Art by Madeline Duvall
Photos Courtesy of Lillian Annan
The new Compassion in Action club tackles the challenge of nurturing tranquility, peace and student unity during an online semester. The club takes a different approach to mental health as students meditate on Zoom and foster connections.
Junior Club President Lillian Annan and junior Isabella Yeager said they founded Compassion in Action in August and their mission is to spread mindfulness through meditation, relaxation and community service. They partnered with the Namchak Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes meditation through practice, community and retreat. Yeager said their 2019 study abroad trip in Buenos Aires, Argentina, inspired them to start the club.
“The club is really providing a sense of community and a way to develop better coping skills when it comes to dealing with certain stressors in life,” Annan said. “I feel like it has definitely added to the Pepperdine community.”
Harmony Hill-Weber, wife to Buenos Aires IP Director, Travis Hill-Weber, sent Yeager and Annan an email for a fellowship opportunity. The opportunity was with Namchack, an organization that specializes in Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
Yeager said the email got lost in her inbox for awhile when COVID-19 hit. When she got home from abroad, the offer tugged at her heart and she revisited the idea. Soon after, Yeager and Annan started having meetings discussing how to organize their new club.
Namchak is a multi-campus organization dedicated to getting students involved with the Buddhist lineage of the Namchak practice. Yeager said Compassion in Action helps spread awareness of the Buddhist lineage to the local community at Pepperdine.
When Annan and Yeager became campus ambassadors for Namchak, the organization was not officially affiliated with Pepperdine. However, when junior King Uchekwe joined the group, the three of them brought the club virtually to Pepperdine in fall 2020 by registering as a club.
As campus ambassadors, they work as mediators between Namchak and Pepperdine. They receive the meditation styles and materials needed from the organization and bring it to the club.
“We started having meetings and it was hard to get anybody to show up and then King started coming in,” Yeager said. “King got involved with our shared leadership, and we said, ‘This guy can hold a room.’ He joined the team and from then on, it’s been a dream team and it feels like we’re complete.”
The members of the board said they use meditation in their everyday lives and starting the club seemed like a natural fit for them.
“I used to meditate a lot last year, but life happens and I found that going to the club has become my main source of taking the time to sit and gather my thoughts,” Uchekwe said. “Doing it with other people feels nice and is very relaxing for me.”
Lama Tsomo is the co-founder of the Namchak Foundation and is an American lama — a spiritual leader — and author. Annan said Tsomo helped guide how the club runs their agenda during meetings or “learning circles,” held weekly on Wednesdays.
Annan said the main meditations they focus on are Shamatha, a calm abiding, traditional meditation meant to empty the brain of unpleasant thoughts. They also practice Tonglin, a more community-oriented practice.
“[Tonglin] definitely takes into consideration the suffering that not only you go through, but also people who are close to you and the rest of the world,” Annan said. “It is trying to help us feel that we are interconnected.”
They execute the Round Robin practice, which is a combination of the two guided meditations.
The creators of the club wanted their members to participate in community service, due to COVID-19, however, they have been unable to do so. When students are back on campus they are planning some fundraising events, a beach cleanup and hosting social action and justice events, Annan said.
The club started out with word of mouth, Instagram promotion and their friends, and now it has 10 members. In an average club meeting, Uchekwe said they practice breathing techniques, talk about their day and watch videos provided by Namchak instructing them on lessons such as sitting positions.
“We will usually practice different structures of meditating,” Uchekwe said. “Generally, meditating is what you make it, so it is nice to do something different each time.”
Annan said meditation helps her get through the week, but online it does not have the same effect as the spirituality of being in-person.
“When we are in-person, it will definitely feel a little bit more homey, in a sense,” Annan said. “With Zoom there is a lot of fatigue and it doesn’t necessarily feel that you’re really there. There are other ways you could communicate aside from your voice, there is body language and the way you position yourself. It’s just a bit more disconnected, but I feel that when we do come back, it will definitely feel a bit more like a community.”
They feel the club and its natural vulnerability is a way to be more personal in the Zoom world. Annan said they want to provide a safe community for those feeling isolated right now.
Yeager said the community aspect is her favorite part and the club is her main social outlet right now while people are isolated.
Inner peace and happiness are major themes in the Pepperdine community, the club’s board said, while students and staff long for togetherness during distance learning. Compassion in Action is taking their first steps in helping Pepperdine bridge that gap.
“Compassion in Action is providing people with a safe space, where we ask how people are feeling and what is going on,” Annan said. “We just want to provide a sense of community for people out there. For me personally, it definitely has helped, I’m very grateful that I joined the organization around the time that I did, because, it has helped a lot.”
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