Grande, USA -- The pungent smell of incense wafts through a room
shaded by thin reed blinds. In that room people sit in a circle on
chairs and pillows strewn on the floor.
discuss their thoughts following meditation.
Members of the Sangha of the Rio Grande Valley practice Zen
meditation at a group meeting. By KEMBERLY GONG
The people are members of
the Sangha of the Rio Grande Valley, a band of diverse people who
meet, not always regularly, to meditate and discuss Eastern
Their common thread is
Zen meditation and the pursuit of mindfulness. Mindfulness, the
shift of focus to the present, is the path to a more peaceful
living, members of the group say.
pockets of people in the Valley are discovering alternative ways of
healing, shunning a caffeinated life for a calmer existence.
Whether they practice Zen meditation, yoga and other forms of
physical, spiritual or mental healing, they are finding there are
outlets in the Valley to help them do so.
Zen community is not large, said Mark Matthews, who founded the group
11 years ago. He said he did it in the hope of finding others with an
interest in meditation as a way to improve life.
Rio Grande Valley, Zen meditation may seem as vague and unattainable
as the gently curling smoke from a stick of incense. But its appeal
has spread to some Valley residents.
who participate appreciate the dedicated few that keep the group
members said they were surprised when they found others interested in
Eastern thought in the Valley.
"Believe me, I thought I was the only one in Texas," said Noe Reyes,
the owner of a tree nursery in Edinburg. The most recent meeting was
held at his home.
built a Japanese garden and a teahouse in part of his yard to give him
a serene place to meditate, and has been meditating for about six
years. He said it’s helped him control anger and stay calm in tough
believe that because of my meditation, I am more calm about things and
I am better able to keep my cool a lot more than I used to under
stressful situations," he said.
Jennifer Klement, a member of the group for six years, said it was
important to have meetings with others who practice.
like a church: you need a Sangha, you need the support of others," she
said, and a place to discuss the teachings and the practice of
is a Sanskrit word that means a community, either lay or ordained,
that practices Buddhism.
group creates a small community of people with similar beliefs.
find the group by word of mouth, while others find it on the Internet.
Sangha was founded by Matthews, a former Catholic priest, and Sister
Mary Catherine Griffin, who were both inspired by a book called "Being
Peace" by Thich Naht Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who has published books
on peace, Buddhism and meditation.
devoured the book," Matthews said. "It was so wonderful to be exposed
to the practice of mindfulness."
group was started with a few core members, most of whom have left,
though others have filled the spots.
group has taken many different turns down its path, sometimes meeting
every two weeks and at other times, meeting every two months.
kind of naturally meet," Matthews said. "We go through cycles."
Regardless of the numbers attending, Matthews said the group
connection is important.
important to have a group of people who are practicing here. It’s a
support. When we get together, we have questions and we can share
those experiences," he said.
Lovegren, who recently attended her first meeting with the group, said
she was happy to find others who shared her commitment to meditation.
felt myself sitting less, and I wanted the support of others who were
doing this," she said.
"Support deepens your own practice," she said.
Lovegren attended with her husband James, and three of her children.
group focuses on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the primary
principles of Buddhism, which is the elimination of suffering.
believe that by focusing on the present, happiness can be achieved.
Members focus their energy by deep breathing and clearing their mind
of "all of the things that our minds do that prevent us from being in
the present," such as thinking about events in the past or future.
Matthews said some people may be hesitant to try meditation because
they are not familiar with it or don’t know how to do it.
"Meditation is so simple," he said.
really training the mind to calm down, to become peaceful."
said it was "very practical. It’s not very strange or mystical."
said it is not mandatory to sit in a certain position. The important
thing is to focus on breathing in and out, he said.
Focusing on one thing helps one to relax and "find peace within
group members said they were familiar with meditation or eastern
thought before joining the group.
continue to meditate daily, while meeting occasionally to discuss
their practices and study a facet of Buddhist teachings.