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Explorations in Meditation

Prartho Sereno has been a meditator for the past 30 years. Along with her Masters Degree in Counseling (Bowling Green State University, Ohio), she has also found time to be a teacher, a published poet, a mother and a grandmother. She first taught meditation at Ulster County Community College, and then at SUNY (State University of New York) at Cortland, before being given a similar opening at the prestigious Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

     Currently Prartho is working at The College of Marin, near San Francisco, Ca. (where she also offers classes on mystics). She teaches poetry to children as a visiting poet in schools, and recently (2003) won the Marin Arts Council Individual Artist's Grant in poetry.

     She talks here about her experience at Cornell....

      "For five years - from 1991 to 1996 - I was invited to teach meditation because many students at Cornell University were having trouble handling the stress of life in a highly competitive environment. Yoga had been offered over the past fifteen years or so, but the head of the department felt something was still missing. One day it came to him that it was meditation."
      "Classes were offered through the Physical Education Department and would earn participants some credit towards graduation. The course itself was not mandatory but, having signed up, students needed to attend all but three of the twenty-two sessions (each lasting one hour, fifteen minutes), which were offered twice a week.
      "The students were pretty much half women and half men and were a mixture of nationalities. Apart from Americans, there were Indians, Koreans, and Eastern Europeans."
      In 1991 Prartho offered one class of twenty-two sessions called "Explorations in Meditation." By the second semester, there was a demand for two sessions, the classes always attracting the maximum of twenty-five. Participants were generally freshmen, so eighteen to nineteen-year-olds, but even graduate students and professors took part in the course, for their own personal growth.
      The courses proved so popular that participants often signed up to repeat them.

      "I decided that there were so many misconceptions about what meditation is - namely that it is sitting down and making your mind stop - that I started on the very first day of each course with the Osho Kundalini method.
      "I wanted to shake things up - and not just physically! I think Kundalini is a natural. It works for almost everyone - first try! That's been my experience. It's not that difficult to do and, if you put yourself into it, by the third stage you are quiet; something changes in your mind, a quietness enters. That was what I could see, and that's what the feedback was.
      "I always tried not to make meditation serious. There was laughing together when I explained the shaking and dancing of Kundalini. The yoga teacher, who became my good friend, took the class, and said, 'The things you get people to do are just amazing - I don't know how you do it!'
      "But to me the active meditations are natural; they're what children do everywhere - for example, gibberish or whirling or humming, or even shaking, the moving from one emotion to another very rapidly, and so on.

      " Some students did struggle. They had an idea of what meditation should be, and they felt it wasn't happening. There was one: he was an exchange student from Korea or Japan - he was familiar with Buddhism - and he complained often that he wasn't "getting it." And then one day we did the No-Mind meditation. It was the first time I had ever introduced gibberish to a sophisticated group of intellectuals, so I was a little nervous!
      "I use the tape where Osho directs one inward after the gibberish, at the end. When I rang the bell to denote it was over, he was still sitting there. Everyone else left - he was still sitting. Finally, another class was coming in, so I went over to him and touched his leg gently. He opened his eyes, and there was so much peace in them.
      "I said, 'It was good, huh?' He just nodded...and never complained again!
      "Towards the end of the series, I would bring in Dynamic. I felt the participants needed to trust me, each other, and the process before I would bring in Dynamic. I think there is a lot of fear around insanity. I think that is the main issue for people thinking about doing Dynamic - that you might touch on your own insanity, and, having touched on it, be lost in it, with the fear of 'What if I can't get back again?'
      "But because the trust was there...and because in a way they had already tasted craziness in the gibberish they weren't as afraid.
      "In fact, the issue for some people was more the physical effort required. I had to present it in the afternoon, and I have to say I don't think that is the optimal time of day to do Dynamic. It's created for the early morning, but unfortunately we couldn't do it then.
      "I think there was also the fear of being total that perhaps inhibited them. What's the fear? Perhaps that if you give everything you will be empty... and we have been taught to be afraid of emptiness.
      "By the end of the course everybody had found one or two techniques they loved, and some loved Dynamic."

What follows are selected comments from some of Prartho's students at Cornell University, Spring 1995 and 1996...

"I think everyone needs this type of course in order to find oneself again."

"I basically expected to learn how to manage stress. I did learn that but more importantly, I found insight."

"Things I loved most about this class were the instructor, relaxing at least once a week, and finding a place within me that I didn't know existed."

"This course should be required for all students!"

"The best thing about this course was the success of the meditations - the achieved state of mind."

"I found this course exciting...It exceeded my expectations."

"It was a wonderful experience and taught me quite a bit."

"This class is very useful, informative, and eye-opening."

"I loved this class. It gave insight and was invigorating. I learned a lot about subjects I never took seriously."

"I learned things that I was able to utilize in just about every aspect of my life."

"I expected to experience new things - Wow! Did I!"

"I expected to learn how to sit and breathe. My expectations were exploded by learning so many exciting methods."

"The best thing that happened to me in this course was getting over the hurdle of self-consciousness."

"This class helps one become aware of one's own being so its benefit is life-long."

"Everyone was allowed to be just themselves without being afraid. ...This class is a good thing."

"I wanted an introduction to a new way of living - I got it!"

"Everyone should take this course. It is excellent and opens your mind to new things."

"The best thing about this course was the uplifting feeling it left me with after each class."

"I've learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed each class."

"It broadens your mind and gives insights into things not talked about in other classes."

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