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Dharma Center a place for meditation, education, community

Jan Hearne • Feb 18, 2013 at 9:11 AM

In Western society, much of life is lived on automatic pilot. Some see it as routine, but actually it is action without awareness.

The Appalachian Dharma & Meditation Center in midtown Johnson City hopes to provide an avenue for mindful living by offering a place for meditation, education, guest teachers and community.

Marina Munjal is one of the founding members of the center, president of the board and a longtime practitioner of meditation.

In 2001, she and others wanted a place to meditate in community. They weren’t sure of a need beyond their own, but they said, “let’s just do it,” and were welcomed by Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Gray. The Holston Valley Sangha (or community) came into being.

A year and a half ago, the group moved to the lower floor of an office building at 108 W. 10th Ave., making it into a place for quiet meditation, discussion, learning and healing.

“The core of our orientation is Buddhism, but you don’t have to be a Buddhist to come to the center,” Munjal said.

Who does come? “The community of Johnson City,” she said.

The group ranges in age from student to elders. “Basically it’s people new to the whole experience. They are curious about what (mindfulness or meditation) is,” Munjal said.

There are three types of weekly meditation groups at the center. On Fridays from 7-8:45 p.m., the Western Buddhist Group meets for a 30-minute meditation followed by Tea and Dharma Study.

On Sundays from 5-6:30 p.m., the center offers Zen meditation, and on Tuesdays, from 7-8 p.m. there is Vipassana silent meditation.

Munjal emphasizes meditation is a practice; the more you do it, the easier it gets, though after 10 years, she still has times when she struggles. If that happens, she doesn’t berate herself, she simply observes her thoughts without passing judgment.

“There’s times you can’t get your mind under control, but you keep trying, and in that exercise, you learn,” she said.

Meditation is not an emptying of the mind, but a way of opening the mind, she said, “to be able to see what’s going on when you have a feeling or emotions. This allows you in that moment to stop and see what’s going on. Your body feels the emotion, and you stop before you act.”

Through meditation, you learn to live in the moment, not in the past or the future — to be present, mindful.

“I had heard that for years, to be in the moment. It’s really hard,” said Patty Jo Nachman, the center’s publicity committee chair. “In two years (of meditating) it’s made such a difference in my life. You have the meditation and have the tools to work with in daily life. Whatever bad is happening, I don’t make it worse with my thoughts.

“Buddhism is about gratitude and compassion. It has helped me greatly.”

In the meditation room, there are zafu and zabuton meditation cushions and chairs for those who can’t handle sitting on the floor. It is also all right to stand up and walk around during meditation if sitting becomes too uncomfortable. “Beginners have to adjust to being here,” Munjal said. “We don’t believe you have to be physically in pain. If you need to leave the room, it’s OK.”

A statue of the Buddha surrounded by candles sits on an altar. To bow to the Buddha is a sign of respect, not worship. “Everyone knows he was just a man who taught a way to live,” Munjal said.

The Buddha refers to Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince who was born around 500 B.C. He renounced his wealth and became an ascetic, meditating until he achieved enlightenment. He spent the rest of his life teaching others.

“We’re not trying to convert anybody, but we’re here,” Munjal said. “It’s what you make of it. The teachings will take you as far as you want to go.”

In addition to the weekly meditation groups, the center offers a second Saturday meditation session from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Second Saturday participants practice silent, walking and sound meditation and Dharma Talk (dharma being the teachings of the Buddha). They also practice mindful eating from noon-12:30 p.m.

Debra Brewer, a clinically trained chaplain, is leading “A Mindful Journey Through Grief” on Mondays from 6:30-8 p.m. (Call 737-5162 for more information.)

A Buddhism & Recovery group meets the first and third Saturdays from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Each meeting includes a 10-minute meditation followed by readings and discussion about recovery. Unlike traditional 12-step programs, it does not require a belief in a higher power. (Email Tom at dharma4et@gmail.com.)

For more information about the center, visit www.dharma4et.org.

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