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MedMob occupies peace at terminal

Commuters on the 6:20 p.m. ferry run on Dec. 22 were greeted by a group of flash-mob meditators who sat in silence and later, chanted. The Bainbridge event coincided with others in more than 250 cities worldwide.  - Willie Wenzlau/For the Review
Commuters on the 6:20 p.m. ferry run on Dec. 22 were greeted by a group of flash-mob meditators who sat in silence and later, chanted. The Bainbridge event coincided with others in more than 250 cities worldwide.
— image credit: Willie Wenzlau/For the Review

If you were searching for peace, rush hour at the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal might not be the first place you’d look, but commuters spilling off the 6:20 p.m. ferry Dec. 22 were met with the soothing sound of – well, breathing.

A group of residents gathered in the terminal as part of a “MedMob,” a takeoff on the popular flash mob movement. Instead of thrashing to “Thriller,” MedMobsters meditate in a public place for one hour, then offer an 11-minute “sound bath,” in this case chanting “Om Shanti Om.”

“We might have gone a little longer than 11 minutes,” said Helen Burke who organized the event based on MedMob.org. The online effort coordinates MedMobs now in more than 250 cities worldwide.

The seed of the idea was planted in July when an ad-hoc group met at Jen Breen’s Karma Yoga House to explore ways to offer “selfless service” to the community. The service can take many forms, such as creating beauty, sharing kindness or helping someone in need. The group has done all that and more, so when Burke suggested they take part in a MedMob event on the solstice, about 40 people responded.

Burke found an image online that summed up the sentiment: Occupy Your Heart.

For Breen, anchoring into stillness amidst the buzz of the terminal was both a blessing and a challenge.

“With our eyes closed, you can hear the sounds of the commute: the rumble of the ferry, the motorcycles roaring off, the footsteps,” she said. “It was really amazing with the volume turned up. You realize all the energy moving. Not good, not bad, just a lot of energy in that commute. And I’m like this rock at the bottom of the river with all this flowing going on around me.”

There was concern that some people might interpret the meditation as a judgment against the bustling, pre-holiday pace.

“It’s a time of craziness; It’s so intense, out of control,” Breen said. “We wanted to let people know it’s OK to stop and pause and to connect with what’s inside. We wanted to share compassion, like an embrace that says ‘Welcome home.’”

After the hour of silence, the MedMob began a relaxing chant.

“That seemed even more welcoming,” Breen said. “We’re here, like Christmas carolers.”

Among those who sat and sang were members of “Comfort Station,” four islanders who have been leading Kirtan chants at Grace Church on the first Thursday of the month.

Jon Crane plays traditional tabla drums with the group and joined the MedMob as a “social experiment.”

“It was interesting to meditate with people cruising by,” he said. “Usually you find a quiet spot and focus on breathing.”

An image Crane likes to use in his meditations are that of sitting by a river. His thoughts are like leaves on a tree and when they fall, he sets them gently on the river to be carried away.

“In a public place like this, the sounds, the footsteps become part of the landscape of your meditation.”

Mostly, though, he said he focused on “loving awareness.”

“It was kind of neat spreading a good positive vibration around,” he said.

Like Breen, he hoped others didn’t feel pressured by the exhibition.

“I don’t like pushing anything on anyone, so I hope it wasn’t like that for anyone,” he said.

Kirtan is a call-and-response chant which stems from India’s Hindu traditions. However, participation in the MedMobs, according to its website, is intended for people of all religions and world views. Crane said the Grace Church chants incorporate songs from many faiths. Crane, who doesn’t practice Hinduism, said the music is pleasing in and of itself and he does it for the feeling it produces while singing them.

Burke couldn’t tell what the response was from those using the terminal that evening.

“My eyes were closed,” she said. She took a few peeks toward the end though and saw a few smiles. Others simply walked right past.

Breen’s husband Tom came across on the 5:30 boat and decided to watch the 6:20 p.m. crowd’s reactions.

“He said he saw a man with two suitcases, as if he’d just come from the airport, looking a little frazzled,” Burke said. “When he came into the terminal, he set down the suitcases, sat down and joined in.”

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