So excited to be sharing the benefits of mindfulness with our McNair community. Learning how to be present is probably one of the greatest gifts we can cultivate. I look forward to being on this journey with each of you!
The simple practice of breathing with our students is planting a seed with potential to ground ourselves in the present moment and more gracefully handle the ebb and flow of daily life in all its beauty and challenge.
Mindfulness is present moment awareness. It’s one of the most important skills we can cultivate because it teaches us to BE.
We spend a lot of time doing. Because we have a lot to do!
School teaches us how to THINK + DO really well and becoming a critical thinker is a large part of what pursuing a Ph.D. is all about.
The problem emerges when we spend most of our time thinking and doing and not enough time being. The truth is we spend a lot of time inside our heads, and sometimes, it’s just not the friendliest place to be!
Consider yourself and your students. How easy is it to be carried away by the ticker tape in our minds, telling us we’re not good enough, not smart enough, or that the world might be ending, right? Our minds tend to be a constant stream of commentary often feeding into our stress and anxiety.
What mindfulness brings into focus is a counterbalance to all this thinking and doing. It teaches us to be in our bodies by using our senses and focal points, such as the breath, and helps shift into an alternate mode … that of simply BEING.
The #mindfulscholar movement invites us to breathe together on a regular basis.
Breathe with our students. Explore meditation and yoga. Talk about how we feel in our bodies, when we’re feeling well and when we’re dealing with stress. Let’s invite exploration + conversation on this important topic and how becoming more mindful can make a huge difference in our academics and life!
I haven’t been doing my daily writing, so I’m going to write about it here. I’m not sure what the hang up is because I know that continuing to write and express my ideas will only bring more clarity. And I want that. Clarity of thought, of how I can serve, of what I have to offer.
I’m working on several presentations that I’m going to share with our McNair community in a few weeks and I’ve also been feeling blocked. It’s that autopilot in my head always second guessing my worth, what I have to say. So my intention is to simply keep writing through it.
It’s that shitty first draft that people talk about. Keep on writing those shitty first drafts because they can eventually shift into gold. Well, maybe not actual gold. But gold in the sense that words on the page will serve some greater purpose, if only to self-express and perhaps tickle another’s fancy, encourage a new perspective a new thought?
You never know when something you write will resonate with another person. I’m putting a bit more pressure on myself because I’m writing on my blog and simply posting. Not a ton of people actually read my blog (yet!) and so I feel okay about doing that. Something about having that reality of sharing makes it easier for me to put words on the page.
I do draft in Evernote sometimes, but I don’t like that as much because those drafts tend to sit and eventually mold over. I don’t like coming back to them for some reason. All kinds of resistance I know.
Besides the presentations, I want to redesign my website and so I need fresh copy for that. For both, I try not to attach great meaning so as to trick my brain into thinking that it’s no big deal, just write something.
Perhaps I’m thinking too much.
Perhaps what I need to do is shift more toward being mode. Allowing my intuition to guide me more. That is what we’re trying to do in meditation. Softening our thoughts to get to the root of what we have to say. Becoming less judgmental toward ourselves also serves us in the writing process.
I have been rather enjoying creating posts on Instagram, especially guest posting on Ph_Depression which focuses on mental health in graduate education. That’s one of the things I’m presenting on actually. It’s such an important topic and one that deserves more attention, especially within individual graduate programs and graduate schools as a whole on a national level.
So many students are struggling. Which makes it hard running a program that strives to encourage more students to pursue this life. Life of the mind. Life as an academic. A scholar. The resiliency factor for each student entering a Ph.D. program really needs to be up there that’s for sure. I hope our students can find their way to good people who will support them and help them flourish. But that’s not always the case. This is where pressure on graduate student mental health builds and spills over into some really serious realities students much face in order to achieve their degree. It feels good more open discussion is happening on this important topic.
But I digress. Four minutes remaining of my 25 minute writing period and I admit I’m watching the clock. Since I’ve been avoiding writing, this is really my first day at it, so I’m going easy on myself. I’m allowing myself to dribble on here (judging myself, I know, noted) so that I can move forward and ultimately create a consistent habit that will lead to greater productivity and satisfaction. Won’t you join me?
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, byleaning into our breath more often and simply . . .
I’m getting back into blogging to share ponderings, insights, my own evolution really. I’ve been blogging for about four years now, although it seems longer. I think it takes a good amount of courage to self express and although it makes me nervous sometimes, I feel called to keep doing it. As a matter of fact, I’m feeling called to do it even more.
I try to show up for our students and shine my light in ways that will lead to greater clarity + grounding in their lives, for today andin the long-term.Planting seeds I like to call it. If I’m honest, I’m working to do this better for my own family. We’re all a work in progress. The cool thing is that we’re connected and sharing in the journey.
I know I have something good to offer and this spring I’m diving deeper to find it. I feel grounded in my work with McNair more than ever. I’m utterly blessed to support our scholars in their own evolution. Truth is their growth spurs my own.
photo credit: graciela mercedes
I’m determined to keep developing my own voice so that I can contribute in even more meaningful ways. A dear friend took this photograph of me back in summer of 2016 and I frequently use it as a profile pic. I like that she caught me in the moment and I love the light. It’s one of my favorite places to sit outside and enjoy lunch too – Green Tree!
I see my work ultimately helping students be in the moment more. We all need to be in the moment more. Learning to be okay with what is, and thus, worrying less about how everything is going to turn out in the future is key. Using our breath as an anchor is a great place to start. Noticing the beauty that surrounds us, especially the smallest things that can easily go unnoticed is also key.
So, I wanted to put out an introductory post, if you will. Letting folks know of my intentions, because once you declare and share something, chances are greater bringing your vision to fruition. I’m really good at having ideas + starting things and then petering out when my confidence wanes or bumps in the road appear. I’m putting this to a stop right here.
I invite you to come along on the journey as I’m always game to learning from others, hearing your story and offering support + encouragement.
In essence,I’m interested in creating community and holding the space.
What’s the gutsiest move I’ve ever made and how does it inspire my life and work today? That would have to be deciding to extend the gift of yoga to my students what is now over five years ago. This decision is significant because it signifies my stepping into what I’m truly passionate about. I’m passionate about helping people take care of themselves and I deeply believe that yoga is probably one of the best tools out there to do just that.
I work with low income, first generation, underrepresented students and help prepare them for graduate school, so when I had this idea, I immediately thought people would think … what does yoga have to do with getting into graduate school? I judge myself enough as it is, but I forecasted people judging this decision even more. I envisioned people thinking I’m taking away from the focus of the program. I envisioned people thinking that I’m wasting resources. I envisioned people thinking this kind of activity to be entirely too woo woo. And for that matter, I risked people thinking that I was a little off my rocker! Crazy girl!
I did it anyways and never looked back.
I had scholars talk about never feeling *as alive* as they did after that first session (think: senses on fire!) and I had scholars think they were being coerced into giving up their religion. I’ve had scholars puke (just once). I’ve had scholars get profound relief from back pain and mental anguish (all the same). I’ve had scholars joke around during classes and I’ve had scholars take the opportunity uber-seriously.
Perhaps I should note that we never *force* our scholars to do yoga. That would certainly be un-yoga-like now wouldn’t it? We *might* strongly encourage, role model, even incentivize them during the summer, but never force. Thank goodness, huh?
This is the thing. Yoga opened the door to having a conversation about how to take care of ourselvesso that we can do awesome things in our lives on a daily basis. We’ve all got some goals and plans for our lives. We want to feel good while we are striving to achieve them (I’m assuming here). That pretty much means we need to figure out a way to keep ourselves in tip-top-shape (body, mind, spirit anyone?) so that we are in full-operational mode as much as we can.
So there’s the trick.
It’s not so easy to do that on a regular basis, is it? We might start off in a nice groove, say at the beginning of a new semester (great time to set our intentions), packing a healthy lunch when we’re on the go, getting that workout in before class, making sure to get to sleep at a decent hour. Then the semester *really starts to happen* and those plans sail right out the window.
It sucks! And I understand why.
It’s the daily pressures of all of our responsibilities that we’ve chosen to take on (key word being *chosen* as in *we choose* what is on our plates). It’s the pressure of making enough money to live while we go after our dreams (really thinking about my students here). It’s the pressures of wanting and having to do well in order to achieve our goals. It’s the pressures of all those other “little nuggets of life” that can surface in the most in opportune times and make our heads spin.
So getting back to yoga. I think yoga is one of the best tools for self-care because it gives us an opportunity to slow down, completely pause even, in our busy lives. It allows us to go inward and focus on our bodies and on ourselves in a way that we don’t really do that often. The physical postures in yoga make us feel good. We stretch and we strengthen.
But I would argue that yoga is so much more than that.
It’s the work that we do with our breath and our minds. It’s focusing on our breath and just listening, instead of having our minds constantly be in “doing-mode” and stressing about all of the things we still need to get done. It’s taking some time for ourselves (doesn’t have to be a ton of time either) and slowing down enough to get a read on how we’re really doing. Of course, there’s much much more to it, but I think this encapsulates why yoga can be so good for our students and good for everyone.
McNair scholars unwinding with some summer yoga.
I think back to that first yoga session quite often and I smile. I think about how far we’ve come since then. We’ve definitely “upped” things by incorporating other wellness-oriented workshops + activities through the years, but in my mind, it still comes down to yoga. I love to give the gift of yoga, and by that, I mean inviting others to explore how yoga might create small, even huge, shifts in their lives for the better. It’s about having an open mind, creating the time + space to doing something special for yourself, it’s about experimenting with all different kinds of tools to see what really works for you.