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Rylee Gallagher

Quiz Section AC

Observation 2

The setting was Mercer Island Congregational Church. The people all sat on mats

with their legs tucked every which way beneath them. This was not a normal Christian

ceremony; in fact, it was not really Christian at all. The event I chose to observe was a

Buddhist day of meditation. I watched as I took notice of the things both similar and

different to the way of life that I was used to.

It was Saturday morning and the participants all looked tired but strangely happy

to be there. The church had two levels that appeared to be the same as any other church.

There were a few rooms up top that were designated the quiet rooms but the bottom

floor consisted of mainly an open lobby. The main level was filled with flimsy chairs and

mats that lined the floor. The people were a good mix of those in their mid-forties (about

half) and college students (about half). Most of the older meditators were white and

looked somewhat well off by the way they dressed. Also, many of the college students

did not pay the full-recommended amount of dana because they could not afford it.

These students appeared to be of more diverse nationalities than the older participants.

There was a stark contrast between the type of middle aged, upper middle class

participants and the broke college student participants. However, both had higher

education in common. There were slightly more females than males. No one really talked

to one another. Silence was overstated in this church.

This event was an all-day meditation seminar. We sat in the chairs and calmed our

breathing. Then, our instructor would start to talk. All the people were silent, almost

eerily so, listening to the instructors words telling them to start the sitting meditation.
Everyone seemed to do this, even the beginners, without being told (implicit norm). The

people on the mats sat very still, their legs crossed and their backs taut. They each had or

did something a little different from the other. Some had bamboo pads; some had crystals

by their mats; and some had special cushions to sit on. However, in the back, most of the

beginners sat in the chairs identically and without much diversity. While the practitioners

in the front appeared unfazed by this half-hour meditation, the back appeared to become

restless. There appeared to be a slight division between the experienced practitioners and

the beginners. Mostly, the beginners sat in the chairs and the wakefulness veterans sat

cross-legged on the mats in front. Many of the interactions were limited between the

separate groups of beginners and apprentices. Then, the instructor would tell everyone to

go into walking meditation. Everyone rose, without a word, and began the walking

meditation. Walking meditation consists of many different paths to follow. Often, people

walk into each others paths and, through an unspoken language, seem to navigate who

should continue and who should stop. Finally, at the end of the meditations, the instructor

used a bell, rung three times, to initiate the end of one and the transition of another.

Anthropologically, this event, although unfamiliar to me, could be viewed as

something familiar (an etic account) by examining it in detail. For example, meditation

could be compared to a Christian prayer. Many people have had experience praying

before and know what that entails. Essentially, they both do similar things. One reflects

inwardly on self and the other hopes for change in an individuals life. Also, it was

interesting how there were divides in age and in economic status. The older people

seemed to be better off financially (probably because they were not trying to support

themselves through college) while the younger were less advantaged. This was not the
only barrier between the two. The older also appeared to be more often white than the

younger and more often sitting on mats in the front than they as well. The clothes they

wore were all very comfortable but also sporty like REI and Patagonia. There were only a

few amongst them that appeared to be descended from a country where Buddhism was

part of its history. This was significant because it represents a cultural heritage, to the few

who identified with historically Buddhist countries, passed down through generations.

Even though they are living in America, they still either keep up with the religion from

their home country or embrace their ancestral history. Also, the opposite is true for

Caucasian Americans. Many of them are probably 1st generation Buddhists that never

practiced meditation growing up. This shows the slow diversification of the States. More

and more, especially with the educated, people are deciding their own religions based

neither from their heritage nor their upbringing. This is a detail many can identify with,

even if unfamiliar with the rituals of Buddhism. Many of those who practice the sect of

Theravada Buddhism in the U.S. do so as either immigrants who continue the tradition

from their families or American born who find their own sense of what religion means to

them. Also, every religion has a place to worship or pray just as Buddhists usually have a

temple or meditation center. Finally, the wakefulness practiced in the day of meditation

could be thought of as more than just religion but as a way of focusing your mind for the

better. This is something seen in more than just religions but also in psychological

studies. It is spiritual and psychological.

Observing a day of meditation revealed the universal ideas present in both

Buddhism and many other religions, the vast scope of choice bringing people (of many
different backgrounds) together, and the many benefits of developing mindfulness as an

intellectual endeavor.