Mindfulness is something I think my generation struggles with. Of course, saying someone or a group of people struggle with something infers that they actually know what it is. Frankly, I don’t think my generation (1) knows that mindfulness exists, (2) knows what it is, (3) knows how to practice it, and (4) knows why they should practice it. It’s something that I believe a majority of my friends, peers, and colleagues could benefit from and yet none have any inclination to actively practice it.
As I was reading Ellen Langer’s definition of mindfulness, I realized that it differed greatly from my own. So what is mindfulness to me? I had not heard of the term until I visited my aunt in Oregon (we often refer to her as “the hippy aunt”). She expressed to me her concern with my stress levels during undergrad and suggested practicing mindfulness. I had rolled my eyes and continued on with what I perceived as the more productive daily activities. I eventually came back to the idea of mindfulness after a bout of anxiety attacks. I realized the power of mindfulness and do my best to practice it at least once a day now.
I personally believe mindfulness is an important part of self-care. It’s the ability to acknowledge and reflect on experiences, emotions, and thoughts without allowing them to overwhelm or control you. It’s giving positive energy to your thoughts, nurturing them, and allowing them to grow peacefully.
Ellen Langer describes a mindful approach as having three characteristics: “the continuous creation of new categories, openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.” My first reaction to this is “of course I want to be mindful like that,” but I knew intuitively that it takes an internal calmness to have the ability to practice those three things.
In today’s classrooms, there are so many thoughts running through our students’ (as well as our own) heads. “Am I supposed to meet Bailey at 12 or 12:30 for lunch?” “How long will this paper take me to write?” “Did I let the dog out this morning before I left for my 8 am?” We’re all so scatter brained that our abilities to focus are so diminished that it makes learning and retaining information seem nearly impossible. How do we as instructors combat this? We obviously can’t follow them home and make sure they’re meditating for ten minutes or laying in bed without any distractions. We could make it homework but let’s be honest, maybe 5% would actually do it (and even that’s probably being overly optimistic.) We could have a “No Tech” policy within our classrooms but that still does not guarantee that they’re being mindful or focusing on anything we’d like them to be focusing on.
I think it’s our responsibility as educators to meet our students half way. We need to lead by example and not by lecture. It’s the engagement with our students that will keep them focused, entertained, and feeling like their opinions are respected and valued. Showing our students the benefits of mindfulness is something I believe will benefit them for the rest of their lives. It’s not shoving information down their throats, teaching directly from the book, or death by powerpoint. It’s opening up the conversation to include multiple views, backgrounds, and opinions to be shared in a respectful atmosphere. Through that we will be able to stimulate new ideas and thoughts internally, acknowledging and reflecting on them without allowing them to control us. It’s taking those new thoughts and ideas and transforming and practicing them with a peace that can be shared.