SPS Today: The Warren W. Jackson Mindfulness Fund
William B. Lowe ’67 Takes Time to Stand Still
The warm glow of candlelight signals the start of morning meditation in the Old Chapel. The scent of incense permeates the dark, and the 160-year-old wood paneling contributes to the soothing ambiance. A small group of teenagers has opted to take the 25 minutes before 8:30 a.m. Chapel for self-reflection and focus. As they sit in the center of the floor, their attention turns to breathing as they empty their minds to establish a stillness that comes from being in harmony with one’s self. Meditation is an ancient discipline with foundations in Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist traditions in addition to Christianity. In the last 50 years, it has gained increasing popularity in the secular realm for its ability to ease stress and anxiety, while improving overall wellbeing. St. Paul’s first embraced the idea 15 years ago, when science faculty member Rick Pacelli introduced it to his students. His exposure stemmed from Pacelli’s experience working with street kids in New York City during the mid-1980s. The effect on him was astounding.
“Mindfulness is a way of living and meditation will help you attain it,” explains Pacelli. “I teach students about centering and how to let go of their thoughts, not stop them. There’s a difference. I talk about suspending judgment and agenda, and just taking 20 minutes to be.” It was also about 15 years ago when William B. Lowe ’67 became interested in the writings of the Trappist monk Thomas Keating. In particular, the focus on inner peace at the core of contemplative thought and centering prayer appealed to him.
“I’m not a very patient person,” admits Lowe, a former trader in New York and Florida, who now resides in Idaho, “and I have a hard time quieting my mind. But I’m a much calmer person now than I was 15 years ago.” Lowe credits this change to his regular engagement in contemplative prayer, a spiritual cousin to meditation that produces similar effects. Though he discovered the advantages of meditating later in life, Lowe believes that introducing introspective exercises earlier would go a long way toward the development of the supple minds needed to face life’s challenges. Over the past 20 years, scientific studies (including those in the field of neuroplasticity) have found multiple benefits to meditation, including greater focus, sharper cognitive function, more balanced nervous system, enhanced prosocial behavior, and increases in empathy, kindness, generosity, patience, and happiness.
In the years since the first meditation session at SPS, Pacelli and Director of Academic Support Kate Daniels have teamed up to amplify opportunities for students to explore. Each leads a twice-weekly meditation group, serves as an adviser to a student club devoted to the practice, and further educates curious minds through the Interdisciplinary Course “Now Is The Time.” Pacelli and Daniels hope to increase opportunities to learn about and practice mindfulness for all members of the School community. The Warren W. Jackson Mindfulness Fund, established by Lowe in honor of his former SPS philosophy and religious history instructor, will provide the financial resources to help further their efforts.
With his gift, Lowe celebrates the tutelage of Jackson, a Navy officer, a businessperson in both the private and public sectors, and an Episcopal priest, who served on the School faculty from 1958 to 1967. For Lowe, Jackson’s classes opened the door to a different spiritual reflection. “He scrubbed all my notions about religion,” recalls Lowe. “There was no dogma to be seen, but still many lessons to be learned. It was my first invitation to apply retroactively up-to-date science and common sense to Biblical text and try to find a shared thread running through both worlds. It was and is a challenge because science and religious interpretation just don’t stand still. We, on the other hand, can. And, I think Warren Jackson would have agreed, from time to time, we should.”