If you want to try meditating at the Minnesota Zen Center in Uptown, you would be wise to get there early for a session so you can find a spot to sit.
The center, located on the eastern shore of Lake Calhoun, has been experiencing significant growth. Membership has doubled since 2010 to about 175 active members and about 1,200 people visit each year for its introduction to Zen series.
The growth spurt has prompted Zen Center leaders to embark on a fundraising campaign to expand the size of the 3,700-square-foot center at 3343 East Calhoun Parkway, which it purchased in 1974.
The center also has a new nonprofit, Programs for Mindful Living, focused on community outreach to schools, businesses, senior centers, police departments and prisons, among other places. It’s a secular program designed to introduce people to the benefits of mindfulness.
It recently hosted a one-day workshop on mindfulness practices for effective leadership at the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas’ downtown Minneapolis campus. It featured Norman Fischer, a writer and Zen Buddhist priest who helped create Google’s popular class, “Search Inside Yourself.”
Tim Burkett, the guiding teacher at the Minnesota Zen Center, said the center has a “whole potpourri of activities” for people from all walks of life — from newcomers to people who have been practicing meditation for decades. People from a variety of religious affiliations are members.
Burkett and other teachers recently interviewed at the center reflected on the many benefits of a meditation practice.
“We are so distracted in our lives,” Burkett said. “Often we don’t realize how wild our minds are.”
Wanda Isle, a teacher at the center, said her focus is on emotional resilience.
“Through a mindfulness practice and meditation, I think the biggest benefit for people is that they are able to experience their emotions in a way that their emotions can inform their life rather than dictate their behavior,” she said.
She said meditation has helped her “skillfully navigate” her emotions.
“So often we know only two things: We either numb our emotions because we are afraid of being overwhelmed by them, or we act out in ways that are destructive,” she said.
Isle has been a part of the Minnesota Zen Center community for a dozen years. She said she had tried teaching herself how to meditate through books for years before that, but nothing clicked.
“You don’t get this stuff by sitting down with a book. … You need a community. It’s been my experience that the understanding comes through osmosis,” she said.
Isle said she has become a different person since she started practicing with Burkett.
“You start to open up to life rather than being in protective mode and closed down all the time. When you open up rather than being closed down, everything changes,” she said.
Bussho Lahn, who was ordained by Burkett in 2009, said more people are feeling drained by the hyper-connected digital world.
“I think there is a dawning realization, ‘Like, wow, I’m always staring at a screen. I’m always scattered,” he said. “I don’t taste my food. I’m never here. I think there is some sense of anxiety that comes with that.”
He said many people are looking for a “respite from that sense of frantic.”
Ann Bauleke, a center member, said she tried meditating off and on for years without experiencing any benefits before she resolved to commit to a practice at the center six years ago.
“I’m in the baby stages. The terrible 2s,” she said of her practice. “This is a process —it’s something I’ve readily committed to. It’s hard and I can’t imagine doing it without a community or a teacher.”
Bill Woywod has been practicing meditation for five years.
“It allows you to experience your life in a really close way that may happen if you don’t meditate, but those experiences are going to be few and far between,” he said, adding it can help tame anxieties. “If you aren’t so off kilter because you’re anxious about stuff, you can engage at the workplace better and you can connect with friends better.”
At a glance: Minnesota Zen Center
Where: 3343 East Calhoun Parkway
About: A member-supported nonprofit that formed in 1972 when founding head teacher Dainin Katagiri Roshi was invited from California to teach a group of people interested in Zen Buddhism.
Intro sessions: Newcomers are encouraged to take the four-session Introduction to Zen Meditation series. Classes meet Sundays, 10 a.m.–11 a.m., and Tuesdays, 7:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (Suggested donation: $10)
Programs for Mindful Living: The center’s nonprofit organization focused on teaching mindful living principles to people in the community, including children, business leaders and seniors, among others. (programsformindfulliving.org)