Zooming Your Way to Zen
Spiritual Life Center’s online meditation sessions offer students serenity and solidarity
“It’s OK if your mind wanders. That’s what minds do, reassures Neil “Yo” Deshpande in his soothing baritone, reminding first-time participants there is no “right” way to meditate.
A graduate student in the Master's in Human Factors in Information Design program, Deshpande is also a mindfulness practitioner who regularly leads meditation sessions for Bentley students, faculty and staff. Known as “Mindfulness Meditation,” these sessions are sponsored by the Spiritual Life Center and typically take place each week when campus is open in the Sacred Space, a room in the Student Center for spiritual practice and interfaith worship. When campus closed due to the pandemic, they were reimagined online as “Zen Zoom.” Each session consisted of a 15-minute guided meditation followed by open discussion.
According to Rabbi Jeffrey Foust, who coordinated the online sessions, Zen Zoom provided “an opportunity to rebalance and to connect to your center.” For some, meditation is a practice best done alone. Foust, however, believes coming together brings an added benefit: “These sessions become a wonderful mutual support system where we help other find the calm inside.”
Join Rabbi Foust for a Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Deshpande agrees. Raised in an international, interfaith family — his mother is an American Jew, his father a Hindu born in India — he became interested in Buddhism in his mid-20s, and even lived for a time in a monastery in Dharamsala, India, the Himalayan community the Dalai Lama calls home. Deshpande enjoys guiding fellow students through Zen Zoom sessions because they provide “a space where we can sit and be still together, finding a sense of peace as we quiet our minds and open our hearts.”
Finding a sense of peace is especially important today, as the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented levels of fear, stress and anxiety. “In the midst of these times of uncertainty and change, it’s more important than ever to find ways to alleviate stress and nurture inner wellness,” says Reverend Robin Olson, director of the Spiritual Life Center. What’s more, with quarantine measures preventing social gatherings, Zen Zoom sessions are a way for Bentley students to “remain connected as a community despite being physically apart.”
For many, this sense of solidarity continued long after the session ended. George Carlson ’21, a Corporate Finance and Accounting major, previously attended on-campus sessions and was happy to learn they were being continued online. After joining a Zen Zoom session led by Deshpande, he says the opportunity to connect virtually with other students helped him “disconnect from overthinking and just focus on the present moment.” What’s more, “this feeling lasted for days following the session, and I found myself much more relaxed and content with my life at home.”
Carlson was introduced to meditation by his friend Rina Rabinovich ’20, who, like Deshpande, is a Zen Zoom guide. A Management major concentrating in Entrepreneurship, Rabinovich began practicing mindfulness five years ago. “Oftentimes we are looking outside for answers, approval, purpose and happiness. Meditation gives me an opportunity to look inward and discover this within myself,” she explains. “It’s helped to free me from my doubts, worries and fears and embrace my most authentic self.”
Rabinovich devotes at least 10 minutes each day to mindfulness, which she credits with helping her “become more compassionate towards every living being.” Her practice has so enriched her own life, she wants to give others the opportunity to incorporate mindfulness in theirs. In addition to Zen Zoom, Rabinovich is co-founder of misunderstOOd.com, an online community whose members meet twice weekly for meditation and conversation. With COVID-19 upending virtually every aspect of daily life, she notes the group discussions are particularly helpful. “We’ve talked about taking control of our thoughts, so that they don’t control us,” she says. “If someone shares that they’re feeling lonely, bored or trapped, we listen without judgment and provide advice and new perspectives, reminding each other that we’re not alone.”
Deshpande feels similarly about Zen Zoom. Participants may initially join for the act of meditation, he says, but the discussions afterward are just as affirming. “When the ocean of our lives proves particularly stormy, it’s important to find an island of peace,” he says. Especially during quarantine; “Being together and having the chance to talk about how we’re feeling has been really healing.”