The strains of John Lennon’s “Imagine” filled Rackham Auditorium Saturday morning as Art of Living volunteer Kriyamama Goodwoman played piano and led audience members in a sing-along.
On a large screen behind her flashed pictures of people praying, laughing and talking to each other.
Goodwoman was performing at a conference Saturday sponsored by the Art of Living Foundation, a global organization that aims to create a society similar to the one Lennon espouses in the song. They say their mission is to create world without stress and violence. The group says it has 2.5 million volunteers, about 25 of whom are members of the University’s chapter.
About 80 people attended the conference in honor of the national group’s 25th anniversary. The conference, called “Progress with a Wakeful Mind: Helping to Create a One World Family,” featured speakers and performers who discussed their methods of advocating a violence-free society. Chapters in 50 cities around the United States will hold their own celebrations within the next few weeks.
Mitra said students are “a powerful agent of change,” but said he was disappointed with student turnout at the conference.
“We did not have as many students in the audience as I would have wanted,” he said after the event. “It was about 50 percent graduate students and 50 percent people from all walks of life.”
Bhaskar Mitra, a Rackham student and foundation member, said the University chapter held the conference to help students develop spiritually.
“As a student, I feel our system is devoted exclusively to the development of the
brain and is producing wage-earning robots,” Mitra said in an e-mail interview. “We need to develop these qualities of the heart, to produce complete human beings.”
Helen Brown, a judge in the criminal division of the Wayne County Third District Court, told the audience that she discovered the Art of Living during an emotionally turbulent period of her life when her brother suggested that she take a stress management course.
Brown flew from Michigan to California to take the course 10 years ago. Inspired, she began teaching courses for the Art of Living Foundation a couple years after that.
While in the courses, students learn to use breathing techniques to control their mental state.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, developed a technique called Sudarshan Kriya, in which one uses breathing rhythms to energize the body.
Brown has organized courses for court employees and lawyers in Michigan. She said she plans to develop an anger management course for criminal defendants on probation.
“Stress, negative emotions and unhealthy lifestyles lead to the violence in our society,” she said.