The sound of silence

- John Threlfall

It's 12:15 on a Wednesday, and I'm sitting in a small room in the Interfaith Chapel with about 15 various staff members. We're about to spend the next 20 minutes sitting in complete silence, but not as a protest or some kind of exercise: it's simply the weekly staff meditation session. And while it may sound silent, organizer Henri Locke takes pleasure in describing it as a countercultural activity.

"Work is about doing, but meditation is just about being," says Locke, the United Church Chaplain for Multifaith Services. "In the workplace, I hear so many people say, 'I'm so busy, I have a ton of stuff to do'—it's almost like a badge of honour. But to say you're going to leave work and spend some time just sitting in silence . . . well, some people might think you don't have enough work to do. Yet when it comes to finding work-life balance, meditation is a very positive thing."

While Locke has been running student meditation sessions for the past 20 years, the Wednesday staff sessions have only been running for two years now. Aimed at reducing stress, nurturing inner awareness and fostering mindfulness, these weekly non-denominational meditations attract a rotating group of about 20 staffers. "Having a regular meditation practice increases creativity and performance—it's like you're giving your mind a rest," says Locke.

Not that Locke has his own life in perfect balance. "Just this morning, I was stressfully trying to get a program together about meditation and dealing with stress. I was just chuckling at myself—observing all my stress reactions as I was putting together this program about stress reduction."

Counsellor David O'Brien, who works at Counselling Services, has been attending the staff sessions for the past year. “It can be challenging—there are always things that come up—but it’s important to make the time,” he says. "The Wednesday circle means a lot to me; it’s a little oasis of peace where I make contact with stillness.”

Miranda Harvey agrees. As assistant to the director of campaigns in Development, and a regular meditation participant for the past two years, she certainly keeps more than busy. "I’m running all over the place from work to volunteering to taking classes and these sessions have helped me to manage my stress a lot better," she says. "The biggest struggle is always finding the time to meditate, which is why it’s great that it’s offered here at the university. It’s a lot easier for me to use my lunch hour to head over to chapel to meditate than fit it in at some other point in my day.”

Locke feels any staff or faculty member would benefit from the weekly sessions. "The whole beauty of meditation is just about being—but work is about doing. Most of our thoughts are about the stuff we're going to do, we didn't do or should have done . . . . Seldom do we actually practice simply being. But when we do, it has a wonderful rejuvenating quality about it. That's what meditation does—encourages a mindfulness practice of just resting and being."

See Henri Locke's webpage for a full schedule of on-campus meditation sessions

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Keywords: staff, meditation

People: Henri Locke

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