Community Spotlight: Go Zen with mindful meditation

Buddhist community advisor for the Interfaith Chaplaincy John Baugher leads the Mindfulness Group. The group meets on Tuesdays in the Sullivan Gym.
Patrick Higgins | THE FREE PRESS
Buddhist community advisor for the Interfaith Chaplaincy John Baugher leads the Mindfulness Group. The group meets on Tuesdays in the Sullivan Gym.

Posted on March 10, 2014 in Community
By nathanbaril

The Mindfulness Group offers students a way to unwind and reflect through meditation.

Each Tuesday, the Mindfulness Group assembles from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex in the Multipurpose Room.

The group was started by the USM Health and Counseling Services’ suicide prevention initiative USM CARES with the meditation and spiritual guidance of John Baugher, associate professor of sociology and Buddhist community advisor with the Interfaith Chaplain. USM CARES, founded in fall 2011, was developed by Robert Small, clinical director of Health and Counseling Services.

Psychologist Micheline Hagan, coordinator of the USM CARES initiative, reached out to Baugher to head the project. “She discovered an interest among students involved in the USM CARES Student Support Network for a mindfulness group on campus,” said Baugher. The whole experience is intended to be very positive and welcoming, Baugher said, but with serious intentions to practice and understand meditation.

The session is broken up into a series of “sits” in which participants sit silently trying to empty their minds. “So much of our lives we spend habitually driven by thoughts and emotions, attachments and aversions, hopes and fears, and with this practice, we invite ourselves to rest in non-conceptual awareness, allowing our thoughts and emotions to come and go as they please,” said Baugher. Participants are then invited to share their reflection on the experience of meditation, and they are encouraged to ask questions.

Newcomers are more than welcome to join guided sessions, Baugher said. The Mindfulness Group provides participants with many of the basic tools they need to start meditation, like a zafu and zabuton, a set of meditation pillows designed to help the participant sit in the correct position.

Newcomers have the opportunity to learn the basics from Baugher as well. He explained that though many generally know what meditation is, few are aware of what they actually need to do when meditating. Also, a common misconception is that meditation is a method of self-help or self-improvement, he said.

“Yet meditation is not about trying to change who we are, but instead involves practicing seeing who we are with clarity and loving kindness,” said Baugher.

Baugher explained that much of the energy behind the group comes largely from student Andrew Donovan, a psychology major, and Doug Cowan, a clinical counselor and multicultural coordinator for University Health and Counseling Services.

Donovan talked with his fellow academic intern, Dri Huber, about starting the group last year, and he returned to counseling services for another internship this year.
“One of my goals was to create a mindfulness group,” he said. “And here we are.”

The grant that funds the USM CARES initiative ends this year, but according to Baugher the Mindfulness Meditation group has built community and an atmosphere of support and connection among students, staff and faculty at USM and aims to continue doing so.