic dance.
“How does one watch mindfully?” Juan Del Toro ’13 asked.
“First off, you don’t judge,” Baxter advised. “And when you feel your mind wander, you can pay attention to the details. Sometimes closing your eyes and listening to the music helps. You should be aware of your own feelings and thoughts as you watch.”
Baxter is one of four instructors offering weekly meditation classes at Bowdoin. In her Thursday night session, Meditation in Nature, she weaves in movement, stretches, dance, guided nature imagery, poetry and aromatherapy to move “further into a place of rest and lightness.” On a warm night, she might also lead her students on a meditative walk, or if a musical or dance performance is taking place on campus, bring them to it.
Baxter became interested in meditation as a student at Bowdoin. After graduating, she was an artist-in-residence on Kent Island, Bowdoin’s scientific field station in the Bay of Fundy, and then worked for two performing artists in San Francisco. In the fall, she decided to return to Portland, Maine, where she teaches meditation classes, makes art and works at a restaurant.
Bowdoin’s other Monday-Thursday meditation offerings include “Weekly Meditation Training,” led by Toby Sifton, and “Unplug, Sit Down, Tune In,” led by Lisa Blake. Dr. Bernie Hershberger, director of Bowdoin’s counseling service and wellness programs, teaches two others: “Guided Meditations on Gratitude, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity” and “Trusting Basic Goodness: Finding the Buddha Within.”
All programs are free to Bowdoin students, faculty and staff, and the instructors welcome drop-in students as well as regular attendees.
Hershberger launched the meditation series four years ago, and in the ensuing years has expanded the offerings as interest in meditation has grown on campus. He estimates that roughly 100 students regularly attend meditation classes, and that there are more practicing on their own or with friends.
“We started this whole idea of mind-body practice because most of us need sustained practice to develop the skill [of mindfulness]. Just offering one session on stress management and relaxation was useful but not sustaining,” Hershberger said. “It seems like the antidote to anxiety, pressure and stress is some form of working with the way the mind works.”
Hershberger said meditation can help students counter their high levels expectation and perfectionism by fostering in them mental resiliency and a hardier form of happiness that is not contingent on success.
“Stress is not the problem,” Hershberger said. “It’s the lack of recovery time from stress that is the problem. …[In meditation classes] they can step into a room, pause, feel silence, and work on the notion of just being.”