Sam Foer ’20

Sam Foer graduated in 2020 afte majoring in Philosophy and Political Science. When he finishes his current volunteer program with Dhamma Dhara Vipassana Meditation Center, he plans to attend law school at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. Learn how Honors helped Sam build a strong personal narrative and Sam’s sage advice for incoming students.

Tell us about a favorite memory from your undergrad days. What do you think of the Honors Programs and your time at URI?

A favorite memory I have from my undergrad days is organizing a coalition of key student groups unconstitutionally denied funding based on perceived political status to fight URI Student Senate’s policies that violated the freedom of association rights of students. I loved my time at URI. It was the perfect place for me to pursue rigorous study of fields that fascinate me, while merging my learning with advocacy, involvement, and leadership projects that advanced my understanding of the type of work that I feel most alive doing so that I can continue to pursue such activities as vocation. The Honors Program, especially the Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities, headed by the great Kathleen Maher, was one of my homes. Kathleen and I worked tirelessly on crafting my applications to prestigious scholarships and building a cohesive personal narrative. The skill of masterfully building a cohesive narrative is much harder than it sounds, and has proved helpful to me far beyond scholarship opportunities. I am immensely grateful to URI and Kathleen for investing time and resources into me.

Tell us about the work you are doing today. What is your job, title and responsibility?

I am currently a live-in volunteer at Dhamma Dhara Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne Falls, MA. My title is a “Sit-Server.” The meditation center where I volunteer offers ten day silent meditation courses, in which course participants live as a renunciate for ten days and intensively practice for 10-12 hours a day the technique of meditation that, purportedly, the Buddha used to achieve his awakening. My job is to help prepare and cook the meals, clean up, and make the Center a comfortable place for the participants to focus their energies inwards. For every two courses that I serve as a volunteer, I am entitled to participate in a ten day course, hence why the program is called “Sit-Service.” In return for creating a space for seekers to advance in their practice, I receive lodging and meals. The Center is run entirely on a donation basis, and welcomes anyone to participate in its ten day courses who is interested in overcoming the habit patterns that cause and condition suffering, thus entering into lasting happiness and contentment. You do not need to be or become a Buddhist in order to benefit from a course.

What did the path to your current role look like? What are some interesting jobs or experiences you had along the way?

I was diagnosed with ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and minor OCD when I was eight years old. These conditions made it difficult for me to function and relate, let alone be happy. At age 16, my parents brought me to a guided meditation session and I had a transformative breakthrough experience. I experienced the space between stimulus and response for the first time in my life; an unimaginable freedom of mind. I was without stress, anxiety, and their causes and conditions for a few brief, but extraordinarily powerful moments. Going from 0-100000000 within a few seconds, I became fascinated with the systems and practices designed to attain what felt to me during that brief experience like the final escape from suffering. I now desired to turn that state into a trait with every fiber of my being. I became close to becoming a Buddhist monastic. However, I knew that I have worldly callings in addition to my strong spiritual ones, and that I couldn’t gratifyingly walk this life with only one leg. So, instead of ordaining, I simulated the monastic life for ten days as soon as I turned 18 by completing a course at Dhamma Dhara Vipassana Meditation Center where I now live. I have been meditating and attending courses in this tradition ever since, which has allowed me to balance my life in general society with my spiritual ambitions. During college, I was very active in advocacy and leadership roles, founding and leading multiple student organizations and spearheading multiple successful advocacy projects that resulted in greater student and faculty rights and the compliance of URI with settled constitutional law. These projects reaffirmed that I am called to leadership in the world of law, policy, and advocacy. After graduating, I worked with a Jewish non-profit, helping to teach Jewish middle and high school students about history, law, politics, philosophy, and more. I then founded a campaign to fight anti-Semitism in Rhode Island and worked with a coalition of Jews and Christians to pursue this project. After this, I worked for about a year and a half as a sales representative for a solar energy company to save money for law school. I realized that before I begin law school and my career, I needed to more firmly establish myself as a serious and devoted practitioner of the Vipassana meditation lifestyle by living at the Center.

What would you like to highlight about your post-grad experience that you feel URI and the Honors Program uniquely prepared you for?

As I mentioned above, I genuinely feel like the skill of crafting a cohesive, accurate, and powerful narrative that Kathleen Maher and the Office of National Fellowships and Academic Opportunities trained me to do has helped me become a better public-advocate, self-advocate, salesman, and competitive applicant to grad/law schools. It has helped me in many areas of my life post-graduation.

Have you maintained connections with URI through alumni networks? Are you involved in any mentorship or outreach programs through URI? If so, please describe. If you are open to students reaching out to you, please indicate your contact preferences in your response.

I have not maintained connections with URI through alumni networks. I would be happy to have students reach out to me! I cannot promise a super speedy response time due to my extremely limited access to my phone and computer at the meditation center, but between courses, I do regain access and would be happy to talk to some students!

What advice do you have for current students?

“This is YOUR life. Do what you love, and do it often. It sounds trite, but follow your heart. A life guided by thought or the expectations of others is cut off from what is felt by the body; the storehouse of intuition and inner knowledge. The best navigation system for life does not come from the prefrontal cortex; the “rational” part of our minds. Rather, it comes from developing our intuitive faculties and following them. Thinking is crucial to our political and public affairs, and to developing theoretical models for understanding the world. Intuition is crucial to living the good life. Our lives are so precious, and our time is the most meaningful, arguably the only really meaningful commodity we have, and we don’t have much of it. It is a tragedy that so many humans realize late in life, often on their deathbeds, that they should have spent more time with loved ones; that they shouldn’t have worked so hard; that the good life is defined by the meaning we feel and bring to the lives of others through shared experience, service and compassion, and being fully present with ourselves and others; that happiness and contentment are arts that we breathe into being through the minor things that we have ultimate control over, from our mental and emotional states to the words that we speak coming from a place of love and compassion. Your consciousness is all that you really have. Do not allow yourself to defile your consciousness with negativity.”