Journalist Lena Folke covers Queer Dharma

Lena Folke is a freelance journalist and master’s student at the Medill School of Journalism. In one of her latest stories, she writes about Shambhala Chicago’s Queer Dharma meditation group and it’s longevity and significance within the LGBTQ+ community. Read her piece below:

Weekly Queer Dharma to facilitate a space of safety and wellness as rates of Covid rise and fall

WEST LOOPAs the beginning of the winter season approaches with a rise in COVID-19 cases, the need to maintain mental and physical well-being takes precedence, particularly for those belonging to marginalized communities.

Queer Dharma, a meditation group based out of the West Loop, advocates for accessible mental well-being in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, all while keeping in mind COVID-19 safety parameters.

 “One of the important aspects of mental health is social connection and community. Our space as an LGBTQ meditation group really gives people some place to feel safe and some place to feel like they can connect with like-minded people.” Jonathan Parker, the leader of Queer Dharma, said. “Apart from that, meditation has so many benefits.” 

 Every Sunday, Queer Dharma holds hourly sessions, welcoming LGBTQ+ community members and allies of any age around the world. Based out of Shambhala Chicago, Queer Dharma has been fostering a safe and welcoming environment to promote the practice of meditation for nearly 20 years.  Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, Queer Dharma adapted to the new normal, continuing to facilitate its mindfulness practices over Zoom.  Centered around having compassion for oneself and others, Queer Dharma encompasses the true meaning of an accessible safe space.

Engaging in repeated practices of meditation includes a variety of mind and body awareness that can greatly improve the quality of one’s life, including lessening symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression, as well as an improved quality of sleep, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

 “Meditation, Community, Social Vision ” are included on the signage for Shambhala Chicago, welcoming visitors to the center. Offering a variety of both in-person and online meditation groups, the center promotes accessibility to wellness for LGBTQ+ communities. November 7, 2022. (Lena Folke/MEDILL)  

“Personally, I’ve found it’s helped with how I work with stress and helped to reduce stress. How I work with my own mind and not let it not necessarily control me but allow it to be a friend” Parker said. “We try to teach and emphasize compassion. So, be kind to yourself and be gentle with yourself. But also, share that with everyone else.” 

 Parker began as a participant in Queer Dharma, prior to starting to lead the group six years ago.  These virtual services for the LGBTQ+ community based out of the West Loop continue to be available, even while other services in Chicago have resumed to be in-person. 

 “It’s really helpful incorporating mindfulness into practice, especially for queer folks” Kat Jones, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist who specializes in telehealth care for the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC community, said. “There’s often a disconnection between the self and society and community and family and so mindfulness can really help reintegrate that sense of awareness and sense of belonging.” 

Alice Dan, the co-director of practice and education at Shambhala and one of the founding members of Queer Dharma in 2003, has witnessed the evolution of the group, including how the meditation group has continued to improve the well-being of her students through Queer Dharma’s message of acceptance and the present moment. 

“This is an opportunity for people who may have experienced rejection or all different kinds of stressful difficulties due to the way they are to feel safe and learn what it means to not be afraid of who we are,” Dan said. “Meditation is about sitting with ourselves without judgment.”

Those who are interested in attending Queer Dharma can register for the Zoom link on Shambhala Chicago’s website, or email [email protected] for more information.

Source List

Alice Dan (she/her), Co-director of Practice and Education, Shambhala Chicago Meditation Center
312-206-5652 [email protected]

Kat Jones (she/her), Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Nostos Psychotherapy
312-549-8076 [email protected]

Jonathan Parker (he/him), Queer Dharma Correspondent, Shambhala Chicago Meditation Center
773-743-8147  [email protected]

Meditation and Mindfulness. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Published June 2022 

Fenit Nirappil, CDC warns of tough winter as flu, RSV and covid collide, Washington Post. November 2022