Clear your mind of all your expectations about museums and what they are. Clear your mind of definitions that say real museums are not housed in a small storefront in Silver Spring, hard by the turnoff to the Capital Beltway, in a small ’60s-vintage office building with a water cooler by the glass office door. There are some testimonials and certificates hanging in the glassed-in bulletin board by the door, as well as a text that begins, “We hope your visit here will offer you a unique experience of peace and power.”
The Meditation Museum, founded in 2009 (with a second branch in Tysons), offers a space not for things to accumulate, but in which things can happen: Its objects are prompts, meant less to draw your focus than to reflect it back onto you. It offers fewer objects than most museums — small displays devoted to five of the eight major world religions listed on one of its wall posters (Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) — and more answers, implicit in the PowerPoint-like texts about the ways that meditation can improve your life.
Off a curtained alcove where you can leave your shoes is a “quiet room,” a chapel by any other name, with two seats on the floor facing an altar that bears flowers and an image of undefined warm light. Outside, the main room is focused on a large dais, like a stage, microphone at the ready. The Meditation Museum’s main activity is hosting workshops and events to spread its word.
“Museum” is an odd term for a space that’s essentially designed for a kind of activity: The Meditation Museum espouses a brand of indefinite spirituality predicated in part on the idea that all major religions gravitate toward the same concepts of light and love, embodied in an indefinite supreme being. Its founder, Sister Jenna, is a charismatic activist who leads the local branch of Brahma Kumaris, a spiritual organization started in India in the 1930s, founded by a wealthy businessman who established a hierarchy of female-only leaders It claims more than 8,000 retreat and meditation centers and a million followers worldwide.
Brahma Kumaris encourages its followers to rise at 4 a.m. for 45 minutes of meditation; celibacy and vegetarianism are among its other tenets — more information being available on Sister Jenna’s online webcast “America Meditating.”
There are many questions one could ask of a meditation museum. Is meditation necessarily linked to spiritual practice? Is it “better” in a museum than with, say, one of the many smartphone apps that have sprung up (including one of the Meditation Museum’s own)? What kind of organization is Brahma Kumaris, and does one need to be wary of the accommodating friendliness of the man who receives visitors while working on a private session and who welcomes everyone into a brief guided meditation?
But the meditation gently silences questions in a haze of music and reassuring words as it welcomes you into a soothing cloud of higher consciousness and then releases you, relaxed and alert and unquestioning, and feeling liberated as you leave the building.
The Meditation Museum, 9525 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. meditationmuseum.org.