Silence in the Global Room

At first sight, the Hamilton building’s Global Room seems an unusual space for a mindfulness session. The twelve conjoined flat-screen monitors on the far wall blare out a barrage of current affairs; a tumult of newsrooms, foreign correspondents, world leaders, reporters, prisoners of war. As I sit in the chattering group, I see Xi Jinping addressing the National People’s Congress. I see Theresa May outlining her new, hardened Brexit deal. Grainy footage shows the Skirpal suspects skulking around Salisbury hotels, and a shaky handheld video shows the victims of yet another Syrian chemical attack writhing on the ground.

This visual stimulus is rather pleasing in its own way but seems utterly opposed to the aims of the people who are present. As they begin to drag chairs into a rough circle, I wonder if any newcomers are going to have their experience disrupted. Then, manipulated by some unseen hand, the screens blink off, one by one. The group responds to this subtle cue, and the conversation quietens significantly. One experienced meditator has gotten a head start over everybody else. He sits in front of the bank of blank screens, his head bowed, a red ‘NO SIGNAL’ message displayed above him. The society’s organisers take the initiative and we begin.

The turnout for this inaugural event is downright impressive, and the DU Meditators split us up into four smaller circles of a rough dozen each. In this more intimate situation, we are all encouraged to get to know each other. Everybody gives a short description of their experience meditating, and there is an impressive variety present. A solid half of the room seem to be complete novices, while others more experienced have almost all fallen off the wagon of disciplined, habitual meditation. A common theme is shared; almost everybody here feels that meditation is a valuable tool for dealing with their hectic college lives. We all agree that some calm is needed here in this place of noisy crowds and busy timetables.

The larger circle is reformed, and a society member Logan takes a seat in the centre to lead us through a guided meditation. In a soothing voice he invites us to take up a comfortable position, and gently he prompts us to focus on our breathing. As the large group stills and a hush descends, the bustle of the Hamilton building outside becomes more prominent than ever.

The Academic Registry is out the door, and groups of noisy students continually breeze past the front windows. Multiple times the creaky hinges of the entrance sound loud, but these noises are not disruptions. Logan encourages us to accept these noises; to note their presence, and then to return our attention to our breathing. This is the central lesson to take from this meditation session: not to ignore the bustle of our lives, or to block it out, but to accept the rush and find a place of peace within ourselves regardless.

The twenty minutes pass quickly and soon everybody is blinking and looking around, stretching and smiling at each other. We are invited to enjoy tea and biscuits, and the conversation flows easily. Yet eventually everyone has to leave the Global Room and return to the real world. Fortunately, they are now better equipped to deal with the rush of their lives and they walk outside with peaceful faces. Inside the room, the screens stay blank, and the silence persists.

DU Meditation will be running meditation and mindfulness sessions in the Global Room every Monday at 1pm.