August 27, 2003
A dozen arms stroke the air like cranes taking wing -- graceful but with a determined power behind each motion. The colours of skin reflect the global nature of the people who make up this circle: black, brown, white, golden. [...]
I'm the only one who can see all of that, standing at the edge of the circle in a Dearborn conference room. None of the half-dozen auto engineers can see each other. Their eyes are shut. They're enjoying the relief of spiritual movement and meditation for an hour they have set aside in the precise middle of their work week: noon to 1 p.m. every Wednesday.
And when the cycle of exercises ends, all of them say they feel renewed. My journey to this conference room, where engineers from Ford Motor Co. and MSX International gather each week, started with my search this summer for urban oases: places in the midst of metro Detroit where people get away for moments of spiritual renewal. At first, I was looking for people who enjoy meditating in parks. I recalled that, several years ago, one of the main groups organising spiritual exercises in local parks was Falun Gong, a popular Chinese system of movements and calming reflections.
However, when I called Tim Sun, a coordinator for Falun Gong in Oakland County, he said that the stepped-up pace of work in recent years makes it hard to keep meeting in parks every day.
"You know, life is pretty hectic now," he said.
I know. That's precisely why I wanted to write a column about spots for quick renewal.
"We still go to parks," he said, "but it's on weekends now."
Then, he told me about engineers who meet at work and helped me to find circles at General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and Ford facilities.
The Dearborn group is typical. Only a couple of people are long-term Falun Gong [practitioners]. The system, which swept across China after its introduction by teacher Li Hongzhi in 1992, stresses a slow cycle of exercises along with at least four core values: truth, compassion, forbearance and a commitment to keeping the gatherings free of charge. In recent years, the size of the movement in China led to a ruthless suppression by the central government, but the practice continues to spread around the world.
In Dearborn, the circle started two years ago among engineers who found themselves struggling with one of the most common spiritual questions of our age: How can I make it through another stressful day?
These are practical men and women used to identifying problems and evaluating solutions. So, they accepted an offer from Chinese-American engineers Howard Jia of West Bloomfield and Bing Xu of Bloomfield Township to teach them Falun Gong. Religious affiliations in the circle are diverse: Hindu, Serbian Orthodox, Catholic, Methodist.
All of them say that the weekly break really helps. A couple of bad backs are less painful now. A cancer survivor feels fewer anxieties.
They say they're discovering things about themselves in that empty conference room once a week that are helping to free up their human potential. The bottom line, they say, is this: They're designing better cars, because this spiritual oasis is helping them to design better lives.
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