Graduate Student Promotes Meditation, Locally and Globally

Posted: September 20, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: September 17, 2010 at 3:18 pm

By Devon Madison

Samantha Doak. Photo by Evan Cantwell

While college campuses are often seen as insulated ivory towers, sometimes they can feel like strongholds of stress for all members of the campus community.

Nationwide, most universities are abuzz with the usual tension-inducing suspects: cramming sessions, staff meetings, all-nighters, dissertations and publication deadlines, to name a few.

Mason campuses are no different. But does all academic progress and productivity have to come with the price tag of overwhelming pressure?

Not necessarily, says Samantha Doak, a graduate student who is pursuing a master of arts in interdisciplinary studies with an individualized concentration in creative consciousness and transformation.

“While we can’t change stressful events in our lives,” she says, “practices such as meditation can change how we react to them.”

The certified yoga and meditation teacher has been practicing and studying various approaches in the healing arts for more than 12 years. While an undergraduate at Mason, Doak was invited by Al Fuertes, one of her New Century College professors, to lead a meditation session in one of his classes.

Doak enjoyed it so much that she asked him if she could lead mediation sessions in the college on a regular basis. He took her up on it. She currently leads on-campus meditation classes, which are available to all students, faculty and staff, through Mason’s Center for Consciousness and Transformation.

Finding Inner Peace

Doak, at top center, leads a meditation class at Mason. Photo by Evan Cantwell

“People are stressed out and naturally become anxious, which can be a normal response to pressure. This can be a contributing factor to what clinicians refer to as mental and social disorders,” says Doak, who completed her bachelor’s degree in integrative studies earlier this year.

“When we meditate and develop an awareness of stillness, we realize the sense of peace inside, and as a result we become in tune with our basic nature of inner peace. This expands to the remaining moments of our days and nights, and the times when we’re not sitting down in proper meditation, we can come back to that place of inner peace and tranquility that naturally dwells in us all.”

The sessions are appropriate for beginners and seasoned meditators alike, and have been well received both for their convenience and their content. Heather Hare, associate director of the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement, finds Doak’s weekly meditation class a great way to unwind in the middle of a demanding workday.

“Having the opportunity to take a small amount of time each week for guided meditation has helped me to center myself in the midst of a my hectic and busy schedule,” says Hare. “Samantha welcomes newcomers and regular participants each week with a check-in, which fosters a sense of community through the practice. She is a talented teacher.”

Michael Lilburn, a senior majoring in integrative studies in arts and culture, has been attending the classes for about a year. “I love (Doak’s) approach to meditation,” he says. “Her sessions have added to my depth of understanding as to what meditation truly is.”

Taking a Global Perspective

Photo by Evan Cantwell

Doak, who first explored meditation as a path to her own healing, believes that peace starts within each individual. But she also likes to take a global perspective.

In the summer of 2009, Doak traveled to the Philippines on a peace-building mission with Fuertes and other students. She had the opportunity to work with grassroots peace builders from across the globe. She worked with nongovernmental organizations, victims of armed conflict, high-ranking military officials and representatives of opposing groups.

She also volunteered as an intern at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute to develop a prototype program using meditation on inner peace as a catalyst for trauma healing and peacebuilding while integrating the framework of conflict transformation modalities.

“The main concept I worked with was very simple – peace begins within. Whatever we have going on inside of us we reflect externally. If people are living with inner conflict, they project conflict. When we live peacefully on the inside, it will have a rippling effect on the world around us.” The intention was to integrate this concept into basic functions of the peace process, such as peace education, peace advocacy, interfaith dialogue and trauma healing.

This past year, Doak found yet another venue to promote inner tranquility. As a fellow for the Shinnyo-en Foundation, she worked on Six Billion Paths to Peace, a project designed to inspire people to focus on their interconnectedness and reflect on their contributions to a personal path to peace.

For her part in the project, Doak formed a creative healing and transformation group for intercultural, intergenerational and interfaith dialogue. The goal was to promote personal transformation by teaching people how to integrate healing and meditative practices into their daily lives. From what Doak observed, the project was successful.

“In the beginning, people were shy and not as forthcoming,” she says. “But over time, people began to open up about how it’s been so transformative for them.”

Doak, who plans to complete her master’s degree next year, hopes to earn a PhD and eventually open her own healing center.

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