By Susan DeGrane
The holidays include festive gatherings, but the break from routine also encourages periods of calm and quiet reflection. Along those lines, the Red Lotus Meditation Sangha, which meets 7:30 p.m. on Sundays at Beverly Unitarian Church, 10244 S. Longwood Dr., offers an opportunity to cultivate a sense of calm throughout the year.
Gathered in a circle for group meditation, participants sit lotus–style on floor cushions as well as upright in chairs. Wrapped in a blue prayer shawl, Marcia Curtis, a Unitarian Universalist minister and Buddhist meditation instructor for more than 30 years, introduces herself and starts the meditation with a gentle tolling of a gong bowl. Within seconds, people close their eyes and calm descends upon the group.
For the next 30 minutes, the sanctuary is quiet except for the sounds of breathing, the ticking of a clock, the wind in the trees, cars passing on the street outside, and intermittent instructions offered by Curtis.
“Let your thoughts flow in the background of awareness,” Curtis said, directing the group to focus on the physical sensations of breathing. More calm follows with additional instructions, such as: “And, if you find that your mind has wandered, make the choice to let go of thoughts and bring the foreground of awareness back to the breath.”
Curtis has taught meditation and Buddhist philosophy in a variety of settings, including prisons, homeless shelters and mental hospitals. Since 2007, she has led weekly meditation sessions at Beverly Unitarian Church where she is a member. Last October, she secured 501c3 status for the Red Lotus Meditation Sangha, enabling the group to book retreats, which she insists are helpful for deepening one’s meditation practice. The next retreat is scheduled for Fri., Jan. 3 through Sun., Feb. 2 in Frankfort.
“The goal of the practice is to find freedom from suffering,” Curtis explained, adding that meditation has greatly eased her own emotional pain from sexual abuse endured as a child. “The purpose is to be present with what is. And sometimes what is, is frustration or irritation or some other non-calm state. But doing the breath meditation is generally calming and soothing, and certainly over time the effect is an increase in calm.”
When the meditation ends, Curtis gently sounds the bowl. Participants open their eyes, press their hands together and bow at the waist. Curtis then leads a 40-minute Dharma discussion exploring one of the 10 Buddhist perfections and other topics related to meditation.
Curtis also offers quotations from Buddhist masters along with thoughtful explanations of Buddhist virtues. “When we think of having patience with another person’s actions, we have some tolerance for them,” she said. “We don’t immediately lash out. We give them leeway, and thereby we give the same to ourselves.”
Always, participants are encouraged to ask questions and relate examples of how meditation helps in their daily lives.
The group finishes up with a “loving kindness meditation” that directs positive loving thoughts toward self and loved ones.
“I’ve seen people grow in wisdom with consistent daily periods of meditation,” Curtis said. Likewise, during discussions, participants have reported reductions in insomnia and anxiety, as well as improvements in work and personal relationships.
Anyone is welcome at the weekly meditation. Donations are encouraged. For more information, contact Rev. Curtis, 312-431-0381 or visit www.redlotussangha.org.
Ten Perfections (dasa pāramiyo) are (original terms in Pali):
Dāna parami: generosity, giving of oneself
Sīla parami: virtue, morality, proper conduct
Nekkhamma parami : renunciation
Pañña parami: transcendental wisdom, insight
Viriya parami: energy, diligence, vigor, effort
Khanti parami: patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
Sacca parami: truthfulness, honesty
Adhitthana parami: determination, resolution
Metta parami: loving-kindness
Upekkha parami: equanimity, serenity