Mindful Scholar

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!

Joy habit

Today I’m inspired by the lovely Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore. She inspires me in lots of ways, but today I want to talk about a little concept she’s been sharing that she calls the joy habit. It’s basically leaning into that state of gratitude for things in our lives, good and bad, and cultivating joy. So much so that it ultimately morphs into a way of BEING.

Living joy, if you will.

And it’s more than just happiness. Being happy is a great emotion to have, but it’s fleeting. I think this idea of being in a joy state couples nicely with learning to cultivate greater mindfulness in our daily lives. One of the things mindfulness teaches us is non-attachment and using our senses to simply be in the present moment more often than not.

That heightened level of cognizance can become a wonderful foundation for cultivating a joy habit. Lots of crappy things happen everyday too. So how do we keep our foundation of joy despite what Kerry Ann describes as our world being structurally oriented to separating ourselves from it?

Great question! Again, bringing back this aspect of mindfulness and growing that skill (it is a skill that we can learn + enhance) can help us to sit with all of the stuff less joyful in life. Daily stressors, hardships, serious issues in our local communities and on the other side of the globe.

Becoming more mindful teaches us to be with what is without trying to change it. We can acknowledge any less than ideal reality that might be swirling about in our face at the moment and still ground ourselves in joy.

It’s tricky and seems counterintuitive, right?

I’m no expert, but as I develop my own daily meditation practice and share insights with others doing the same, incorporating this idea of cultivating JOY as a way of being seems really cool. It must since I created this little graphic below a few months ago using a photo from my very first photoshoot!

stuffed animals from the kiddios galore! AKA “the guys”

So as I’m moving forward in my own journey of mindfulness and encouraging others to do the same (#mindfulscholar #356mindfuldays), I’m going to be further experimenting with cultivating JOY as my backdrop, my foundation, my inner compass pointing me toward all that is good, and not so good, in life.

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.

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.

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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 . . .

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