Evan Rosenberg practices yoga during a physical chemistry lab in the Swanson Science Center. He applied his pre-health background to the study of meditation and yoga in India.
Pre-health student finds peace in Himalayas
The distance that separates the bustling town of Dharamshala in northern India from a tranquil Tibetan monastery nestled in the Himalayas is a 360-step trek up a steep hillside. For Evan Rosenberg ’14, who counted the steps during his daily voyage into town, the distance was the difference between chaos and serenity.
The chemistry major chose the monastery as the location of his Magellan Project because it offered him the opportunity to engage in quiet meditation and open dialogue with Tibetan Buddhist monks and refugees. “It was nice because the town can be loud— horns are constantly blaring and it’s really busy,” he said. “Staying at the monastery allowed me to separate from the commotion and accomplish what I set out to do.”
Though Rosenberg, a Pittsburgh native, is not new to international travel—in his three years at Washington & Jefferson College, he has traveled to China, Israel and Puerto Rico—it was his first time traveling alone. With nothing more in his suitcase than some clothing, meditation books and a yoga mat, Rosenberg, then 19, arrived at the heart of India’s Tibetan exile region with an open mind and a desire to learn.
“You’re put in a situation where you don’t know anyone and you’re in a different country, so you’re not familiar with the culture or how people will react to you,” he said. “You just have to submerge yourself in the experience.”
“You just have to submerge yourself in the experience.”
When Rosenberg was asked to volunteer at the monastery as an English tutor, he embraced the chance to interact with monks who had traveled from all over the region to practice the language. “The Dalai Lama encourages the Tibetan people to learn English so they can tell their story,” said Rosenberg, who would initiate conversations with the monks over tea, answering questions about his culture while learning more about theirs. “It was cool, because you could tell where the monks were from by what they were wearing,” he said. “They dressed in colors that represented their places of origin, but the one thing that linked them together was their religion of Tibetan Buddhism.”
While it was rewarding for Rosenberg to work with the monks on their English skills, he was more moved by the lessons they taught him in return. “The biggest thing I took away from the monks is to live your life without regrets or grudges and to keep compassion in your heart for everyone,” he said. “Buddhism is such a beautiful way of life. I never once was disrespected by a Tibetan person.”
For Rosenberg, who says he has battled symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder since childhood, these lessons were invaluable in helping him find peace with himself and in his surroundings. To calm his mind, he practiced meditation in the monastery during the monks’ daily prayer services, called pujas, and sought out quiet spots of solitude during his hikes in the Himalayas.
“To meditate means to do nothing. You’re not supposed to think or do anything at all, which is impossible,” he said. “But when you’re meditating in the mountains, the atmosphere is much different than it is at home. Everything is so quiet and relaxed. It is easier to focus there and get into that meditative state.”
While conducting research on the health benefits of meditation during his time in India, Rosenberg noted a positive change in his behavior that has carried over into his pre-health studies at W&J. “After being so stressed at school last year, I’ve taken a new approach to my studies,” he said. “I still get all of my work done, but I’m a happier, calmer and more focused person as a result of my Magellan Project.”
"I’m a happier, calmer and more focused person as a result of my Magellan Project.”
Rosenberg, who also studied traditional Tibetan medicine in India, plans to use what he has learned from his Magellan Project to benefit future patients suffering from cardiac or neurological problems. While his “heart always has been set on surgery”—at age 8, he knew he wanted to become a doctor—Rosenberg is open to the possibility of incorporating natural medicine into his future pursuits, adding that he would go back to India “in a heartbeat.”
Reflecting on his time in the monastery, Rosenberg recalls a thought-provoking discussion he had with a young man who had been studying English for three months. “We would debate scientific ideas versus Buddhist ideas, such as how we perceive colors,” he said.
Rosenberg explained that Buddhists see colors as representations of five natural elements—fire, air, space, earth and water—while science dictates that objects absorb some colors and reflect others. “We only see the colors that are reflected,” he said.
Rosenberg drew a parallel between how humans recognize color and college students perceive life. “The typical student may only see what is reflected, but W&J students are given the opportunity to see what is absorbed,” he said. “The Magellan Project allows us to travel to places we never dreamed of visiting and experience things we never thought possible. It enhances our perspective of the world.”