August 11, 2008

Meditation Center Lauds Peace, Quiet


PECATONICA - Behind black entrance gates are buildings and artesian wells, an oasis in an expanse of farmland. The 20-acre grounds of the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center are quiet except for birds and whispering winds.

The center opened in 2003 and offers 10-day classes throughout the year. Five years later, the courses often are filled with more than 40 people. Classes are open to everyone, and harmony and peace are the goals achieved through breathing techniques and focusing on bodily sensations. The nonsectarian meditation technique does not involve mantras, gurus, gods or goddesses. It does, however, involve moral precepts.

Once participants enter the site, they are asked to leave behind religious objects, intoxicants, tobacco, iPods, cell phones and reading or writing materials. Participants also are asked to observe the "Noble Silence," or to abstain from talking.

Kate Anderson, center manager for Pecatonica, said only then can people understand what silence really is. Students are asked to suspend other forms of prayer or worship, meditation or yoga. Anderson said this is advised in order to fully experience and understand Vipassana and not impede upon the meditation. She said monks, priests and nuns from a variety of religions have taken courses at Vipassana meditation centers.

"Everyone who comes here, they have their own religion - they're Jewish, or they're Catholic or Muslim," Anderson said. "They come here to learn this technique." Students learn techniques to change their reactions in daily life from anger, negativity, misery and other stressful situations to positive ones, Anderson said.

Days begin with the low resonating of a Burmese-style gong at 4:30 a.m. Each day ends at 9:30 p.m. Students are required to meditate in the meditation hall three times a day, with other time slotted for meditation either in the hall or their room throughout the day.

"It's like anything else; it's like working out or studying for class - the more you practice, the more you do it, the more familiar you'll be," she said.

Inside the kitchen are shelves stocked with multiple varieties of beans, soy and rice milk. These are some of the ingredients for the vegetarian meals prepared by volunteers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"All they need to do is bathe if they want, Anderson said. "You might go on vacation, but the whole time you're busy, you're running. When you think about it, what a rare opportunity for someone to come here and be completely taken care of."

Once inside the dorm, shoes are slipped off and placed in cubbies to keep the dorm clean as well as keep noise to a minimum. Each student has their own room, and every two rooms share a bathroom and sink.

White walls enclose a single twin bed, white chair and window. There are no decorations and no distractions.

"Rarely in life do we have this time to really look within ourselves and find out who we are," she said.

S.N. Goenka brought Vipassana meditation from his home country of Burma (now Myanmar).


(c) 2008 State Journal Register. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.