The Bradley Beach Library has offered reading groups, support groups, and now it has added a Zen Meditation group.
Introduced several months ago, the weekly group has developed a following with anywhere from five to 10 individuals regularly attending.
Sharlene Edwards, assistant library director, said the idea to begin such a group was the brainchild of Bradley Beach resident and library patron Elaine Held who took her Buddhist vows about seven years ago.
“Elaine approached me about bringing her Zen Meditation group here. She agreed that it would be free and open to the public. I thought that Saturdays would be perfect because we don’t do much in terms of weekend programming. The group that runs it is happy with the arrangement because it gives them a place to gather every week,” she said.
The Monmouth Zen Circle, Compassionate Ocean Sangha meets every Saturday morning from 9:45 a.m. to noon. There is no cost but according to Held “we ask for a donation to support the sangha, or the group of people who sit Zen Meditation together, but it is not required. The donation is whatever people feel inclined to give or can give at the time.”
Held said that Zen Meditation is “an opportunity we give ourselves to sit quietly together away from the pressures of our everyday life.”
“It involves sitting with our breath, sometimes counting the breaths, coming back to the breath when we realize we are lost in our thinking and being present with this very moment; each breath as best we can, a sanctuary within which we can let go and relax. The idea is to be ourselves, to find ourselves in this very moment every changing and settling on ourselves right where we are,” she continued.
Held said that it is open to anyone, “some who sit on cushions and some in chairs.”
The Monmouth Zen Circle has been around for many years and first started in Elberon in a private home.
“Then we moved to Shrewsbury,” she said. “We finally needed to move again and found the library. They have been gracious in allowing us to use their space. Sharlene helped us and made the arrangements. For now we are very happy to be at the library and hope to continue for a long time.”
Edwards said the program has been successful.
“It has generated alot of interest and attracted individuals who have never practiced meditation,” she said. “It’s different from the programs that we usually have at the library and I think it will continue to bring a new crowd through our doors. I think it’s a win-win situation. Part of the library’s mission is to enlighten and enrich lives by providing programs and resources for free that allows people to explore new interests like Zen Meditation.”
The Zen Meditation class at the library consists of three periods of sitting meditation, each for 30 minutes. In between the three periods there are two periods of walking meditation called kinhin.
“This gives us a chance to stretch our legs and bring over stillness meditation into activity, standing and walking. After the third period, we have a short service: light a stick of incense, make three bows to the Buddha within, then we chant together three different kinds of chants, sometimes alternating them. We end the morning practice with three bows,” she said.
As for the health benefits to class participation, Held said that research supports the possibility that regular meditation “lowers blood pressure and allows us to breathe more deeply and thoroughly slowing our breath and resting our heart rate. This may diminish the negative physical and mental experience of stress as well as helping us develop new and different neural pathways in the brain, in effect making it possible to respond differently to ‘stress’ stimuli,” she said.
“In this way meditators lives seem to be more stable and relaxed reflecting a clarity and openess of mind. It takes time and effort to develop. Still, the research is promising, with regard to the positive health benefits of meditation.”
For those who are interested in beginning their new year with this ancient practice, Held said that the library group offers area residents the opportunity to explore a new interest nearby.
“When one of my teachers started Zen Meditation thirty years ago she had to go to the Bronx to find a group to sit with. Now there are many in New Jersey,” Held said
For more information contact Sharlene Edwards at the Bradley Beach library, 732-776-2995.