Classes have been in session for nearly a month, and amid the papers and projects, one Elon University club is searching for positivity.
As students bustled across campus, yammering about this and that assignment, 26 others sat in a circle, coming together to share in peace. The Iron Tree Blooming club takes members and guests on a journey practicing meditation.
Every Thursday at 4:15 p.m. in the McBride Gathering Space at Numen Lumen, those who wish to take part will be met with guided and silent mediation, often going outside when the weather permits.
The sessions typically last 30-45 minutes in total, and all are welcome.
In addition, on the second Sunday of every month, a Zen teacher comes for a longer, more formal sitting.
“When you sit with other people, you get this energy,” said senior Cayley Gosnell, treasurer of Iron Tree Blooming. “It’s accepting, inclusive and an idea of self-reflection — loving yourself and loving others.”
According to Iron Tree Blooming’s website, the club was founded in order to provide a space where anyone could come practice as a family.
Students sit in a circle near Numen Lumen Pavillion to meditate and destress from a week of classes and work. Photo by Diego Pineda, Photo Editor.
In 1999, Brian Keating ‘01 took professor Barbara Gordon’s “Zen and Writing” course, where his interest was first piqued. The two went on to create Iron Tree Blooming, which was recognized by SGA as an official organization in 2001.
Keating was the club’s first leader, establishing it as an environment rooted in the Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition. It’s affiliated with the North Carolina Zen Center, and is one of the oldest and longest-running organizations at Elon.
Today, sessions tend to begin with a light-hearted conversation facilitated with a question of the day and a reminder of the principles that they will be sharing.
“Let’s go around and say your name, year and favorite mythological creature,” said junior Chris Bertrand, president of Iron Tree Blooming, at the last meeting.
Bertrand lightly tapped the gong and those in the circle proceeded to close their eyes, breathe deeply and begin meditating. He gave instructions on posture and reminders to focus on the senses present, one of the main goals of Zen mediation. After that, there were 10 minutes of silence.
Bertrand tapped the gong once more and everyone bowed toward the center. Then, he led the group in a reading.
“What am I?” he asked the group. “Most of us define ourselves in relation to the events we perceive as external to ourselves —‘I am this because I do this, because I like this’ — so being is then contingent upon external events. Reality exists beyond events. To experience this is Zen.”
According to Bertrand, the purpose of holding these weekly meetings is to spread mindfulness and give students an outlet to take some time to de-stress while learning about another cultural practice.
“Iron Tree Blooming’s name is rooted in a Zen koan, which is a way of saying that language doesn’t always adequately express our experiences,” he said. “Koans are ways that Zen masters say ‘become enlightened,’ because they’re supposed to allude to a non-verbal world. Words can’t fully describe our everyday experiences.”
The club itself, as part of Rinzai Zen, uses koans to try to achieve enlightenment.
“It’s a guide to become awakened. And with Rinzai, you’re focusing through the senses — through koans,” Bertrand said.
It’s experiencing and learning, and those who practice get out of it what they put into it.
Along this path toward enlightenment, there are also several mental and physical health benefits through the practice.
“I found that I have increased awareness in everyday life,” Bertrand said. “I’m able to hold my concentration more. I don’t get stressed out as much, and when I do get stressed, I have a foundation to fall into.”