Peace of mind and mindful discussion

New and returning programs at Richmond Library focus on more than borrowing books.

Beyond books: Mayumi Miller, second from left, prepares to lead the meditation group at Richmond Library with Amy Thatcher and David Soltesz as participants. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

If borrowing books is the only service you thought Richmond Library offered to the public, think again.

Starting this month, the Port Richmond branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia is adding two free programs: a meditation group and a book club.

Individuals sat in a circle of chairs as the faint smell of incense floated through the air and the light from various lamps cast dim shadows in one of the downstairs meeting rooms of the library on Wednesday, Aug. 16.

The sincere setting was the backdrop for the meditation group’s first session.

Port Richmond resident Mayumi Miller led the group, which will initially meet every other Wednesday.

Miller frequently visits the library with her two children and posed the idea to library supervisor Amy Thatcher about a month ago.

“We offer a lot of children’s programming at the library and this is a chance for adults to exclusively get together,” Thatcher said.

The group is for adults ages 18 and older.

Miller has a private practice as a healer and often uses meditation in her one-on-one sessions, as well as meditating by herself, but found the urge to meditate with others.

“I found that I really would like to meditate with a group of people, and I received such a warm response from Amy,” she said.

Using the library as a space to build community is one of the underlying goals of the group.

“Learning to meditate is a wonderful life skill and this is a great space to bring a group of people together to foster a sense of community,” Miller said.

Port Richmond resident David Soltesz participated in the meditation and was drawn to the community aspect.

“I’ve meditated for more than 30 years and you can do it by yourself, but it can be helpful to be in a group setting to help you focus,” he said.

Thatcher, who joined the staff about a year and half ago, has worked on adding more programs to reach as many individuals in the community as possible.

“We thought this would be a great spiritual and physical health offering,” she said. “And the group aspect is key. It’s a great way to experience the benefits of focused mindfulness and experience a sense of community.”

Another not-so-new initiative Thatcher is bringing back to the library to create a sense of community is the book club.

When the previous manager left and the library hours changed, the group was put on the back burner, and Thatcher wants to “pull everyone back together and get back on a regular schedule.”

The book club’s first meeting will be on Wednesday, Aug. 23.

The group will usually “focus on a character or plot from the current reading and apply what happens in the novel to our own life,” but conversations often evolved to cover many other topics, according to Thatcher.

Members of the group take turns choosing books and meet every six weeks, although Thatcher is considering changing the schedule to once a month.

Famous folk tales will be the focus of the August meeting.

Anthony Doerr’s bestseller “All the Light We Cannot See” is next up on the reading list.

And, while discussing books is the focal point of the group, fun is encouraged.

For last December’s meeting, the group read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and enjoyed roasted walnuts and mincemeat pie.

Thatcher plans to have similar meetings in the future, such as incorporating Thanksgiving in the November meeting, all while building community over food for thought.

“It’s a way for all of us to talk about why we like a book and build that community,” she said. “Reading is a solitary experience, but the joyful part is articulating to others what you experience when you’re reading.”

The meditation group will again on Wednesday, Aug. 30. The group will meet every other Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the lower level of Richmond Library, 2987 Almond St. Comfortable clothing is recommended. The group is open to all levels. The book club will meet every sixth Wednesday at 6 p.m. The next meeting is Oct. 4.