A mindful way of living
Justice Crudup closes his eyes and begins his breathing––cool air goes in, hot air goes out.
Twice a day, for twenty minutes, he finds himself situated at a bench in the park, sitting on Memorial Lawn, or crouched on a cushion in the Meditation Room at the Fish Interfaith Center.
For Crudup, meditation is simply a part of his daily routine.
“The very first time I meditated, I felt a sense of euphoria and a sense of clarity,” the junior political science major said. “I reached that pinnacle when you’re just breathing and you’re thinking about nothing else. All you feel is light and clarity and relaxation, and it’s a great feeling.”
Crudup, along with many other students, has discovered the benefits of meditation, mindfulness meditation in particular, as a way of dealing with the stresses of daily college life. Many students attribute their discovery of this practice to a mindfulness meditation class taught by Gail Stearns, dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel.
Gail Stearns, a certified mindfulness instructor, began the introductory mindfulness meditation course in hopes of providing students with a non-religious outlet for self-discovery and the search for meaning. Stearns believes that the practice taught in her class, which combines the focus of present awareness with meditation, can be helpful when it comes to dealing with stress.
“I think there are a lot of insights into [using mindfulness to deal with stress],” Stearns said. “The first one is that your mind often goes off, but you don’t have to believe everything you think. Mindfulness teaches you that. Also, there’s that notion of pausing, and just learning to pause and take breaks.”
Gabrielle Maddocks, a sophomore business administration major, said that by attending Stearns’ class over the past spring semester, she has learned that mindfulness meditation can be an effective way to relieve anxiety, even if it is just for a short period of time.
“Having anxiety, (the mindfulness meditation class) has helped me be more aware of my anxiety provoking thoughts, accept them, and put them aside for at least an hour, which has been very helpful for me.” Maddocks said.
In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist, Melanie Greenberg explains that mindfulness encompasses various qualities that humans already have within themselves, but need to be made more aware of. These include a focus on the present moment, openness to experience, non-judgment, and acceptance of the way things are. By allowing the qualities to work in tandem in their mind, a person may become better prepared to deal with the different circumstances in their life.
“Developing an observing mind that watches your own daily experience, notices your automatic patterns, and gently redirects attention to the present moment is the beginning of growing a ‘mindfulness muscle’ to help you navigate the winds of change and stresses in your life,” Greenberg wrote.
However, Cole Walton, the founder of the Mindfulness Club, and a ‘15 alumnus, explained that the purpose of mindfulness isn’t necessarily to relieve stress, it just often ends up having that effect.
“Mindfulness allows you to direct certain energies in a more positive or productive manner by bringing awareness to what is going on mentally, physically, and spiritually,” Walton said.
He further explained that mindfulness essentially helps an individual figure out what is occupying their mind, and create an awareness of their thoughts and emotions.
Dina Sabatelli, a sophomore environmental science major, and an active attendee of Stearns’ class, said that the idea of remaining in the present that is so pivotal when practicing mindfulness allows her to focus on her emotions and sort through why she may be experiencing them.
“[Mindfulness meditation] has given me an outlet to relieve any stress or any emotions that may be bothering me,” Sabatelli said. “It’s sometimes hard to find time to do it, but I always look forward to the moments that I can, because even a short meditation provides me with a renewed sense of calmness.”
For busy students who feel like they often don’t have time to fit mindfulness meditation into their daily routines, like Sabatelli, Stearns recommended making it a point to add it to their schedule. She suggested setting a reminder or writing it down, so it is automatically a part of their plan for the day. She explained that even short, mindful activities have the potential to pay off in the long run.
“Both in the science of the brain and in research, we’ve found that it really works to be able to just give yourself that space and time,” Stearns said. “So take a walk, do a short meditation, take a break and have a conversation, have a cup of coffee and really just appreciate it.”
Crudup said that he often uses short meditations to deal with the everyday stresses that he encounters as a college student. If there is a class or an upcoming test that is causing him stress, he will do a quick meditation in order to calm down and return his focus to the present.
“I close my eyes and I breathe in and out for 10 to 15 seconds and it totally calms me down,” Crudup said. “It takes away all that anxiety that I have for that test or throughout the day.”