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Minnesotans weary of Black Friday's shopping frenzy have a new alternative to the mall. The Minnesota Zen Meditation Center offers an open house the day after Thanksgiving that it calls "Blank Friday."

There's no stampede to enter the doors, no peering into store windows for hot bargains. Visitors could sit on floor cushions or chairs, meditate silently, and take in lectures such as "The Healing Power of Looking at a Blank Wall."

"I've never liked that the day after Thanksgiving focuses so much on consumerism," said Kristine Oberg, standing outside a meditation room after the lecture. "It sucks the energy out of the day. This is a good idea."

But Oberg, a bank executive, admits that a Menards flier caught her eye that morning offering a great deal on her dog's favorite stuffed toys.

"I was tempted," she said with a smile.

It's the fifth year for Blank Friday, a pleasant, laid-back affair that draws about 100 people to the center in Minneapolis across from Bde Maka Ska, formerly known as Lake Calhoun. The sign outside said "A Zen Alternative to Black Friday," with a red arrow pointing to the door.

Randy Wedin, the center's vice president, said Blank Friday is a way for the place to introduce itself to the community as well as offer respite for its members on what could be a stressful day.

Visitors such as Peyton Cook, a Twin Cities retired pilot, were relieved to be there. His workout plans for the morning fell through and this was another option that didn't involve fighting crowds.

"It's a great way to get people like me through the door," Cook said. "It's a great marketing tool for the Zen Center."

The Zen Center is in a three-story house overlooking the lake. Visitors were greeted as they entered, chatted a bit with organizers, and then headed upstairs to meditate or attend a lecture about mindfulness or about meditating on walls.

About 25 people showed up for a morning lecture, sitting on floor cushions and chairs in the main meditation room. Instructor Ben Connelly took his place on the floor in the room's center. A small statue of Buddha and a lighted candle stood on a shelf behind him.

"A lot of people find this place intimidating," Connelly explained to the group. "We tell them, come on over! [Mediation] is really not complicated."

For the next hour, Connelly offered the ABCs of practicing Japanese Buddhist meditation and a perspective on the ancient practice of "wall gazing."

"We've been massively conditioned that we need to run around and do stuff all the time," Connelly said, noting that gazing at a wall can be both a calming exercise and a door offering insights into one's mind.

The class wound down with about 15 minutes of group meditation, but no wall gazing. When folks opened their eyes, Connelly asked what they experienced.

"I found myself yawning, almost uncontrollably," said one woman.

"A lot of people feel super sleepy," Connelly assured her.

"Or maybe it's the turkey," joked another man in the back.

Another woman said she felt "fidgety," and she also was assured that was not unusual. One man added: "I appreciate the time here on Black Friday and not out buying TV sets."

Grace Machoki, a university counselor, finished the class and stopped by a table of nuts, tangerines and other snacks. She has been at the center a few times before and came because she was interested in learning more.

"It was helpful to get an introduction on how to sit, how to breathe," Machoki said. "But I would have liked to have tried staring at a wall."

Machoki explained that when she was growing up in Kenya, children who got in trouble with their teachers had to sit facing a wall for 30 minutes. Maybe there was something to that.

"It sent me back many years," she said with a smile. "I might give it a try."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511