Brother Hue Chuyen, a Buddhist monk from Germany, sits in a circle of 22 Andover people. He asks how many of them have never meditated before, and six raise their hands.
"Those of you who have never meditated before, I ask you to close your eyes and take three deep breaths," he says.
They do as they're told, closing their eyes and breathing in unison. He smiles as they open their eyes and look back at him.
"Alright. Now everyone has meditated," he says, grinning. "Not so bad?"
A few people laugh. One woman in the circle is Hue Chuyen's art teacher from kindergarten. The monk grew up in Andover, when his name was Seth Krentcil, and the teacher tells him after the session that she remembers him as a child in Andover over 20 years ago.
Krentcil, now known by his religious name Hue Chuyen, returned home last week to visit friends and family, and during his vacation he held a meditation session in the second floor of Old Town Hall. He said he felt an uneasiness in where his life was going when he lived in Andover. After graduating from the University of Hartford just over six years ago, he traveled to Germany to become a Buddhist monk.
If you were to ask him today what the difference is between his original home on Elm Street and where he is now, he'd tell you that he doesn't know. Life in America and life at the monastery almost can't be compared.
The most crucial difference that he is aware of is in him.
"My life only became what I expected it to be when I stopped hoping it would become what I wanted it to be," he said. "Living in Andover is what brought me to this path. I never found my place. I went to school, and nothing made sense.
"My relationship with the town, my life, in the school and the community, I didn't know what was happening," he said.
That isn't to say that he wasn't pleased to return to Andover. He made it a point to say coming home was "a very happy moment."
After finding himself in Germany, he also seemed happy to share his journey with the community in which he was raised.
Krentcil guided the 90-minute meditation Thursday evening, and then answered questions that covered meditation techniques, life at the monastery and how he felt coming back home.
During the meditation, he sat on a cushion with his legs crossed. He raised his arms to his chest and pressed his flattened hands together as he bowed towards the circle. He held his hands out, calling attention to how they were pressed together, similar to the generations-old greeting and show of respect seen in many Asian societies. The shape of the hands, he said, takes the form of a lotus flower.
"In Buddhism, the lotus is a symbol of power and transformation," Krentcil said. "It is a symbol that we can transform ourselves, no matter where we are or whatever difficulties we have."
Krentcil explained that meditation focuses on silence, both in the environment and in the mind. The group sat for around ten minutes in complete silence, at which point he instructed people to stand. After some more instruction and information, residents then entered a "walking session," where they walked in a circle around the room, with more emphasis placed on the silence, and focusing on the body and its journey.
"When we walk, it's all about the presence," he said. "You have your phone call. When you're walking (while talking on your phone), you don't see the earth. You don't see the birds.
"Everyone slow down. Really feel each movement of the foot," he continued. "Feel how the foot moves off of the ground, moving forward, and sets itself back on the ground. If you get lost in your thoughts, just take a deep breath and come back to the ground."
During the discussion at the end of the meeting, he talked about how distracting his Andover home seemed to him.
"We aren't really waking up to what we are doing," Krentcil said, adding that noisy households can create disruptive energy.
"It's the feeling like the house is filling up with this energy. Whatever is on TV, that fills your house with that energy," he said. "You're yelling at your neighbor because his music is too loud. That isn't happiness either."
One person asked him if other monks smile as much as he does. He laughed, saying that since he came home, where he listens to his grandmother "blasting Judge Judy," he doesn't smile as much. Then he related the answer to the day he met Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama.
"He's sitting there in his chair, and his foot is out. He looks at his foot and starts laughing," Krentcil said. "He just starts flipping his foot and laughing. Then I realized, the Dalai Lama has mastered the art of being happy."
At the end of the meeting, Krentcil asked if those in attendance would come to future sessions, and most of the attendees raised their hands.
"If you would like to start a meditation group, please do. Even if it is only two of you," he said.
Joe Thibodeau, a 19-year-old resident home from his studies at Tufts University, said he supports the idea of starting a meditation group in town.
"It was nice to get to take time out of the day and change things up," Thibodeau said. "I think changing things up is a good thing. I feel much healthier that way."
The event was organized by Andover Youth Services. AYS Director Bill Fahey said he hopes there will be more sessions.
"I think I was inspired tonight, and I heard the message loud and clear," Fahey said. "I definitely want to do it in the future."
"It's amazing because there's nothing here. No music, there's no entrance fee, no cell phones," Fahey continued. "Just pure simplicity, and out of that, people from all walks of life connecting so strongly. I want to share that with the community."
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