The City College of San Francisco

Economics instructor Asatar Bair leads the campus meditation club in listening to their hearts.

by JOHN OLSON, Contributing Writer

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
Members of the City College meditation club are listening to their hearts. The club meets in Arts 218 every Monday from 2 to 3 p.m. to practice a heart-centered technique of meditation originating from the mystical religion of Sufism. Economics professor Asatar Bair leads the group.

"Try not to miss a beat," Bair tells them.

He instructs them to pick a "sacred" word to repeat with each heartbeat. The word 'might be a person, deity or life goal. "Do not choose the word you think you should," Bair tells them. "Feel the word."

Christina Cauley-Forrest, a club member and second-year political science major, chose the word "love." "The word made me feel a pure utter quiet and passion," she says.

They are practicing Heart Rhythm Meditation, or HRM, which was invented by Bair's father, Puran Bair. It was inspired by the Sufi teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, a musician-poet from India who taught "Universal Sufism." Puran Bair, a protege of Khan's son Pir Vilayat Khan, conceived the idea for HRM after reading a passage from Hazrat Inayat Khan's teachings:

"If there is any form of concentration to be used in meditation, it consists in first getting into the rhythm of the heart, by watching the heartbeats, feeling them and harmonizing with them. Then one centers all feeling in the physical heart and out of feeling selects love, and out of love, Divine Love."

HRM is elaborated in Puran Bair's books "Living from the Heart " and "Energize Your Heart." Puran Bair and his wife Susanna Bair, who co-authored "Energize Your Heart," will be giving a free lecture about HRM in the Diego Rivera Theatre on Thursday Jan. 31 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Asatar Bair calls his parents his "spiritual leaders" but wasn't always so. His father divorced twice during Asatar's childhood. "The divorces were long, messy and painful for everybody I was angry for years at my father," he says.

The pain of divorce ultimately forced his father to turn toward the heart. "He had no choice but to deal with the emotions," Bair says. "All emotions, especially pain, can open your heart."

Unlike Buddhist or Hindu meditation, HRM does not aim to detach from feelings but to listen to them. "Ask your heart a question and watch what happens," Bair says. "The heart answers in its own language. A disturbing emotion or an uncomfortable sensation may mean the heart is saying 'no!'"

Listening to his heart has not always been easy for Bair. As an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, he struggled with his decision to major in economics. "Economics kind of sucked," Bair says. "It glorified capitalism and free markets. It claimed, Everything is great and it's getting better all the time."

Disillusioned with society's inequities, Bair developed an interest in radical economic theories such as Marxism. "I wanted to create an economic structure which would bring out who people really are," Bair says.

Desiring to more deeply investigate and test alternative ideologies, he entered the graduate program at the UMass, but was disappointed. He felt a lack of freedom and creativity to pursue his own ideas. "I began to wonder how all the years of studying derivatives, math and statistics were helping anyone," Bair says.

He then turned his attention toward the internal politics of the graduate school. "Grad students were like serfs, yet we were supposed to be learning about freedom," Bair says. He became a chair of the economic graduate students' union and rallied for better working conditions and self-government for graduate students.

"All I did was argue," Bair says. "I was very partisan: 'I'm right and you're wrong.' I struggled even with the Marxian professors." To his shock he was voted out of his own union. "The betrayal triggered memories of my mother leaving me," Bair says. "I was left face to face with my greatest fear: being alone."

Bair turned to his heart for the answer. "I realized I could be alone," he says. "It's not so bad after all. That was a turning point for me."

Bair began working in greater harmony with his professors and finished his doctoral thesis, "Prison Labor in the United States: An Economic Analysis." Published last year, Bair's research is the first comprehensive, academic attempt to answer whether or not prison labor is a form of slavery. Bair drove 9,000 miles throughout the United States visiting prisons and talking with inmates for research.

"Prison labor is slavery," Bair says. "In prison your labor power is not owned by you. It can be sold to someone else."

Bair is writing a new book titled "Heart of the Economy." Joining the science of economics with the wisdom of the heart, the book explores how feelings can filter upward and affect the development of humanity. It will be coauthored by Bair's father.

"It sounds crazy, and it is crazy, but the entire economy can fit into the heart;" Bair says. "Every thing fits into the heart. It's that big."