Open up and say om: Is meditation a healing art?

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Open up and say om: Is meditation a healing art?

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NONSAN, South Chungcheong province ― Song Myeong-seob, 29, got married and hurried off to his honeymoon. Bali? Hawaii? Good old Jeju Island? Nope. Mr. Song and his wife were off to Nonsan, where they would spend a week sleeping in different beds and saying very little to each other.
Their destination was Maum Meditation, a training center that teaches how to empty one’s mind in order to find self realization, inner truth and happiness. “Before marriage, I sometimes did meditation and [my wife] did as well, and we both learned that we become one with each other as much as we ourselves threw away,” said Mr. Song.
They said they loved the fresh air, pine trees and charming rocks surrounding the meditation center. The couple spent a week there. Even though they had to spend the honeymoon in separate rooms due to the center’s regulations, Mr. Song said it was an unforgettable experience.
“We looked back on our emotions, even on the love between us, asking if it is desire or attachment, or just a natural feeling. We kept throwing away our minds, self-centered thoughts and actions,” Mr. Song said. “It was surprising. And the empty place was filled with a surprising energy. I could see why they say, ‘It’s filled as much as it’s emptied.’”
Maum Meditation (maum means mind, soul or spirit in Korean) is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Seoul, near Gyeryongsan National Park. The non-profit organization opened in 1996. The organizers say 200,000 people have gone through the program and a number of companies and government organizations have used the center for lectures or training sessions. There are about 60 regional training centers around Korea and 33 centers abroad. All are open 24 hours a day.
“To each memory, an emotion is attached. Plaintive feelings are attached to heartbreak, and hurtful feelings to sad memories,” said Hwang Hee-yeol, 46, a trainer who has been with Maum Meditation for about 10 years. “The mind is the memory of one’s life, and emptying the mind means getting rid of the emotions connected to those memories.”
Yoo Sung-kyung, a professor of psychology at Ewha Womans University, said meditation is being increasingly used in psychological treatment, and that emotional trauma can be healed by reliving the moment. “When people are hurt, they usually feel fear or even threatened and try to suppress the memory. But as meditation offers a safe environment, people can recall the moment naturally and find ways to heal the trauma,” she said.
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In a room on the first floor, about 35 people were sitting with their eyes closed. Their postures were as different as their ages, from a young man sitting with his legs crossed to a middle-aged woman sitting with her legs stretched out, and even an old man who curled his head into his huddled-up body. They all looked very serious.
“Think of the moment in which you suffered most in your life. Who do you see there?” the trainer asked the participants. “Now, did everything disappear? You see nothing? Right there, be lost in meditation for a minute.” Following his orders, the students said they found they had gone inside themselves, by emptying their memories and shaking off buried emotions.
“I was told that my heart is weak because I have too much stress,” said Kim Jeong-sook, 46, from Daegu. Her doctor told her about Maum Meditation. When JoongAng Ilbo met Ms. Kim, she had been there for five days. “I have closed my mind to others. I have done so much. But by emptying my mind, the feelings of sadness and victimization burst out. I shed a shower of tears. Then, the anger and hatred changed to regrettable and thankful feeling,” said Ms. Kim. “Since I’ve found myself, I can never be freer than I am now.”
“The painful parts of the mind disappear and people find the naturally pure and free part of themselves. You never know what it’s like until you’ve really experienced it,” said Mr. Hwang, the trainer. The training doesn’t require any natural-born sense or ability. “From elementary students to senior citizens, anyone can do it. One’s education, sex, age and religion don’t matter. Everyone has a mind, so anyone can empty it.”
Not all visitors have had a pleasant experience. One foreign visitor who attended a retreat here last winter said the English translator the center said it would provide never showed up, and that residents were expected to spend all day meditating, and were not supposed to leave the building. She said she left after two days; she had planned to stay a week.
Many others, however, praise the center.
“I lived long enough,” said Han Sook-ja, 105. “People ask me why I’m here. I wondered about the same thing. Why do I need to empty my mind when I don’t have much time to live?” But here, she said, she had a chance to look back over her very long life and find that she still had memories that may seem inconsequential, but still caused her pain. “I didn’t know that I had those things in my mind,” she said.
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“After throwing things away and away and away,” she continued, “a tough lump remained, which, I thought, I didn’t have in my mind. That lump is also dismissed in the end. I had two sons and three daughters, but one of my daughters died and my second son was abducted to North Korea during the Korean War. That’s the grief and sorrow that I carried with me all my life. I threw it away. At first it bounced back. It didn’t disappear even when I threw it away.
“Then, suddenly, it was gone. I felt like something that had been blocked in my mind had opened up. I felt such freedom for the first time in my life. Then, I realized that the jail in my mind was more painful than a real jail. I felt like I was liberated from my mind, and that’s more of a relief than Korea’s liberation from Japan.”
Kim Man-jung, 36, a dentist, came to the training center amid his divorce, after one of his friends had recommended it.
“I put myself in my wife’s shoes,” Mr. Kim said. After coming back home, he prepared meals, cleaned the house and washed dishes, things he hadn’t done for years. But his wife wasn’t impressed, thinking that his new personality wouldn’t stay for long. After six months, she finally told him, “I want to do mind training.” His wife, also a dentist, decided at first to go to the center for only three days, but wound up staying for three weeks. “Now we’re a devoted couple. It was a result of emptying our minds.”
“Meditation can help married couples in their relationships,” Ms. Yoo said, “Meditation forces people to look at their own problems and solve them on their own. People living in modern, busy societies don’t have time to to think about their stress. But through meditation, they find that they do have a healing power.”


by Baik Sung-ho, Park Sung-ha

The training at Maum Meditation consists of eight levels. During the summer vacation, it holds special camps for youth, college students and teachers. Visit www.maum.org, or call (02) 1588-7245.

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