Applause for the Pause

Stanford faculty, staff and students enthusiastically accepted the invitation extended by Stanford to enjoy “the power of the pause” during Contemplation by Design week from November 3-7, 2014. More than 1,900 members of the Stanford community took part in 24 events, during which the unifying theme was PEACE — Pause, Exhale, Attend, Connect, and Express. 

Participants engaged in lively discussions about neuroscience and the clinical evidence supporting the benefits of contemplation. They also engaged in conversation with presenters about policy implications for how education is delivered, business is conducted and health care is provided. Numerous participants enjoyed, first-hand, the benefits of contemplative practices. 

Jane Stanford set forth the mission and values that guide Stanford, and which are at the core of CBD. Seven inscriptions that Jane had carved into the walls of Memorial Church were the basis for a CBD event in which Reverend Joanne Sanders, associate dean for religious life, led a walking meditation followed by a discussion on kindness and compassion. Participants found it reassuring to connect to the founding principles of the university as well as to deepen their connection to their personal, academic and professional values.

Talks by Tia Rich (senior specialist in health promotion at HIP), Bill Burnett (executive director of the innovative Product Design program), Phyllis Stewart Pires (director of WorkLife Strategy), Rosan Gomperts (director of the Help Center) and Carole Pertofsky (director of student wellness and health promotion services) created opportunities for listening, empathy, exploration and respect among all members of the Stanford community. 

In the Bing concert, a collaboration with the Stanford Arts Institute, the Stanford Talisman Singers and the Stanford Taiko Drummers performed five pieces each, specifically selected as expressions of the words in the PEACE acronym. The concert’s grand finale, sung by Anita Black (an event planner at Tresidder), expressed gratitude set to Natalie Merchant’s song, “Kind and Generous” — and the audience stood and sang the final verse, filling Bing with joy and gratitude! 

Other highlights: the labyrinth walks at Windhover by moonlight and in Memorial Church by candlelight, the guided contemplative practices from Christian and Buddhist traditions led by Reverend Jane Shaw and Paul Harrison, and the culminating event of the Carillon Concert and community contemplative silence — the crowning gift of time to digest the wisdom from the week and befriend each other in the community experience. 

The most often-heard reaction to the events from participants was the notion that the experiences shifted their perspective on emotional well-being and provided them with practical skills for nurturing it. Thus, a primary goal of the CBD Week was met: to teach us ways to be calm, competent and compassionate in order to better sustain excellence.