Meditation research brings Osley ’20 life lessons

When John-Michael Osley ’20 isn’t playing baseball, volunteering, or studying, you might find him meditating.

The junior from Centennial, Colorado, meditates twice a day. It’s something he became passionate about earlier this year. He used that new-found passion as he started his Block 3 anthropology class, Qualitative Research Methods and Fieldwork with Assistant Professor Misha Quill, which fulfills a requirement for his anthropology minor.

John Michael Osley '20 and Head Abbot Shoken
John Michael Osley ’20 and Head Abbot Shoken

“We got to pick any topic that we were interested in and wanted to do research on,” Osley said. “The idea was to get us fieldwork experience in the field of anthropology.”

Osley chose to study at Ryumonji, a Zen monastery near Decorah, Iowa.

“I didn’t even leave the state and I was able to experience a culture that was completely different than mine,” he said. “I think that’s amazing.”

Osley is a biochemistry and molecular biology major with dreams of working as a doctor for Doctors Without Borders. He said he’s always been interested in learning about different cultures and people around the world, and this was one way of exploring something new close to home. He stayed at the monastery for two days and two nights, eating, cleaning, and meditating with the monks.

“Their meditation practice, Zazen, is really about sitting up into the present moment,” Osley explained. “It’s all about posture and maintaining posture. Whenever your thoughts slip or when you get into a rabbit hole of thought, return to your posture. That applies to life and the way that there are moments in life that could be good, bad, or otherwise. It’s important to sit up into them, be present in those moments, and take them for what they are. We shouldn’t try to change them but rather to accept the moment that life brings you. I think that’s a valuable lesson for people.” 

Meditation Hall used to practice Zazen
Meditation Hall used to practice Zazen

Osley took diligent notes and studied up on several resources to learn more about the meditation practices, concluding that a dedicated practice to meditation doesn’t provide several health benefits but a singular health benefit. Osley learned how to view health as a whole.

“Health does not have to be looked at as a way to cure specific ailments, but can be viewed rather as a united concept,” Osley wrote in his final paper. “When an environment is created with the intention for well-being, the body, mind, and spirit respond to that intention, playing off one another, promoting a content and healthy human being.”

He said he enjoyed the academic freedom of this field research and learned a lot, but he took away much more than the educational aspects from the experience. His biggest lesson happened because he stepped out of his comfort zone.

“Going into this, I was really excited about the project and learning about meditation, but I was scared and nervous because I was going into a new environment,” Osley said. “I didn’t know anyone there, really. I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I was just kind of jumping in. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I’m really happy I took that leap and just went for it. I think that I’ll use that later on in my life when I face something that makes me scared or makes me nervous. I’m going to remember this experience and think, ‘OK, when I did that, look at how awesome and amazing it turned out.’”

Now the baseball playing, meditating junior says he takes each day as it comes, meditating using his old techniques of meditation and mixing in some of his new skills about Zazen to live a more balanced, healthy life.

“Any time something is hard or something makes me feel frustrated or uncomfortable, I think of the lessons they taught me there. It’ll be a part of my life forever,” Osley said. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”