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When Faced With Adversity

Breathing can change the world, says Reka Prasad, project coordinator at The Mindfulness Project at NYU. On Tuesday, Feb. 3, Prasad will moderate discussions with leading thinkers in "Sitting Still, Standing Up: Women, Buddhism and Social Justice."

"Right away, I will ask everyone to put away their cell phones and take that sacred pause," said Prasad, whose department is part of NYU’s Global Spiritual Life. "This event is a space for 2 1/2 hours for everyone to just be. It's a chance for everyone to mindfully bring themselves into the present with intension."

Panelists include Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams Sensei, Gina Sharpe, Ryūmon Hilda Gutiérrez Baldoquín Sensei, Liz Lewinson, and Leslie Booker. During the workshop, guests will explore human rights from a female Buddhist perspective. Speakers may lead participants in various meditations and breathing exercises.

"The practice of meditation is not solitary in of itself," Prasad said. "It expands beyond that. It is inter-relational. There are a lot of misunderstanding of meditation and mindfulness, that it's narcissistic and that it's navel gazing. From what I have encountered, it is all about changing the world. In stillness, we can move forward."

In organizing this big event, Prasad's goal was to gather female leaders and to encourage mindfulness in politics. So often, only men's voices are heard speaking out about injustice or Buddhism, which makes "Standing Still" unique, she points out. Promotion for the event includes a graphic of a Buddha raising her right arm, a provocative image that mixes ideas of action and peace.

"The thing that unites us is our human suffering," Prasad said. "It is love that underscores our quest for equality. If someone outside of myself is suffering, how do I suffer?"

To support her statements, she quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love."

Sometimes it is hard to do this work, though. Prasad, a native New Yorker, understands the city's pace, which can lead people to feel disassociated with themselves and others. On the subway, she listens to recordings by Jack Kornfield and Gina Sharpe, her spiritual mentor, one of the evening's panelists.

"Listening on my noise cancelling headphones actually grounds me further, and I start to see all the 50,000 people on the train," said Prasad, a social worker, who began at NYU in September.

This event is one of several programs, meant to build a greater understanding of these issues. The Mindfulness Project offers regular meditation sessions on Monday nights. For quiet moments anytime, the Silent Meditation Room is available between 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Free daily yoga is open to students, with a suggested donation to non-students. Additionally, Global Spiritual Life at NYU and The Stern School of Business created a Mindfulness in Business Initiative, allowing collaboration with multiple schools at NYU.

"We hope that each school will offer some type of mindfulness programming for its members and are connecting with faculty, staff and students who already have practices to begin that process," Prasad said. "Our vision is for a university community where mindfulness is integrated into daily life. The wonderful thing about being in the present moment and connected to what is happening right now is that it can be applied to whatever we're doing with very positive outcomes. In a world that is becoming ever more busy and disconnected, despite all the ways in which we're 'plugged in,' the ability to stop, slow down and take a breath is truly a gift. We believe it can be transformative and can make anyone's time here a more connected, meaningful, and healthier experience."

The free event is 6:30 to 9 p.m. in Grand Hall, 238 Thompson Street, fifth floor. Seating may be close to capacity due to the event's last-minute rise in RSVPs. Visit the Facebook page to check for availability.

If you happen to miss "Standing Still," check The Mindfulness Project's Facebook page for the online video covering the entire event which will be fascinating, knowing this group of presenters, and give viewers great ideas about where they can continue this work. For inquiries into all programs at The Mindfulness Project, contact

--Ann Votaw

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