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Chapel House opens new interfaith meditation center

By Haley Viccaro
On February 20, 2012

 The University at Albany Chapel House opened their new interfaith meditation and prayer room available to all students, faculty and staff on campus for a tranquil setting to pray and meditate.

The room is available for people of all religions and those without a practiced religion as well.

The meditation room has sacred texts and objects from the five major world reli­gions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

"It has been my goal since I have been here. I kept saying that the campus is diverse and that we have to have a place for people to meditate or just a quiet place to be," said Donna Crisafulli, the executive director of Chapel House.

The focal point of the room is a mandala painting on the wall. A mandala is a concentric diagram that has a spiritual and ritual significance in Buddhism and Hinduism.

It is also commonly used as a spiritual teaching tool or placed in a sacred space to aid in medi­tation.

"It is a symbol of wholeness and peacefulness as a focus," Crisafulli said. "We built the whole room around the man­dala."

The blue-green color of the walls in the room match those in the mandala painting.

There are also various colored curtains hung on the wall to brighten up the room and make it a more comfortable space.

"Fabric softened it and we wanted a feel of lightness, the wind and the water," she said.

Erika Klein, an artist in the Woodstock area who specializes in watercolor and digital man­dala works, made the mandala painting that is showcased in the meditation room.

The room also includes a low altar on the floor and benches for seating. A peaceful environment is created with music playing and a small fountain running.

"We wanted to keep it very simple and yet I think it works," Crisafulli said. "Simple is better and people could set up the room the way they want."

Visitors are allowed to stay in the room as long as they want. The door is kept closed with a sign on the outside letting others know it is in use.

According to Crisafulli, people could call Chapel House to reserve the room during the week and possibly on the week­ends.

"Last week someone randomly came by and asked to use the room," she said. "She came back out, came to my office very teary-eyed and said that she needed that space so badly and that it was just what she needed."

Creating the new meditation room took almost the entire fall semester, since it was originally used as a conference and storage room.

The project required a lot of research and background of what was needed for each religion to make the room accessible for everyone.

"You want something to hold on to and whatever is calling to students, you want to make that available," said Samantha Leuschner, a UAlbany student and the community public ser­vice student at Chapel House

 who helped create the meditation room along with Crisafulli.

Crisafulli and Leuschner visit­ed other colleges' interfaith med­itation rooms to get some ideas and make comparisons. They went to Union College, College of Saint Rose and Hudson Valley Community College.

The rooms they saw at other schools did not offer the same level of privacy or the comfort­able environment for visitors as UAlbany's Chapel House.

"It just doesn't have the warmth that this does, they didn't really paint the walls and it looks very institutional," said Crisafulli about Union College's meditation room. "That is really the difference."

Before the meditation room, the only other rooms to pray and meditate were the chapel rooms, which are in the public area with programs and events held next door in the community room.

"We are really trying to pro­mote this interfaith center more because it is something so vital, it is a resource," Leuschner said.

Chapel House is separate from the UAlbany campus and depends on private funding and grants to make changes and pro­vide more for the community.

The interfaith meditation and prayer room is dedicated in the memory of Virginia Dolins, the wife of Richard Dolins, the president of Chapel House.

She passed away this past summer unexpectedly and Dolins felt the donation to Chapel House for the meditation room would be a wonderful trib­ute to her.

Also, the Hindu Temple and the Islamic Center donated gifts to Chapel House for the room. UAlbany professor of Japanese Studies Mark Blum also helped with determining what Buddhist texts to purchase.

Chapel House collabo­rated with the Muslim Student Association as well and they per­formed a blessing of the room.

"It is not just a place of qui­etness and tranquility, but it is also symbolic of bringing people together and acknowl­edging everyone's unique faith and giving them space to grow in that faith and question it and know that there are other faiths here too and share this common space," Leuschner said.

Chapel House is located on University Drive West across from the SEFCU Arena adjacent to the UAlbany campus. It has been serving the university com­munity since 1966.

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