Being good to yourself: One intention at a time
~ Sue Patton Thoele, Mindful Women
Being in the last semester of my fourth year at such a prestigious university as the University of Virginia, my transition from girl to woman had happened as anyone could have expected, unpredictably. The majors I’d considered, the classes I’ve taken, and the clubs I’ve joined make up the both interesting and stressful experiences I thought I’ve become accustomed to managing.
In the rush to accomplish necessary tasks, sometimes even simultaneously I found myself losing my connection with the present moment—missing out on living and really appreciating life. I was going through the motions and everything else seemed to function as noise. Often while walking to class thoughts constantly raced through my head. On one particular day a number of mundane thoughts flustered within, “What was I going to do after class? What was I going to have for lunch or dinner that day? When was I going to do my laundry and clean my room?” And the list went on. My head had been congested with such thoughts that clouded my vision of my physical surroundings and I had become frustrated because of it. With so many other important decisions to be thinking of my mind wandered in that pattern. As Sue Patton Thoele put it in her book, Mindful Women: Gentle Practices for Restoring Calm, Finding Balance, and Opening Your Heart, “Many of our thoughts and intentions reflect deep-seated fears, unhealthy beliefs, and intolerances.” In my case I had wanted to repress the thoughts of post-grad plans and other related ideas because I just wasn’t ready to deal. I told myself constantly that I had plenty of time to figure it all out and once I had enough time on my hands I would get down to business; it was a promise I had made to myself. The real truth was that I would never find time unless I made time but I held onto that promise for dear life in order to feel better. I traveled through this same pattern for a while until I found a way to finally deal, it was through a class I took my fall semester of 2013. The class was Introduction to Mindfulness, hidden like a gem within the physical education department. Before this class I hadn’t heard of the term mindfulness and was quite skeptical of what it entailed. Unlike many forms of meditation, which involves clearing your mind, mindfulness means letting your thoughts come and go without rushing to figure out what they mean. The idea behind the non-judgmental attitude when practicing mindfulness entails witnessing your own experience impartially, including witnessing the activity of the mind, and noticing what is there without getting carried off by it or feeling the need to change it. As I soon depart from the University I will be sailing on to a new journey: A journey entailing graduate school and working with people of different ways of viewing the world. Lynne Crotts, my instructor for the class who has been practicing mindfulness for quite some time, simply put that mindfulness would be especially important for women due to the reality of women’s changing roles within society. “The number of women attending college has increased and they have entered into once male dominated positions. Some women hesitate to talk about their experiences in these arenas, simply because they don’t want to bring attention to themselves. However, they undergo additional stresses simply because they are one of a few women in those fields,” Crotts said. Thankfully, I have learned to deal with my soon to be reality in a healthy and inexpensive way that I can take with me. The inner peace I acquired from practicing mindfulness aided in moments of stress and anxiety. As my awareness has increased, so has the peace and joy in my life. I found myself practicing during my everyday activities. Below are a few aspects of everyday activities that I practice mindfully to invoke inner peace and health. Many of these activities were incorporated into our meditations during class, but I was able to customize them to my liking.
- Eating: When we slow down while eating, noticing every bite, our body shifts out of the stress response and focuses on digestion, absorption and assimilation of all the nutrients.
- Walking: While rushing to get to our destination, we often can't remember the journey, whether walking to class, to your car or around your neighborhood, start by taking in a deep breath and then scanning your surroundings
- Doing dishes/household chores: Concentrate on the one task at hand because multitasking reduces accuracy and productivity.
- Breathing: The simplest place to begin is with your breath. Sit or stand in a comfortable, quiet place and breathe naturally. No need to count inhalations and exhalations: Just relax, focusing on the sensations in your stomach, chest or nostrils. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
If interested in learning more about mindfulness at UVA, The Contemplative Sciences Center which opened in the Spring of 2012 offers public events, courses, and research publications. Visit this link for more information.
By Breeonna Reed