Warning – contemplation in process!

Sign for Secret Garden - a space for quiet contemplation and study

I have been watching the Facebook  posts from chaplains in London, around the UK, from the US and other parts of Europe.

Here at Imperial we have five more days to go till the start of the new academic year.

Five days before the great whirlwind of welcome events, orientation sessions, BBQs and hall parties.

I look forward to the great wave of energy that comes crashing in with the start of a new year, from the arrival and return of thousands of students.

Out for a walk at lunchtime in the early Autumn sunshine I saw this great sign at the entrance to Imperial’s ‘secret garden’. It is a hidden patch of green space in the middle of the city.

I love the idea that our urban, globalized, hyper-active academic community has this officially sanctioned place for ‘quiet contemplation’.

Even if it comes with a warning exclamation mark!

Secret Garden 2

Mindfulness Meditation

DSCN4267 Our Mindfulness Meditation has really taken off this year. A group of students from Imperial and the RCA have met each week since October. We have been slowly working through the exercises in the book ‘Mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.

The book applies the research of psychologists and psychiatrists at the Oxford Mindfulness Center. With a  science evidence base behind it Mindfulness is something that I can use in this scientific college. It also helps that Mark Williams research is linked to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The key feature of  Mindfulness is switching our attention away from thinking and into our senses and body. This is another good thing to be doing in a place that rates mental activity very highly! It is not that thinking is bad for us. Rather that there is more to us than just mental activity. the meditations help us to note all our other sensory experiences – or data. This allows us to move our attention away from unceasing mental activity  to notice the sounds, smells, sights, and sheer physicality of life.

I am going to write more about Mindfulness. It has been great at bringing together people from both religious and philosophical world views. And it has been a fascinating process for me as Christian. Since my own student days I have been drawn to silence, meditation and the contemplative tradition.  But for now there is more information at http://oxfordmindfulness.org/about-mindfulness/

If you are a member of Imperial, RCA or RCM see here for details of sessions.

Risk, Reflect, Repeat

A photo of Soumaya's materials lab taken by Kate Pelen

Someone recently asked about the art in the Chaplaincy prayer room. It was created 18 months ago by Kate Kera Pelen. Kate was the Chaplaincy’s artist in residence for the summer term. We asked her to make some work that would enhance the contemplative atmosphere of the prayer room. It was important that the work was related to the everyday life of people at Imperial. So Kate spent time talking with research scientists. She photographed and sketched in thier labs and workshops – and even had a trip to the mosquito hatchery.

Kate’s own work then took on some of repetitions that she saw practiced by the researchers. She repeated patterns while making slight changes to materials or methods each time. From this experience came the title of the work ‘Risk, Reflect, Repeat’. It sums up the method of experimentation. Within my Christian tradition ‘Risk, Reflect, Repeat’ accurately describes the life of faith. This experimental tag gets us away from the idea that faith is about  ‘certainty’. Rather faith is more like a series of experiments in trust and action, that led to ongoing reflection and are then repeated in new times and places.

There are great photos of Kate’s work in our Prayer Room at http://katekearapelen.net/page7.htm

There is more to read and see about her residence in her blog http://katekearapelen.wordpress.com/

Sound of silence

Silent MetronomesSilent RCA began back in 2009 and grew out conversations with several students from different world views about the place of silence in our lives. One of these conversations about silence was with Josphine Winther from Jewellery. 

 Together we started to meet for 15 minutes of silence each week inviting others to join us. She has recently sent me a link to her work on silence  including her piece from the RCA Show 2010.

Initially Josephine explored the idea of having a sound proof room in the show to give people a taste of silence. However, the slowed down and silent metronomes lured visitors into a deep attentive listening and a special kind of silence in noisy chaos of the Show. We found ourselves leaning in towards the metronomes listening for and waiting for the metronomes to tick. But of course they never did and we keep on listening. Silence and stillness in the midst all the noise and activity of a busy gallery.

 Here’s a video of the the Silent Metronomes on her website.