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Teacher trains meditation “jedis”

Gary Purse, a faculty member of the Religion Department and self-proclaimed jedi-trainer, teaches his students the true power of meditation in his weekly meeting.

Purse’s class focuses on the basics of bridling the distractions that cause stress and angst in our lives. There are four steps to his basic bridle meditation: be still, remember, serve and let go, according to Purse’s website,

“The idea about the bridle meditations, it’s not to eliminate our thinking or our moods,” Purse said. “It’s to navigate them more skillfully, not to pretend they’re not there.”

Purse said the point is to be able to receive all the problems and take it as part of life.

“The world is filled with angst,” said Purse. “We’re slowing down the hard drive during meditation and taking time to just breathe.”

Purse said they are not trying to solve all of the problems using meditation; they are just taking time to breathe.

“The cultural drift is toward the easier way. It’s easier to just be angry, resentful and stressed out,” said Purse.

Purse said it takes time and methodical, diligent meditation practice to see change in the way you feel and the way you react to the world around you.

“We live in sort of a fast food, microwave culture where we want the quick solution. Making deep adjustments, slowing down and changing lifestyle is harder to do,” said Purse.

Purse’s goal in encouraging people to meditate and actually take time to pause is to make space for reaction instead of responding to unpleasant stimulus right away.

“Meditation gives us options because it gives us more agency,” said Purse. “It’s not stimulus and response reaction. It’s life happening, space, leavening influence of the Atonement and then responding more skillfully.”

Purse said the idea is to be able to observe a situation without becoming “Shenpa-ed.” Shenpa is a common Tibetan phrase that Purse uses to describe being stuck in a situation.

“There’s great joy in choice and in choosing joy rather than angst,” said Purse. “Meditation practice makes us more selective in the way we respond to things.”

Purse said we are all different in our cognitive architecture, and there will always be opposition.

“Being annoyed with your roommate is just a sliver of reality; we need to not be obsessed with the slivers of life,” said Purse. “If we’re just going to get out the sword of justice and trying to fix the world we’re delusional.”

Purse said he describes himself as a joyful realist. We can be grateful when we are treated kindly, but we can not expect it.

“Do we get out the Louisville slugger, kick in their headlights, carve our name into their leather seats? Do we choose joy or angst? These people in our lives are just players on the stage to help give us the opportunity to practice discipleship,” said Purse.

Purse said that we are agents that get to choose what we abide in. Through meditation, we allow ourselves to be appreciative for the present moment and not just get through the moment and get on with life.

“The fullness of life is right there with the crummy shopping cart at the end of a long day,” Purse said. “We’re not trying to get past super Wal-Mart for life, super Wal-Mart is a part of life.”

Purse said he calls this the Copernican Revolution, when we can start to get out of the idea that the world revolves around us.

Purse said we observe our resentments, emotions and obsessions trotting by, the way we would observe horses.

“The idea is that we don’t saddle them, feed them or ride them,” said Purse. “Just watch them. If we can create space between when those thoughts come our way and the way we respond to them we’re onto something miraculously joyful. That’s what the Atonement allows us to do.”

Purse said we should allow ourselves to be in the present not by ignoring frustration but by not becoming attached to it.

“You don’t shoot them or feed or saddle them. You just let them come and go,” said Purse.

Fernando Castro, another member of the religion faculty, implemented Purse’s meditation into the lives of his missionaries while he was a mission president in California.

“There’s pondering, and praying, and meditation. They’re all different things,” said Castro.

He said his missionaries would come into the field knowing how to ponder and pray, but some did not know how to let go of stress and worry.

“It’s like clearing away a book-case. You use meditation to let go of the clutter,” said Castro.

He said it made a huge difference in his missionaries’ abilities to relax and breathe and just take five minutes to be still.

“Be aware enough to give yourself a choice. We meditate to be more meditative. We go to the gym to become stronger. We meditate to give us an ability to be aware of our choices,” said Christy Manson, an attendee of Purse’s weekly class and a junior studying communication.

Purse said there are hundreds of studies from big-name research institutions that back up his belief that meditation really works.

“We’re not talking about Aunt Polly’s candle emporium where Aunt Polly is sitting there knitting,” said Purse. “She’s got her glasses on a chain and a cage with her parakeet, and she’s telling you meditation is awesome. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about hardcore meditation.”

Purse said FMRI scans and other types of brain scans are able to measure changes and structures of brains of meditators versus non-meditators.

“It’s phenomenal. Eventually we’re going to roll out all that research in addition to what we’re teaching,” said Purse.

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