Thought for thought


At the University, you’d think midterms would take place somewhere closer to the middle of the semester, but in my somewhat extensive history of University exams, I’ve had midterms anywhere from the fourth week of class all the way down to the week before finals.

So, if you’ve yet to take a whiff of the acrid, looming stench that is midterms season, you will — and soon.

I usually feel that a good night’s sleep is the best preparation for a particularly rigorous exam, more so than hurriedly scanning pages and pages of notes the night before.

But there are times when a good night’s sleep simply isn’t in the cards for University students. It’s for this reason that in recent years I’ve come to believe in the power and beneficial results of mindfulness and meditation to assist me in all assets of stress.

During times of great personal and academic strife, I believe University students in particular can really benefit from implementing pieces of mindfulness into their daily schedules.

I stumbled upon the concept of mindfulness in a religious studies class freshman year; we delved casually into the small yet not unremarkable book “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

The book discussed different ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into one’s life to operate at a fuller and more peaceful level. It’s sometimes hard to slow oneself down and really consider the root of stress and worry, but when you do, the results are well worth it.

Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, “means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

To the unfamiliar reader, mindfulness might seem like an obscure zen-yogi-mystic sort of practice and perhaps appear not-so-related to their course of study. But there are ways of incorporating mindfulness into a student schedule that can greatly benefit all facets of academia, socialization and general mental well-being.

Here’s a practical example: The first chapter of “The Miracle of Mindfulness” contains the heading “Washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” This means that when one has a task at hand, that task should be all that matters — not what task comes next, what many other responsibilities one has to complete that day and the next and the next.

When washing the dishes, concentrate only on the cleansing process, the citrus-scented dish soap, the old sponge you probably should’ve replaced weeks ago (except don’t think about replacing the sponge, only how it will aid you in your task — but I digress).

Wash the dishes with only washing the dishes in mind and you’ve created a calm state of mind and, subsequently, a far better mental composition with which to tackle and complete the many tasks that await you.

Mindfulness can be applied to the tasks and challenges of multitasking that many students face. I’ll refer back to myself, approximately five hours prior to writing this column, in my final English class of the day. While I tried to listen to my professor lecture about morphology, I couldn’t help but be absorbed and almost twitchy at the thought of this column I had to finish later in the day, or the 200 pages of Jane Eyre I needed read by Friday or the incessant nag to go to CRCE because I hadn’t all week.

But worrying about these tasks when I should’ve been concentrating on the difference between alphabetisms and acronyms did little to complete those many tasks I had to complete that day; the only thing it produced was an increased heartbeat and an annoyed little twitch in my left foot.

According to Brown University, studies imply that mindfulness can lead to “decreases in stress and anxiety, improvements in concentration and attention, and increases in self-awareness and overall emotional well-being.”

Clearing one’s mind and focusing only on the moment while eating breakfast in the morning, walking across the Quad on the way to class, or as one waits at the MTD bus stop doesn’t take any extra time (you’d do these things normally) and can easily be implemented into even the busiest of schedules.

So often I see other students — and, admittedly, myself — ferociously flipping through flashcards as they try to simultaneously send an email and scarf down a bagel. Why? Perhaps the extra five to seven minutes of study time might prove useful in remembering a few extra vocabulary terms, but it does little to a create a productive and attentive test-taking mindset.

On those stressful — not to mention painfully freezing — midterm mornings, a little mindfulness after a less-than-full night of sleep can be the trick to maintaining good health and concentration amid an otherwise tiring and stressful schedule.

Carly is a junior in FAA.

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