Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Peace in Our Time: Rev. Ito (right) and Kygyo Anne Rice at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga.
A Guide to Meditation in Silicon Valley
By Diane Solomon
SILICON VALLEY is home to thousands of people who practice meditation. Vipassana and Tibetan Buddhist meditation are practiced here, as are several varieties of Zen, including a group that meets at Hakone Gardens. Christian meditators practice Taize (the singing of short chants) and centering prayer, and walk local replicas of the Chartres labyrinth. Twelve-step addiction recovery groups use meditation in their programs' 11th step. People suffering from anxiety, chronic pain and other diseases go to hospitals and take meditation-based stress reduction courses. There are Hindu groups, Jewish, Baha'i, Transcendental Meditation and Charity Focus, a group of hip East Asian techies who meet to meditate, network and do good deeds.
"Most meditation techniques are designed to quiet the restless mind," says Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian. She's the spiritual director at the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, an interfaith congregation in San Jose. "Whether it's watching the breath, saying a prayer or walking with awareness, when the mind is concentrated on one point, then it is possible to experience inner peace. It's a tool that allows us to be fully present, and when we do that we discover a depth of inner resources that we often don't realize are there."
Meditation has been a part of Judaism since the time of the prophets. "In addition to relaxing the body," says Bobbi Bornstein, a Jewish meditation teacher, "it connects Jews with the spiritual tradition of their ancestors." Jewish meditation can take several forms: sitting silently; focusing on Hebrew letters, words or phrases; and awareness of breath. It can be done as a separate spiritual practice or as part of a prayer. Chabad of SJose offers classes in Jewish mysticism, kabbalah and Chabad philosophy, which includes meditation. Our guide lists new groups that formed this year as well as Los Gatos Congregation Shir Hadash's monthly Healing and Meditation service.
"Christians have a rich heritage of contemplative prayer of which centering prayer is one form," says Jane Ferguson at St. Mary's Church in Los Gatos. Centering prayer is practiced by Christians of many denominations.
"What centering prayer helps us do," explains Ferguson, "is to open to the reality of the living Christ within us. Christ is within each of us and is available to each of us. We need to have periods each day especially during the craziness of the holiday season where we are resting in God.
"Most people learn to do centering prayer at workshops and retreats and then practice it at home. The groups in our guide offer private instruction and group meditation."
"For people interested in a more structured form of meditation," says Rebecca Kuiken, associate pastor at the Stone Church of Willow Glen. "Taize includes both song, prayer and silence." It is a worship service modeled after the International Ecumenical Community's service in Taize, France.
A minister or cantor leads the repetitive singing of short prayerlike phrases. Flute, piano and stringed instruments often accompany the singing. Candles light up the sanctuary.
There's an intimate and tribal feeling to Taize that children enjoy. Crying babies and restless youths usually soak up the soothing vibe and will follow along or nap during the service. It's offered weekly at the Stone Church during Advent and Lent and monthly during the rest of the year. The Stone Church will hold Taize on Dec. 20 at 6:30pm. The Los Altos United Methodist Church will hold Taize on Dec. 21 at 6:30pm.
Shakyamuni Buddha said 2,500 years ago that he taught only one thing: how to be free from suffering. Buddhists use meditation to train their minds to operate in the present moment, vs. dwelling on the past or the future, or thinking obsessively about personal problems. Called mindfulness, it's meant to lead to the cessation of suffering.
"Meditation is a practice of being awake, of being aware," says Phil D'Anna, a Sister of Notre Dame and a Mountain View Zen Center teacher. "So that we can see how we cause ourselves to suffer so we can watch how to end it. It isn't a state to enter that is pleasant only for the duration of the time you mediate. The relaxation and medical benefits aren't the reason we do it. We are doing it to wake up to our lives."
Buddhist groups offer a variety of ways to wake up. The Shambhala Meditation Group and Gyalwa Gyatso follow Tibet's Vajrayana tradition. Their most famous teacher is the Dalai Lama.
The Zen groups listed offer traditional and nontraditional forms. Rural Jikoji has a Japanese-style meditation hall and shrines, and holds Buddhist ceremonies. Cheri Huber, a Mountain View Zen Center teacher, leads workshops called "There is Nothing Wrong With You: Going Beyond Self Hate." Chung Tai Zen Center has programs for high school students and tweens.
The Tathagata Meditation Center is a residential Vipassana center for Burmese monks. They offer two weekend retreats per month that are geared toward beginners who may drop in for any portion of it. Teachings are in Vietnamese, Burmese and English.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week course that's taught at over 200 U.S. hospitals. It's based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. It uses Buddhist meditation to help people who are suffering from anxiety, chronic pain, work stress, depression and chronic diseases.
"There's a vast body of research showing mindfulness meditation helps people," says Dr. Mark Abramson. He teaches Stanford Hospital's MBSR course. "Many people never try meditation because they don't think they are capable of quieting their minds. The mind doesn't need to stop. Part of the training is to work with the stress in your body and mind. I call it 'a come as you are party.' Come in with your difficulties. The training makes the problem the pathway to the solution."
The hospitals in our guide use the same format and similar content. Courses begin with a free introduction, and have eight weekly meetings and a Saturday retreat. They are all moderately priced.
The Religious Society of Friends known as Quakers broke away from the Church of England in the 1600s. Quakers were among the first in the United States to organize against slavery. They have been leading movements against other unpopular injustices ever since.
Calling it "meeting for worship," they practice silent meditation during their Sunday morning services. "We sit in silence, but if someone is moved to say something, they do," says Amos Brokow, 80. He's the resident caretaker at the San Jose Friends Meeting. "The form of worship practiced today is the same as from the start. One of the things the founders were against was having intermediaries between people and God. There are no collective prayers or any of the ordinary trappings of Christian service."
The San Jose meetinghouse was built in 1885 and moved to Morse Street in 1958. The building and its furnishings have design elements from San Jose's 19th-century agrarian past and the utilitarian 1950s. "We dress casually," adds Brokow. "All are welcomed and we hope that people will respect the silence."
Charity Focus is run by volunteers, solicits no money and uses technology to help people help others. Founded by local high techie Nipun Metta, it is now 7,000 volunteers strong.
There's a long tradition linking meditation and doing good deeds, which Nipun's dad, Dinesh, explains. "Meditation improves concentration and focus so whatever you take up you can do with greater efficiency. We carry a meditative frame of mind through all of our activities so we are fully engaged in whatever we are doing and don't get distracted."
Members and guests meet Wednesdays at the Metta family's home in Santa Clara. They meditate, have a lively group discussion, and then Nipun's mom, Harshida, serves a home-cooked dinner that is eaten in silence. Each month they invite a different tradition's spiritual leader to come and talk about meditation.
Labyrinths have been used since prehistoric times for walking meditation, says First Unitarian Church of San Jose's Marilynn Carstens. "They've been found in caves all over the world." A feature all labyrinths share is one winding path to a center. During the Middle Ages when pilgrimages to the Holy Land became too dangerous, churches laid labyrinths into their stone floors for people to walk instead."
Although France's Chartres Cathedral was one of the last left intact, it was ignored until 1991 when Episcopal priest Lauren Artress began a movement reviving the labyrinth as a nondenominational and cross-cultural spiritual tool. She brought the idea back with her to San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, which led to hundreds being built around the country.
St. Francis Church's labyrinth was built in 2003 by then 16-year-old Emily Zeroun to earn her Girl Scout Gold award. Duon Zeroun, Emily's mother, facilitates its use. "We've had Native American round dances, winter solstice night walks with candles in silence and a summer solstice celebration on it. You can celebrate on it as well as meditate, wherever your spirit takes you. Advent is a perfect time to walk the labyrinth because it's a time for reflection before Christmas. It's a time to give yourself space to reflect on the meaning of Christmas instead of the hustle and bustle of what you haven't done."
The labyrinths listed here are open to the public. Many are based upon Chartres' 11-circuit labyrinth or other ancient designs. Walk slowly or dance; the labyrinth can be a mesmerizing chill-out. For labyrinths open after dark, bring candles and friends.
Where to find them
Chung Tai Zen Center 1031 N. Fair Oaks Ave, Sunnyvale. 408.747.1099. Weekly classes, daily meditation, tween and high school programs.
Floating Zendo Two locations: 408.885.9863. 1041 Morse St, San Jose. Tuesdays 6:30pm, second Saturday 9am. 822 Iowa St, Sunnyvale. Mondays 4pm and Thursdays 5:45pm.
Gyalwa Gyatso Buddhist Center at Dharmagates 980B Rincon Circle, San Jose. 408.792.3460.
Hakone Gardens 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga. 408.356.4019. Sunday Morning Zen with Rev. Enyu Ito 8am-9:30am.
Jikoji Soto Zen Temple and Retreat Center 12100 Skyline Blvd, Los Gatos. 408.741.9562. Daily meditation, instruction, retreats, study group, monthly heart sutra writing class (calligraphy and brush painting).
Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center 292 College Ave, Mountain View. 650.903.1935. Daily meditation and retreats.
Mountain View Zen Center in Palo Alto Tuesday through Thursday 7:15pm and Sunday morning workshops with Cheri Huber. For location call 650.966.1057 or go to www.thezencenter.org.
Silicon Valley Shambhala Meditation Group 465 Castro Street, Mountain View. 650.292.4607. Class Sundays 10am; group meditation Wednesdays 7pm. Meditation intensive Dec. 26-Jan. 1.
Tathagata Meditation Center 1215 Lucretia Ave, San Jose. 408.294.4536. Two weekend retreats each month.
Vipassana San Jose 1041 Morse St, San Jose. 408.255.2783. Wednesdays 7:30pm.
Presentation Retreat Center 19480 Bear Creek Rd, Los Gatos. 408.354.2346. Monthly group and individual instruction.
St. Mary's Church 219 Bean Ave, Los Gatos. Thursdays 4-5pm in the Sanctuary. Tuesdays 7-8pm in the Library. Call Jane Ferguson for introduction 408.354.4061, ext. 123.
St. Thomas Aquinas Church 751 Waverley St, Palo Alto. Call Jean Ramacciotti for days/times 650.494.2496, ext. 31.
From the Hindu Tradition
Ananda Sangha 2171 El Camino Real, Palo Alto. 650.323.3363. Sunday meditation service and Sunday school, group meditation and classes.
Chinmaya Mission (Vedanta) 1050 Park Ave, San Jose. 408.998.2793. Saturday 6:30am; guided meditation lead by Swami Prabodhji, followed by Upanishad study.
Los Gatos Self Realization Fellowship 303 E. Main St, Los Gatos. 408.252.5299. Sunday meditation service and Sunday school, group meditation and classes.
Baha'i Center 945 Willow St, San Jose. 408.277.0510. Meditation and interfaith prayers for humanity and peace, Wednesdays 7:30pm.
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment 1146 University Ave, San Jose. 408.283.0221. Sunday meditation services, meditation classes, daily meditation, workshops for people in 12-step recovery programs.
Charity Focus Call or email for address and RSVP: 408.247.1830 or [email protected] Wednesdays 7:30pm in Santa Clara, meditation, discussion and dinner; www.charityfocus.org.
Presentation Retreat Center 19480 Bear Creek Rd, Los Gatos. 408.354.2346. Meditation, centering prayer, women's group, Christian spirituality group, individual spiritual direction and instruction.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto 505 E. Charleston Rd, Palo Alto. 650.494.0541. Saturdays 9-10:30am, instruction, discussion and supportive ritual.
Chabad of SJose 15405 Los Gatos Blvd, Los Gatos; 408.358.5530. Weekly classes, call for information.
Congregation Beth Am 26790 Arastradero Rd, Los Altos Hills. 650.799.9384. Weekly group begins Thursday, Jan. 12, 7:30pm.
Congregation Etz Chayim 4161 Alma St, Palo Alto. 650.365.6093. Monthly meditative service, first Saturdays 10am -noon. Call for information about Individual instruction and weekly group.
Congregation Shir Hadash 20 Cherry Blossom Lane, Los Gatos. 408.358.1751, ext 2. Monthly healing/meditation service last Fridays 7pm. Call for information about meditation group.
All Saints' Episcopal Church 555 Waverly St, Palo Alto. 650.322.4528. Outdoor wheelchair-accessible.
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment 1146 University Ave, San Jose, 408.283.0221. Outdoor.
City of Sunnyvale On Evelyn across from the Sunnyvale Caltrain station. Outdoor wheelchair-accessible.
First Unitarian Church of San Jose 160 N. Third St, San Jose. 408.292.3858. Hosted with music, Monday-Friday 11:30am-1pm. Indoor.
St. Francis Church 1205 Pine Ave, San Jose. 408.292.7090. Available for rituals and special events. Outdoor wheelchair-accessible.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church 231 S. Sunset Ave, Sunnyvale. 408.736.4155. Outdoor wheelchair-accessible.
Unitarian Universalist Church Outdoor 505 E. Charleston Rd, Palo Alto. 650.494.0541.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
El Camino Hospital 2500 Grant Rd, Mountain View. 650.940.7000, ext. 8745.
O'Connor Hospital 2105 Forest Ave, San Jose. 408.947.2888.
Palo Alto Medical Foundation Clinic 795 El Camino Real, Palo Alto. 650.853.2960.
Stanford Hospital's Center for Integrative Medicine 401 Quarry Rd, Stanford. 650.498.5566.
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Palo Alto Friends Meeting 957 Colorado Ave, Palo Alto. 650.856.0744. Sundays 10:30am-11:30am.
The San Jose Friends 1041 Morse St, Santa Clara. 408.246.0524. Sundays 10-11am.
Los Altos United Methodist Church 655 Magdalena Ave, Los Altos. 650.948.1083. Third Wednesdays 6:30pm.
The Stone Church of Willow Glen 1937 Lincoln Ave, San Jose. 408.269.1593. First Tuesdays 6:30pm, weekly during Advent and Lent.
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