Look around. The warm glow of amber-stained glass envelops the circle of strangers and friends — Colgate students and faculty and staff members — gathered for an early morning meditation.

At Chapel House, just grab a cushion and engage in a practice that allows student meditation leader Chris Vanderhoef ’27 to settle down, breathe, and reflect.

“As serious as I am about my studies, meditation allows me to step back and say, OK, maybe you don’t have to be a student right now,” says Vanderhoef. “Maybe you can just simply be.”

Vanderhoef’s day starts just before 8:30 a.m., when he heads up to Chapel House to lead a 15-minute session. As an employee of Colgate’s work- study program, Vanderhoef was trained by Chapel House staff. They encouraged him to attend a variety of their meditation programs, such as guided outdoor walks and their sound-bowl series, to build his knowledge.

“These practices have improved my quality of life,” he says, “so I want to help the campus community by spreading them.”

Since Vanderhoef took Professor of Religion Georgia Frank’s FSEM class called Belonging, Becoming, and Beyond, he has continued to question the beyond. “Meditation is a type of belonging,” he says, as he is often joined in his sessions by returning students. “But there’s certainly a higher level to it, a beyond. It’s really a mysterious practice, with elements you can’t explain.”

Student meditation leaders hail from all disciplines, such as peace and conflict studies major Gillian Lustenberger ’27. Lustenberger, who also took her FSEM with Frank, fills the 5 p.m. slot. Her sessions adopt a Zen Buddhist style.

“We focus on the body to improve the participants’ ability to be in the present moment,” says Lustenberger, who has found anxiety relief in the process. “I don’t get panic attacks anymore.”

Each of her sessions ends with a group debriefing, where participants are called upon to share their experience. “To hear that the meditation helped someone relax or be in a better head space for the day is so rewarding,” says Lustenberger.

“I love being a part of Chapel House,” she adds. “It is such an uplifting, welcoming space where people can take a break from their busy lives and just exist.”