Emma Reynolds ’17 is taking a deeply personal approach to research this summer, exploring the role of geography in the practice of meditation and studying the effects of different landscapes on the female consciousness through a project titled “Rooted in the Ground: A Geographical and Historical Study of the Female Consciousness in Meditation.”
Reynolds’ research is a collaborative project with Hamilton’s Religious Studies Department and the Chaplaincy working through Visiting Associate Professor Brent Plate and Chaplain Jeff McArn. The project is funded through the Kirkland Summer Associates program, which sponsors up to four students annually for 10 weeks of summer research on topics that “support the needs and interests of women at Hamilton.”
Reynolds’ research will be both academic and practical, consisting of meditation in the field as well as exploration of Eastern and Western texts that cover the history, philosophy and modern practices of meditation. She will travel to and meditate in four distinct and unique locations in Utah and Colorado in the hopes of elucidating the impact that landscapes and surroundings can have on the experience of meditation. Throughout her research, Reynolds will also be keeping a blog documenting her readings, travels, interviews and personal meditations that will be published weekly on the Chaplaincy’s webpage.
“One of my friends told me that I should apply for a grant to study this summer,” said Reynolds, “and I said sure, great idea, but what would I study? I started examining my life and thinking about what aspect of it I enjoyed enough to study it for 10 weeks, and meditation was the obvious answer.”
From there she developed an interest in the effects different landscapes can have upon one’s experience with meditation due to her personal predisposition towards particular environments. As a native of Colorado, Reynolds often found herself focused not on the present surroundings, but instead slipping back to the dry, yucca-laden land of her home state. That predisposition, she explained, was key to her selection of topic. “As anthropologist Sherry Ortner explains,” she said, “culture is ‘equated relatively unambiguously with men. . . [while women are seen] as being more rooted in, or having more direct affinity with, nature.’ This gendered relationship sparked my interest in the female consciousness and the environment in the practice of meditation.”
Through her research, Reynolds hopes to both discover and learn new techniques and philosophies surrounding meditation to incorporate into her own practice, as well as illuminate the relationship that gender may hold to the ancient spiritual art.
However, to Reynolds, meditation is too often a stigmatized or otherwise pushed out of the public discourse. She compares it to public discourse surrounding God and religion, claiming that many may not know how to go about discussing such topics openly. “This project is massively personal for me,” she said. “I have to take this very personal, mental thing and describe it to people. I have to portray my inner life and thoughts for others, because that’s what I want to do - I want to share my experiences with others through my blog to show people that you don’t really have to know anything in order to start meditating.” Reynolds concluded, “I hope to move meditation away from this scary, spiritual, ‘don’t-talk-about-this’ thing into an approachable, calming practice.”