Before I get to the point of this article, allow me to lay a little groundwork. Peace House Community has been open in the Phillips neighborhood since 1985. Our founder, Sister Rose Tillemans, established PHC at 510 W. Franklin Ave, and in 2013 we moved to our current building at 1816 Portland Ave. S. PHC is a community center (not a “drop-in center”, please) focusing on homeless and low income adults. As our full name indicates, Peace House Community is a community, a series of relationships and connections. The building is simply a tool for bringing people together.
The focus of the day at PHC is what we call “Meditation”, although it is more of a group discussion. For 45 minutes a day, our community (community members, volunteers, guests and staff) discuss a question designed to help us understand and relate to each other. The questions can revolve around anything from community events to childhood experiences to the best meal you’ve ever had.
We sometimes get complaints from newcomers that we are misleading people by talking about “meditation” when our actual practice is very different from the usual practice of meditation. (We’ve considered changing the label to something more accurate, but the community members have unanimously said they will ignore any change we try to make because the word is so integral to PHC’s being!) While I understand the complaint, I have come to realize that what we do is simply meditation on a grander scale. Meditation, practiced by an individual, focuses on expanding one’s consciousness, becoming more self-aware, allowing one to “function” more effectively and so on. The meditation at PHC accomplishes these same things, but instead of relying on one’s own insights from meditation, it allows community members to gain wisdom from others and self-awareness from examining their own responses to new ideas. We learn not only from others’ experiences and thoughts, but also from a deeper understanding of our own orientation to ourselves and the world around us.
As we as a society embrace technology in ever-increasing ways, we tend to sacrifices elements of ourselves. Relationships become digitized and we can choose the news we hear about the world, creating a self-supporting narrative. We find ways to insulate ourselves, even as technology offers the opportunity for greater exposure. Certainly this is not true of everyone, but it is a constant possibility. The meditation practiced by the PHC community is a natural antidote to these dangers.
Fortunately, PHC is only one place to experience this type of meditation. Places of worship, 12 step meetings, coffee shops, family reunions, book clubs and a host of other settings provide this interaction. Well, it would be better to say they provide the opportunity for such interactions. It lies with each one of us to decide the extent to which we will interface with the world and the people around us, and by extension, how much we will learn about ourselves.
This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.