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light onto the faces of the new practitioners seated around me. “You sit, you follow the breath and you watch what comes up in your mind and your heart,” Bono said. “You stick with it; you don’t push it away.” We learned the posture. Each participant sat on a firm cushion, cross-legged, hands upward and folded over each other, thumb tips touching. Bono encouraged us to be patiently aware of our form. If we found ourselves slouching or our fingertips slackening, we were to guide ourselves back to form gently and without judgment. “It’s not just about being spiritual or enlightened or exempt from suffering,” Bono said. “It’s about being able to understand your own suffering and other people’s suffering.” BONO CELEBRATED HER SIXTH ANNIVERSARY AS A PRIEST THIS SEPTEMBER. A native of

Queens, New York, she studied at the San

One writer explores New Orleans’ burgeoning meditation community. BY PA DMINI PA R T H A S A R AT H Y

Francisco Zen Center from 2005 to 2011. The course of study involved a lot of meditation, but Bono emphasized the community element of the monastery. “We spent a lot of time taking care of the land or the buildings or each other, cooking and farming,” says Bono, who lived in New Orleans prior to 2005, then moved back in 2011 to lead Mid City Zen. “For me, the main benefits of meditation are being a good community member and being able to have compassion for yourself and other people because you’re having to look at your own mind and heart.” She’s not the only one helping the ancient practice attract a wider base in New Orleans. Dr. Jose Calderon, who is board-certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine, founded the Mind-Body Center of Louisiana in 2009. It’s a nonprofit organization devoted to integrating mind-body techniques into the larger framework of health care. He also runs the Mindful Living Program, a private

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ON A QUIET STREET TUCKED BEHIND THE FAIR GROUNDS RACE COURSE, there is a little house with several pairs of shoes on the front porch. Mid City Zen (3248 Castiglione St., holds group meditations several times a week and a special instruction for beginners most Sunday mornings. “Meditation is such a broad term,” says Michaela O’Connor Bono, a Buddhist priest and leader of the center’s formal practice and teachings. “It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, depending on what sort of religious tradition you’re practicing. So we are a Zen Buddhist sangha, which is the word for community practitioners.” I attended a Sunday morning sitting, which starts with an introduction to the posture and the physical elements of Zen meditation. The zendo, or meditation hall, was quiet, calm and cool, a respite from the city’s heat and noise. Black floors reflected



Gambit New Orleans, October 18, 2016  
Gambit New Orleans, October 18, 2016  

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