UW News

March 4, 2010

Mindfulness group relaxes, refreshes with meditation during lunch hours

Editor’s Note: There are many organizations open to the UW faculty and staff. Some have been around for years and some are new. Some are structured groups with officers and committees; some are much more informal. University Week provides a space for campus groups to publish their information, and from time to time we introduce you to one of the listed groups. This week we offer information about the UW Mindfulness Sangha.

What does the organization do?

The UW Mindfulness Sangha meets every Tuesday during the lunch hour. There is a 35-minute meditation, followed by a check-in among members and if time permits, a reading from a relevant book or article. “The meetings are about giving people some time to practice their meditation with a group,” said co-founder Denis Martynowych, principal planner in the Office of Planning and Budgeting.

The word “sangha” in the group’s title comes from the Pali language and means community. Most of the group’s members come from the insight meditation, or Vipassana tradition. Vipassana means to see things as they really are, and Martynowych describes the technique this way:

“At first you still your mind, often by placing your attention on something in the present moment. Focused attention on breathing or sensations in the body is a common approach. Since the technique helps you to see life as a constantly changing process, it becomes easier to accept pleasure and pain, fear and joy, and all aspects of life with increasing balance and equanimity. Out of this balanced, clear seeing emerges increasing wisdom and compassion.”

After the meditation, members have the opportunity to share what’s going on in their practice or their lives in general. Then if there is time at the end they do a reading that’s relevant to meditation and discuss it. Right now the group is reading A Path With Heart, by Jack Kornfield.

Who can join?

Although mindfulness meditation is associated with Buddhism, Martynowych said it isn’t important for group participants to identify as Buddhists. It is, however, important that they have enough experience with meditation that the group can have a common language. “It’s important to note that this isn’t an introductory group,” he said. “These are people who already have some meditation practice and are wanting some support.”

How did the group start?

Martynowych expressed interest in starting a sitting group and was referred to Bonnie Duran, an associate professor of health services who had been through a community dharma leader training program. “She was instantly enthusiastic about it, and I think it was her enthusiasm that made me say, why not,” Martynowych said.

The two gathered some other people they knew who meditated and began meeting about 11 months ago. The group has met weekly since then.

What are the benefits?

“It’s been especially useful for me to have a place to pause and slow down in the middle of my work day,” Martynowych said. “I find that it has a positive effect on the rest of my day. I think better. It’s a way for me to refresh my mind. It’s a way for me to sort the wheat from the chaff and realize that if I’m relaxed and I have good attention that I make better decisions and I just function better.”

He added that having the personal connection of the group makes it more likely that he will take the time to meditate.

How can I get involved?

Anyone interested in the group should contact Martynowych, denism@u.washington.edu, or Duran, bonduran@u.washington.edu. “We’ll talk to them about what they’re looking for, and if it’s a good match, we’ll invite them to come,” Martynowych said.