Yampa Valley School class takes trip to Buddhist Center | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley School class takes trip to Buddhist Center

Students explore 5 religions in humanities class

Yampa Valley School students
Matt Stensland

— The 23 Yampa Valley School students sat quietly Tuesday afternoon, meditating.

It’s not a typical activity for the freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors of Steam­boat’s alternative school. They were visiting the Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs. The students are studying comparative religion this quarter as part of their humanities credit, teacher Chuck Rosemond said.

Rosemond said that during the comparative religion class, the students would study the five major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Rosemond said he wanted to take students to the Buddhist Center partly to expose them to meditation.

Spiritual Director Tim Olm­sted, who started the Buddhist Center about 15 years ago after living and studying in Nepal for 13 years, instructed the students. As they sat with their legs crossed and their arms on their knees or in their laps, Olmsted told them to focus on their breaths in and out.

He said meditation is intended to tame the “monkey mind,” the thoughts that bounce around in people’s heads. It’s not about blocking thoughts, which can’t be done, but to see those thoughts more clearly, Olmsted said. He said it’s not just about relaxation.

“I could feel a wave of something going through my body,” said freshman Jessica Quarto-Walsh, who said she has meditated before. “I don’t know if it was energy. I could feel something, and it made me happy.”

Olmsted fielded a number of questions about Buddhism.

Students asked about different elements of the statue of Buddha, which Olmsted answered by explaining some of the religion’s history. He explained that in Buddhism, the body, or what people do; speech, or how people relate; and mind, or how people perceive, encompass everything. Asked about attaining Nirvana, Olmsted said it’s inherent in everyone but takes time to recognize.

Rosemond asked Olmsted whether Budd­­hism was a religion, philosophy or way or life. After thinking about it for a moment, Olm­­sted said it was a combination of all three.

Olmsted said he meets with school groups about two or three times a year. He said there’s not something specific he’s trying to impart on the students.

“It’s more an issue of exposure,” he said.

Dan Juba, lead teacher at the Yampa Valley School, which has grown to 28 students from 14 two years ago, took that idea a step further.

“Whether we’re talking about religion or any other school subject, math or science, I think our school is about exposure to different things,” he said. “Religion is a reflection on ourselves, who we are and where we come from. I think there’s a lot of value in that.”

As part of the class, Rose­mond said they were visiting other places of worship. He said they plan to visit a mosque and synagogue during a field trip to Denver in December, in addition to churches in Steamboat. Because the class is a mixture of all high school grades, Rose­mond said it likely would be another three or four years until the comparative religion class was taught again at the school.

Sophomore Nate Speach said he knew a lot about Buddhism before visiting the Buddhist Center but that he learned a lot about enlightenment and meditation. He said the lessons of comparative religion were important.

“I think it’s good to know what other people believe and what other people might think,” Speach said. “Religion is something that has kept the world moving for a long time. There’s got to be something to that.”

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