Eduardo Zambrano lights a candle that stands in front of statues of the Buddha, Hindu deity Ganesha and Tara, a Buddhist savior goddess.
He bows his head slightly toward the statues, his palms together. He then sits down in the corner of the room on a black cushion.
After lighting a stick of incense, he lightly hits a bell three times to signify the start of the meditation.
This scene doesn't take place in an ashram. He's in a home of a South Bend neighborhood.
Zambrano is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame.
Along with his wife, local yoga instructor Machelle Lee, he has a space the size of an enclosed patio behind his home where weekly hour-and-a-half meditation sessions take place every Monday. The group that meets is called the South Bend Dharma Center.
Zambrano has practiced meditation for the past 10 years.
"Meditation became a way of dealing with stress further and also for seeking a meaning in life and role in the world," Zambrano said.
Zambrano discovered meditation while he was a graduate student at Cornell University. He thought it would be a good idea to try it because he felt especially stressed at the time.
In the mid '90s, there used to be a group called the South Bend Zen Group that met regularly for several years. Zambrano used to be a part of the group.
However, while Zambrano was on a trip to Venezuela, his home country, the group disbanded. Zambrano decided once he returned to South Bend he would start another meditation group.
The South Bend Dharma Center has been active since February.
Those who attend the group are of different experience levels and religious affiliations.
Russ Curran, of South Bend, began meditation in the 1980s when he was hoping for a career in professional football.
It was during this time that Curran also became interested in Buddhism. Though he was raised Catholic, Curran is now a practicing Buddhist.
The meditation group Zambrano started has helped him continue his meditation. He enjoys the atmosphere of the center.
"It's so much nicer to know other people are meditating," he said.
The meditation the group practices is zazen, which is particular to Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism relies on meditation as a way of achieving enlightenment.
Every Monday, about nine people attend the meditation sessions. There is no charge to attend the sessions, though donations are accepted.
Zambrano makes cushions and pillows available for everyone. People sit around the room as Zambrano is seated at the front left of the room.
The class begins with the recitation of Buddhist precepts. These precepts are phrases that advocate moral codes.
Then there is a 30-minute silent meditation session, followed by walking meditation.
Zambrano said people often think meditation is about emptying the mind or having trance-like experience. Neither the former nor the latter are true.
"If the mind is full of thoughts of this or that nature (pleasant, unpleasant, whatever), meditation is about witnessing them, not about trying to make them go away," he said.
The point is to deal with stress, not eliminate stress.
"You don't want to change stress because that will create more stress," Zambrano said.
Sondra Byrnes, of South Bend, has practiced meditation for the past 20 years and is also a practicing Buddhist. She recently moved from Chicago, and Zambrano's meditation group has helped her continue her meditation as well.
"(Meditation) is a nice way to quiet yourself down," she said.
In the future, Zambrano hopes anyone interested in meditation in the Buddhist tradition will be able to join the South Bend Dharma Center in the path to awakening.
"Practicing together in a center can be of tremendous value towards this pursuit," he said.
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