By Elizabeth Trump, Coordinator of Mental Health and Wellness
We have completed the first full month of school, past the excitement of spirit week and Homecoming festivities, and are settling into the routine of the school year. This month, I am introducing the second Mental Health Initiative of Mindfulness. We began the school year exploring values and goals, and how the language we use in discussing our intentions changes our experience of the outcomes.
Jon Kabat-Kinn, a teacher of mindfulness and creator of the program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says, “If we hope to go anywhere or develop ourselves in any way, we can only step from where we are standing. If we don’t really know where we are standing … we may only go in circles.” Mindfulness, at its heart, teaches us how to be fully aware of and attentive to our current experiences. Mindfulness allows us to accept a variety of experiences and to respond to them wisely and thoughtfully.
You may have heard the term “mindfulness” discussed in popular culture, and even at our school. Mindfulness defined simply is intentionally paying attention, in the present moment, without judgment. You can hear one explanation of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn. While it does have roots in a the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is not a religious tradition in itself; it can exist outside of religious experience and can co-exist with many religious traditions.
Mindfulness meditation is not about “clearing the mind” but is about consciously noticing, without labeling, the current experiences and activities of the mind. Mindfulness meditation can be practiced formally; even a three-minute regular practice can have great benefit. Additionally, any experience in daily life can be the object of a mindful moment, including eating, walking, listening, observing nature, and chores around the house.
There is a great amount of scientific research exploring and documenting the benefits of the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce a person’s experience of pain, depression, anxiety, and stress. Mindfulness can improve a person’s concentration and focus, creativity, compassion for self and others, and fulfillment in relationships. Some suggest it may even prolong life. Beyond these valuable reasons to practice mindfulness, I see its power for our students and school community in an important way. As humans, we spend a great deal of our time unconsciously making decisions and reacting to the stimulus of each day. There are many factors about our days and interactions that may be out of our control. By embracing an attitude of intentional awareness in the present moment, we are able to slow down our automatic reactions, engage more advanced and critical thinking portions of our brains, and consciously decide how we want to proceed in any given situation.
If you wish to pursue more information about mindfulness meditation for yourself, your family or your student, I would welcome a conversation. There are many resources to which I can direct you that may address your specific interests. The website Mindful.org is a wonderful resource to those new to the ideas or practice of mindfulness; this page includes scripted and audio files of practices at the bottom. Below are several additional audio files of mindful meditations I would encourage you to explore.