About Lynn Curry

McNair Director at Central Michigan University

Noticing

Becoming aware of. Being present to. Witnessing. Feeling. Being at home in my body. As I’ve been focusing on this concept of mindfulness, these things routinely come to mind. What does it actually mean to be mindful? It’s certainly a buzzword these days, but what does it actually mean? Probably something different for you and probably something different for me.

I consider myself a pretty mindful person. I definitely tend to notice things. My environment. What someone is wearing. Someone’s energy vibe. The light. I always find myself noticing the light. Or searching for it.

My mind also goes a gazillion miles an hour sometimes and I easily become distracted and disjointed if I allow myself to follow the spiral of these fleeting but ever present thoughts. I also notice less when I have too much to do, when I feel like I’m running from one thing to the next. Or when I’m worried about something or avoiding doing something, for whatever “you name it” reasoning I conjure up, most often times not even based in reality.

The more I do yoga and meditate, the more I find myself using my breath without me even knowing it. Instead of racing to get kids (or drop them off), I notice my breath as I’m driving. I have to get kids either way you slice it, so I might as well enjoy the ride, right? Noticing the bare trees now, the afternoon light (when it’s sunny!), using my breath to simply settle into what is . . . at hand.

If I compare how I feel when I’m rushing from thing to thing and not noticing versus when I’m operating at a more slowed, mindful pace, it’s a no brainer as to which I prefer. It’s funny though too, again, as I develop this practice, I think I’m even getting better at being mindful when I’m rushing around too. I’m going to have to ponder that a bit more.

This is all to say that I think we would all benefit from noticing . . . more. However that might play out for you. Taking time to be more present in your life. Noticing the beauty. Or chaos. Or calamity. Whatever it may be.

I’ve been sharing some pictures from our summer trip out west to Canyonlands National Park. I’m drawn to these snapshots because of their beauty, yes, but also for the feelings they invoke in me right here, right now, today sitting at my desk in middle Michigan. In the cold.

Why can’t we always live and feel like we do when we’re on vacation? Now there’s another item to ponder! We probably can’t, darn it. But we can probably move closer into ourselves, who we are, what we create on a daily basis, who we come in contact with, what we experience in our environment, by leaning into our breath more often and simply . . .

. . . noticing what is at hand.  

Mindful Way Through Depression

I share a lot of resources with my students, and this book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, is one of them. Given to me by my therapist well over ten years ago now, it’s probably one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Having completed graduate work myself (as a first generation college student nonetheless) and now working in higher education, I’m acutely aware of many of the challenges students face in completing their degrees. As a McNair director, the central charge of my work is to encourage low income, first generation and underrepresented students to pursue Ph.D.’s. This path is not for the faint of heart, nor is it the best path for a lot of people, but for those who feel called to be a creator of knowledge, it’s the only way to go. As such, I’ve grown even more interested in learning more about what these journeys are like for our students, as well as questioning the very nature of academia and the extreme stress and hardship that many endure.

Just google “graduate students and mental health” and you’ll find various articles on the topic, highlighting recent studies pointing to higher rates of anxiety and depression among the graduate student population. The experience of graduate school is a complex one, and certainly one that is unique to each individual given their program, area of study, quality of mentors and advisors, peers and support networks. It’s complicated and many factors impact the process, but my bottomline question is: does it have to be this way and what can we do to alleviate some of the suffering?

Suffering is a strong word, I know. But having recently witnessed about forty or so Ph.D. graduates of color share their experiences achieving their degree, I would say suffering is an accurate term. These students persevered, and we should be thankful because we need their voices, but at the same time, should the process really have to entail traveling to the darkest depths of one’s soul in order to persevere?

I’m typing off the top of my head here, but I think this to be a legitimate question. I also realize this isn’t necessarily the case for all students; however, it seems to be a legitimate concern for many.

Coming back to the topic at hand then, addressing the issue of mental health in graduate education and using all resources and approaches available, this notion of mindfulness and how it can help students maintain greater health and wellness is a useful one. I personally suffered from my most significant bout of depression post-grad school; I also utilized many different tools in dealing with it, including medication and exercise, as well as experimenting with mindfulness meditation.

More Ph.D. students are talking about this important topic and I’m really happy about that. As a matter of fact, part of my writing along this topic area is an opportunity to contribute to this conversation through The PhDepression. I’ve always been interested in helping our students explore the benefits of mindfulness, through yoga and more recently, through meditation. And so I’m really excited to be able to reach an even greater number of students, to provide support and encouragement in their graduate journeys, and help pass along resources + tools that I’ve personally found absolutely transformative in my own journey.

I welcome your thoughts! Please feel free to email me at lynn.curry.619@gmail.com or use the contact form on this site. I’ll be sharing more experiences and conversations as I revisit this important text, The Mindful Way Through Depression, and perhaps go even deeper into my own continuing struggles.

My process. Step two.

Yesterday I wrote about “step one” in the process I help people explore as they work toward elevating the level of self-care in their life. It seems so easy, doesn’t it? Self-care seems like a no brainer. We’re in the business of higher education after all, aren’t we? We can all intellectually understand the importance + need for self-care in our lives. Certainly.

Then why can is be such a challenge?

I’m hoping to unravel if just a hint of knowing on this question as I support and work with individuals on this journey. I don’t know the answer. I have some hypothesis that I’d like to explore however (smile).

So back to the process. The first step is “taking pause” throughout your day so that you can begin to notice more things about yourself. About how you feel at certain times during the day. About how the choices you are making impact the way you feel. This first step is becoming more in tune with self. By paying attention to your breath and your body. Once we actually start slowing down, the knowledge will surface.

Step two is becoming clear on our current self-care status. There are infinite layers when it comes to self-care, but I like to hunker down on the basics to start. We all have to eat. We all have to sleep. And we all need to move. I know for some, that last one is debatable (smile). My goal is to help bring each of these important areas into greater focus.

The truth is, we all have basic needs. And when we meet these needs we can function at our best. We can probably ignore some of these needs for a period of time, and still function (although likely sub-optimally), but in the end, this approach will catch up with us, like it or not.

get clear on your current state of self-care.

Getting a baseline read on our baseline categories of self-care is essential. Just a simple rating, on a scale of one to ten, will do. For me, at this moment in time, I’m at about 5 in the eat category, about a 5 or 6 in the sleep category and more like an 8 in the exercise department. I know I need to focus on my food choices because they haven’t been the best. They’ve been on autopilot for a while now, and while they haven’t been horrible, I know I’m not feeling or operating at my best because of I’ve been letting this area in my life go.

You can add in any other major area of life in your baseline self-care assessment if you like. Another category you might consider is friends/family/relationships. Or how are you doing on the spiritual side of things, however you might define it. Money is another big one. 

But again, I find keeping things simple, especially to start works best. Spend a day or two contemplating how you’re doing in these key areas. How are your choices making you feel on a daily basis? What ideas come to mind for how you might enhance your foundational self-care? Get clear on where you’re at so that you can start to envision where you want to go.

P.S. as much as this might be possible for you, try not to judge yourself and where you’re at. super easy for me to say and suggest, but truthfully, getting down on yourself isn’t going to serve you. be okay with what is because you are beautiful with imperfection abound. try to keep this in mind as you move forward in crafting your vision and your foundation for growth.  

My process. Step one.

As I’m developing as a self-care coach, I’m going deeper into my own process of self-care, as well as the process I take my clients through. The first step is taking note of and acknowledging where you are. Right now. In all the layers of complexity and messiness and stark reality that might be yours . . . at this very moment.

One of the primary techniques I share is encouraging you to “take pause” throughout your day. Doesn’t have to take a bunch of time, it just means pausing for a few moments to notice what’s going on with . . . YOU. 

How are you feeling in your body? Where’s your head? Where’s your heart? 

simply pause and breathe – intentionally – a few times throughout your day.

So much of our day is spent running from task to task and thing to thing. If we don’t intentionally choose to get a read on ourselves, it’s easy to just continue on down the road of doing instead of being. It’s really what I mean by my tagline, create your daily flow, making a conscious choice to actually be conscious throughout your day.

Try “taking pause” a couple of times during your day and see what you find. I recommend first thing in the morning, perhaps after lunch or mid-afternoon and then in the evening, before bed.

Simply sit + breathe and be in your body.

For many of us, this might feel really foreign. We might feel guilty for just sitting there. And not doing anything. 

Ah, but there’s the opportunity for a shift. In our thinking and in our simply being instead of always doing. Choosing to take two or five or maybe even ten (the world will not stop, smile) and notice how you’re feeling. Pay attention to your breath because it’s happening no matter what and it’s the perfect anchor to keep you grounded. It’s an easy thing to focus on because it’s always with you.

And the beauty (hint: big secret) is the more you work with your breath the more your breath will work with you. 

Don’t let yourself become discouraged if this exercise DRIVES YOU NUTS when you first try it. It probably will. And that’s okay. 

Let me repeat: that’s okay.

This idea of me asking you to simply sit and breathe and notice how you are, it’s not something that most of us are naturally inclined to do, especially given the culture and climate in which we operate. If we’re not doing, we’re not any good. 

I call bullshit on that one. And you can too.

Getting clear on how you’re feeling during your day is the first step in becoming more intentional about how you actually want to feel during your day. It’s possible to make choices (including super small ones, like this) that will lead to greater peace and tranquility . . . which is likely to lead to greater productivity (okay there, this is super important too, smile) and . . . maybe even our happiness?

I believe sitting and breathing on a regular basis leads to greater self-awareness. And that greater self-awareness is certain to sow the seeds of meaningful change in your life. It’s the first step toward a wider base of well-being. It’s the first step toward YOU CHOOSING YOU instead of the millions of things that will always be swirling about. You can choose you anytime you feel like it. Choosing you a few times a day might seem hard at first, but I invite you to try it.

You might like it. For a change.

Why meditation?

You might have noticed the recent focus of my Instagram feed has been encouraging students to experiment with meditation. I’m no meditation expert, by any means. But I’ve been playing around with this daily practice for about two years or so and I’m convinced that our students need it now more than ever.

I see our students continually pulled in multiple directions, they are stressed about keeping up with their coursework, while dealing with issues from home, trying to work at much as possible to pay for school and they’re feeling burned out, frustrated and just plain tired.

I’m not claiming to have a magic wand (although that would be really cool), but I do believe investing in one’s self can lead to greater peace + endurance on a daily basis. Helping students get grounded with their health + wellness helps them flourish in their academics. The mantra I use with our scholars is . . . EAT SLEEP MOVE McNair-Style.

Tending to your wellness is as important as tending to your academics.

As a matter of fact, doing the former only further enables the latter. Taking care of you helps you do good work and even better work. It helps you feel better overall. And it generally makes you a happier human being.

Win win, right?

It’s a simple concept, but not that easy. So as much as I’m still interested in supporting students in self-care, I’m even more interested in encouraging them to develop a mindfulness practice. Why? Because training our minds to become “more mindful” has the potential to transform our lives in so . . . many . . . ways.

Mindfulness and meditation are definitely becoming more mainstream these days as more researchers document its benefits. I just Googled “benefits of meditation” and spent almost an hour getting lost amidst the tons of articles and websites and studies on the topic. I found this awesome graphic from the Art of Living that perfectly encapsulates it in my mind.

benefits of meditation

In my experience, daily meditation simply helps me notice more, about how I’m feeling, what’s happening around me, my breath. I feel more grounded even when there’s a bunch of chaos swirling about. I tend to react less and simply BE more. I find it easier to “breathe into” the discomfort, whether in a challenging yoga pose or difficult situation at work. I feel like I can handle more disruption and adversity, you know, better. And I just feel more relaxed and focused and at peace . . .  cheesy, I know, but it’s kinda cool feeling at peace sometimes, right? So many benefits are creeping into my life.

I want these AWESOME BENEFITS to creep into your life too!

So I encourage you to simply “sit and breathe” for a few minutes each day. You can build from there. Start small, start with what works for you. Approach it in the spirit of experimentation and see what you find. And this one is hard, but try not to have any expectations about . . . anything. Just sit and observe yourself, observing your breath. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them and let them go. Let them float on by.

The beauty of meditation is, like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. You will settle into your breath and your being. You will ultimately hone your mind to be more present and not constantly jumping back into the past or into the future with worry + anxiety.

Give meditation a chance. Give it some time.

Check out our Mindful Scholar movement too >> CLICK HERE.

IMG_20181005_112334_320

Let us know how it goes! Amanda and I – seriously – are on a mission to encourage more students to explore how meditation can enhance their academic journeys. Tag us on Instagram @mindfulphdstudent and @createyourdailyflow and/or use the hash tag #mindfulscholar.

We would love to hear how you are doing and your thoughts on meditation . . .

Painting of big red heart over white background