Meditation Leader Advises Followers To Seize the Moment

Tara Brach draws about 300 people weekly to sessions at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda.
Tara Brach draws about 300 people weekly to sessions at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda. (By Naomi Brookner -- The Gazette)
By Erin Donaghue
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tara Brach calls her Wednesday-night meditation sessions an exercise in "being present." It seems like a simple concept, but the idea is a goal that many meditation practitioners work toward.

Each week, hundreds of practitioners walk quietly into the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation and take their places on chairs or on raised platforms. Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, leads the sessions. She gently reminds the group to let go of the day's events and future plans and to try to focus on what they are experiencing at that moment.

"Meditation is about learning how to be very awake," said Brach, 54, a Great Falls resident. "We spend a lot of time in a dream, lost in our thoughts. Meditation helps wake us up from the trance."

The group has been around for about 15 years and has grown from a weekly gathering of 20 to 30 to 200 to 300. People from various walks of life are attracted to meditation because they are looking for a way to remember what's important, Brach said.

"It's so easy to talk on the phone and e-mail on the BlackBerry and put dishes away at the same time," said essayist Barbara Graham, 60, of Washington, who attends Brach's classes. "It's an antidote to this high-speed, techno world where our awareness is so fragmented . . . there's a quality of burnout and overload that happens with all this stuff thrown at us."

Insight meditation -- also known as Vipassana or mindfulness meditation -- is one of many popular styles, including Zen Tibetan and transcendental meditation. Centers in the area include the Ka Shin Zendo in Chevy Chase, which teaches Zen meditation, and the Bodhi Path Center in Potomac, which conducts classes based on Tibetan Buddhism.

A common misconception about meditation, Brach said, is that the practice is about getting rid of thoughts. Rather, it's about accepting thoughts but trying not to be overtaken by them, she said.

For Grace Spring, an artist who lives in Chevy Chase, the lesson carries over into her everyday life. "When things come up that are upsetting to me, I just remember to take a deep breath," she said.

"I recognize the anger, but I don't have to be caught up with it," Spring said.

The sense of belonging to a spiritual community is often what keeps people coming back, practitioners say. "When you walk into the room and there are 300 people there, I think that really tells you something," Graham said. "I think people are really just looking for a way to be at peace."

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