Morning light filtered through the high arched window, warming the soft pillows and framing the floor. I brushed knees with the person sitting beside me, as more students filed into the small space. Though the room was full, it maintained a certain air of immensity, attributed to peaceful silence punctuated by the occasional murmur. I focused my attention on the details of Harkness Chapel: behind me, Copernicus’ holding his conception of the universe in his palm on a panel of the large, stained glass window. At my side, an intricately carved wooden panel depicts the planting of trees at Hillhouse. In the center of the room stood a Buddha, poised at the top of an altar, surrounded by candles and flowers. Soon, illuminated only by shards of light cast by the stained glass window, we settled in silence together, breathing collectively, and the meditation began.
My first experience with meditation in the Buddhist Shrine room was during Bulldog Days, Yale’s three day, two night program for admitted students. In a flurry of new faces, speaker events and model lectures, Bulldog Days was an exhilarating and occasionally exhausting experience for me and many others. In fact, the night before attending meditation, I had been awake until three in the morning, excitedly chatting with the first year students who were hosting me. After hours of conversation about classes, clubs and school culture, I passed out mid-conversation, slumped upright against the wall.
Thus, the next morning, I needed some time to recuperate before repeating another day of seemingly endless events. Attending the Buddhist Meditation hosted that morning turned out to be a wonderful choice as it allowed me to center myself for the day and find another welcoming community at Yale.
Meditation also allowed me to notice the beauty of the place I was fortunate to be experiencing. During other Bulldog Days events, there was no time to trace each carving in the wall with my gaze or identify the images etched in window panes. Meditation gave me the opportunity to take time to appreciate being a first year at Yale and set intentions for navigating a new, exciting and at times intimidating place.
During the meditation, I focused intently on my breath, the sensations of my feet on the ground and the scent of incense offerings wafting through the chapel. When the meditation ended, it felt rather strange to leave such a peaceful, welcoming space to the bustle of campus again: a reminder of Yale’s host of calm spaces from which to retreat from the rapid pace of academics, activities and social commitments.
The Buddhist Shrine Room, located in the Harkness Chapel in Branford College, is open during the semester from Sunday to Thursday, 4-10 p.m. for quiet meditation, reflection and prayer. The Yale Buddhist Community also offers meditation and learning every Sunday and Wednesday, 7-8 p.m., for undergraduate and graduate students as well as chanting offered on Mondays at 7 p.m.