Meditation on Campus: An Interview With Dr. Wayne-Daniel Berard

Dr. Wayne-Daniel Berard in prayer shawl.

The practice of meditation has roots in ancient times. Over thousands of years, meditation has become more of a structured practice and has evolved in both Eastern and Western worlds. Over 5,000 years ago history records the practice of meditation with Indian scripture called the tantras. So while meditation may seem new-age or new-fangled, it’s not — it’s (almost) as old as dirt in Eastern culture. For our Western culture, meditation began to gain popularity in the mid-20th century.

The benefits of meditation are numerous, ranging from treating depression to reducing blood pressure. Meditation techniques have been used in the treatment of drug/alcohol addictions, alongside smoking cessation programs, and in reducing stress overall. Those with lower stress levels tend to make clearer choices and have better self-esteem. While meditation should not be used as a substitute for traditional medicine, the benefits do speak for themselves.

One of the first professors I got to know here at Nichols College was Dr. Wayne-Daniel Berard. My first day in class, within the first few minutes, we meditated. Yes — you read that right. We meditated. While at first I felt odd, it was not long before I began to relish those few minutes of class two times each week. I’ve had headaches go away completely after meditating for just a few moments. I have been able to relax and rest my mind for just a few minutes but it has often felt like an hour. I’m a convert! I firmly believe in meditation on campus.

Dr. Berard meditates peacefully at the Providence Zen Center, location of previous student/personal/professional retreats

Dr. Berard believes that education is enhanced and students are empowered through meditation. He wrote an article on meditation as a teaching tool, complete with student testimonies, which can be viewed here:

I encourage all readers to view the link above, as it goes deeper into the benefits of using meditation as a teaching tool. There’s definitely a benefit to learning how to relax. College is hard work, and sometimes this is overlooked in all the craziness. I know from personal experience that being able to meditate during exams week was something I can carry through life. Stressed out? Meditate! It works.

Please enjoy the following ten questions as answered by Dr. Berard.

1) How long have you been at Nichols College? I am currently in my 28th year at Nichols. (I have been teaching altogether for 39 years!)

2) What led you to start meditation in the classroom? It began with the dreaded Expository Writing class! I had been teaching it as I had been taught to (as a TA at URI). Things were fine; my evaluations were strong. The only thing was the writing didn’t get much better! I didn’t want to teach just another pro forma requirement. So I took a close look at the course. I could see that my students were bright and capable, only THEY didn’t see it! So I decided to switch the focus of the course to “Writing as a Vehicle of Self-Discovery.” In my own life, meditation was a crucial means of self-discovery. So I developed a curriculum that employed meditation to get past the self-image of inadequacy, as a writer, student, and person. It was wildly successful! The writing improved drastically and students were engaged!
3) How long have you been doing meditation on campus? Soon, students in my other classes who had been in my Expos class were asking, “Aren’t we going to meditate?” I began opening all my classes with meditation, on the grounds that stress and anxiety are terrible inhibitors to learning.
When I became Director of Spiritual Life and Chaplain (in 2005), I decided to offer a weekly meditation session for the entire community. (Stress knows no classroom walls! πŸ™‚
4) Tell me about Meditation Group. Meditation group meets on Mondays during the 1:30 break in the college chapel’s choir loft (we have no organ or choir, so we spread big pillows all over the floor!) It is open to the entire campus community, and lasts 15-20 minutes. We use simple breathing technique and the (silent) repetition of the mantra “shanti” (meaning “deep peace” in Hindi).
For some reason, meditation group has really taken off this semester. We’ve had SRO (“sitting room only”) all term, mostly students. πŸ™‚
5) Why do you meditate? I meditate to listen. In the stillness, I listen to Godde and to my deepest self. I meditate to center myself, to set myself accurately in the Great All of which I am a part. All of this relieves the stress that can come from its opposite: noise, constant “mental chatter,” subsuming of the self by a demanding society, and the illusion of separateness.
6) Has anything funny ever happened while meditating in class? Sometimes someone will snore fairly loudly! πŸ™‚
7) How do students generally receive the idea of meditating in the classroom? Any horror stories? Although some are skeptical at first, soon they look forward to it and LOVE it! I get incredible journal entries thanking me for introducing them to meditation, telling me that they are using it for other classes and in their personal life. I also get regular email and Facebook messages from graduates saying that meditation is an important and regular part of their lives.
Horror stories: no, not really.
8) Mind, body, or soul: pick one and tell us why. Soul, as mind is the conscious tip of the soul (think iceberg:) and body is the soul’s physical manifestation (electricity and light!).
9) Any good meditation tips? It is always easier to meditate with other people, especially at the beginning.
10) One thing you wish everyone knew about you: In a very full life, I only have one regret: that I wasn’t the wonderful Nikki Anderson’s birth-father. Next lifetime?! πŸ™‚


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