Meditation: Easy to learn and endlessly beneficial

Peter Njoroge, Staff Writer

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I don’t want to work tonight. I just want to finish this email. I need to study standard deviation for stats. Why hasn’t she texted me back yet? Maybe she doesn’t like me anymore. I’m pretty sure this guy is talking about me on Facebook. I got pretty drunk last night. Why’s everyone talking about the Illuminati?

Increasingly, this is what the mind looks like in an age filled with a continuous stream of information, responsibility, multi-tasking and unhealthy loads of stress.

Spiritual philosophies and practices, such as Buddhism and yoga, hint at the profound and transformative power of mindfulness meditation. This practice can be a great component for today’s hectic student lifestyle. It’s like a happy pill, but with mild to severe side effects of peace, compassion, aliveness and a general state of well-being. Understanding mindfulness meditation is key to getting the most out of it.

“Meditation has an undeserved reputation for being esoteric and difficult to learn. In truth, it’s really nothing more than the practice of focusing the mind intently on a particular thing or activity,” health journalist Linda Andrews wrote in a recent article in the magazine “Psychology Today.”

From a scientific perspective, meditation is proven to manage stress, enhance concentration, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, manage pain and improve your overall quality of life.

Still, there are many ways to meditate and even more people who can tell you how. Fundamentally, mindfulness meditation is high on the practicality scale and for that matter, the best fit for anyone who’s presumably drowning in a sea of thoughts.

“When we’re being mindful, it’s as if our experience is like a river and every little thought, emotion or sensation is a ripple that comes up. When we’re in the river it’s hard to make sense of it. It’s over-whelming and we fight with the current and struggle,” SRJC student therapist Andrea Kirk said.

So here are the basics to living mindfully at any moment in your day:

  • Cultivate awareness of your thoughts and emotions without being critical or judgmental. If you begin to criticize your critical thinking, notice that too. “It’s sort of a way to cultivate a relationship with ourselves,” Kirk said.
  • You can be mindful with a lot of activities. Sports, washing dishes, drinking coffee, listening to a professor, talking or walking.
  • Mindfulness meditation is trying to bring your mind to a state of calmness, which relaxes you over a period of time. The point here is to get to a place of little-to-no thought and remain completely focused on what you’re doing, while deeply connecting to it. Focusing on your in-breath and out-breath whenever your thoughts start to rush in is a good way to remain mindful.

“In our daily life, we lose ourselves all the time. The body is here, but the mind is somewhere else. In the past, in the future, carried away by anger, jealousy, fear and so on. The mind is not really present with the body. We are not really here,” author and enlightened Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his quick read “You are Here.”

  • Even though it’s difficult to tame the monkey in your head, continuous mindfulness throughout the day will eventually give you enough control to know how to be calm with the stresses of daily life.

“When we’re mindful, it’s almost as if we crawl up on the bank of the river. We’re able to notice and watch it and see, oh that rises and that goes away, I can experience it and then let it pass. I don’t actually have to be swept up in it,” Kirk said.

  • Expose yourself to information or literature about the subject and find what type of meditation practice best suits your lifestyle.
  • Try it. This is the most important step of all. Develop focus and calmness and experience each emotion and thought with the intention of letting it go, emphasis on experience. It’s essential to know the fine line between letting go and suppressing your emotions when it comes to mindfulness. Understanding that you can stop obsessively thinking or feeling is even more important.

“When we start to develop an awareness, these things that were once automatic, we suddenly have more choice and options over. We can start to carve out new ways of being in the world,” Kirk said.

Finally, try to be thankful for each breath and remember that you have all you need within yourself and you can always access it by being present at every moment.

Knowing that you have control over your thoughts and emotions can give you a deep sense of peace in the midst of a chaotic student lifestyle.

Student therapist Kirk facilitates a stress reduction group from 3 – 4 p.m. on Mondays for the Fall 2012 semester. Students who are interested can reach her at (707) 542-1780. All support groups are free for enrolled students.

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