Jerry Seinfeld is one of the more than 18 million Americans who meditate, which means the star of the TV show about nothing sits and thinks about nothing.

Except that meditation is not really thinking about nothing, said Rick Westby, who with his wife, Julie, hosts a weekly group session in Maricopa.

“Our brains are not designed to allow us to think about nothing,” he said. “So what we have to do is let the thoughts come and let them go.”

When she teaches meditation, Julie Westby tells people to envision an open meadow with a deer running through it. The meadow is the mind, and the deer is a thought. “Here’s a thought, and then I let it go. Sometimes I want to grab onto it, but then I go, ‘no grabbing,’” she said.

The Westbys own Maricopa Behavioral Health Services at 19395 N. John Wayne Parkway, which is where the group meditation sessions take place at 7 p.m. every Wednesday. The sessions are free and open to anyone who wants to join.

On a recent Wednesday, participants sat on small rugs on a laminate wood floor. The room was dim, with two soft-light lamps on the opposite side from the door. The subtle smell of essential oils filled the room. For 15 minutes, the 10 people in attendance sat quietly with their eyes closed.

The only sounds were the soothing hum of a small air conditioner, a bit of fidgeting and the unwelcome sound of a loud motorcycle in the parking lot that lasted less than 20 seconds.

After the 15 minutes were up, a beep sounded. The group at that point would normally begin a discussion about a book members have been reading. On this night, however, they spoke with a visitor about how they got started meditating and how it helps them relieve stress.

Like Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey is another celebrity advocate of meditation. A couple of Wednesday night regulars became interested after watching Winfrey’s shows.

“She was always bringing in those spiritual components,” Julie Westby said. “I recognized that all the people I admired and had all this peace that I wanted, they were all meditators.”

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a U.S. government agency, “research suggests that practicing meditation may reduce blood pressure, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and insomnia.”

Among the misconceptions about meditation is that it’s incompatible with Christianity and other Western religions.

Padre Pio, a priest who after his death was canonized by the Catholic Church, said, “Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him.”

“It used to be a regular part of one of the churches I attended,” said Sandy Juniper of Maricopa, a teacher, life coach, real estate agent and Wednesday night attendee.

The Westbys trained in meditation at Shambhala Meditation Center in Scottsdale, which is associated with a Buddhist religious tradition.

“I always hesitate sharing that because people say, ‘Oh, you’re Buddhist?’ No, that’s just where we got trained,” Julie Westby said.

Anyone can meditate. You don’t have to be a spiritual guru, Julie Westby said, or dress in beads and sandals and retreat to a special room with candles and burning incense.

“I can be sitting in traffic and just drop into it,” said Linda Esposito of Maricopa, an artist and semiretired senior home care worker.

“It refills my stores of consideration for others, and just some peace and calm. There’s so much dissension and stress out there now. If you can emanate a little bit of calm and consideration, that’s important.”

Yevonne Wesley of Maricopa, a retired U.S. Centers for Disease Control medical worker, started meditating on the recommendation of her doctor.

“In my line of work I would be so keyed up I couldn’t wind down,” she said. “For me, it’s to relieve stress.”

Said Juniper, “I’ve never known anyone who’s actually tried it who said, ‘this is stupid. This doesn’t work.’ Once they’ve really tried it and given it a good effort, they realize the benefits quickly.” | PW