Guilford College, a Quaker based liberal arts college in Greensboro, is hosting its 18th annual Religious Emphasis Week. Last night, my neighbor and I attended a free lecture on The Heart & Soul of Islam, presented by Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, one of the world's foremost authorities on Islam and Islamic science and spirituality. For the record, he also most likely knows more about Christianity than most Christian scholars.
The talk was fascinating. I can't begin to explain the level of intelligence that oozes from this man. You can't let your mind wander for a moment while he's speaking or you'll be lost. He jumped from poetry to history to theory to present-day political agendas in the blink of an eye to make a single point. He's educated at MIT and Harvard, has written 50 (Think about that...50!) books and is a professor at George Washington University. We spoke to a professor who had lunch with Dr. Nasr and he told us Nasr must have a photographic memory. Dr. Nasr recommended a 1967 text to this man and told him in what journal he'd find it, who it was edited by, and gave him the page number.
The talk was kind of an Islam 101. I, for example, had no idea of the importance of Jesus in Islamic traditions. It was a lot to take in and my head felt like it was spinning by the time the lecture was over.
But we weren't done. Looking at our programs, my neighbor and I noted that a Buddhist meditation was taking place across campus at 9. "Why not?" we said, and drove there. Our timing was perfect and we got there about 5 minutes before the meditation started. It was led by the religion professor at Guilford, a delightful man named Eric, and attended by us and about 9 very young and fresh-faced college kids.
I've always associated Buddhist meditation with chanting, but that's not what this was. We all sat in a circle on pillows and with eyes open, focused on a point on the floor about 5 feet in front of us. Legs crossed, hands on knees. Even through your eyes on focused on a point, that's not where your FOCUS should be. Instead, you concentrate on the area right below your nose where your breath is coming in and out. The idea is to be mindless... to hold no thought... to follow no thought. Just be.
Eric rang a bell to clear the air and then we sat for 20-25 minutes in silence in the dimly lit room. I loved it. I used to meditate with a group years ago and I find it so much easier than meditating alone. I've never done an eyes open meditation though. That took some getting used to but there were very brief patches (lasting about 4 seconds) where I felt like I was "there."
We didn't get home until close to 11. I had been rather so-so on going to either event. I get into my "It's so far away and it's just easier to stay home" mood. But I'm so glad I went. Intellectually stimulated and spiritually open is not bad for a Thursday night.