Mindfulness Meditation as a tool for Mental Health and Academic Success.

a person looking at the lake meditatingDo you wonder why we have negative or positive thoughts?

Meditators believe it stems from the formation of attachments to our thoughts and behaviors.[1]

If forming attachments sounds too abstract, think of it this way: when you think negatively or positively about your own behavior you are labeling it as such, and depending on the label you give it (good/bad) you will form a relationship with it. If you believe that watching YouTube in class is terrible, but you do it anyway, you may feel that you are a terrible person. This is because you formed this negative attachment to the idea of watching videos in class. If we lived in a different world, in which not paying attention in class was celebrated, you’d be proud of yourself!  Naturally, we don’t live in such society so trying this as a practical experiment isn’t encouraged! The point of this example is to show you how your mind has power over your emotional well-being.

Learning how to let go of unwanted thoughts and feelings

When I feel any feeling, I make a mental note of it, e.g. happy, sad, anxious, or hungry. A mental note is a practice of using a simple “note” to explain what we are experiencing calmly.  By making a ‘mental note,’ I’m able to know how many times I worry or think about a subject. By making this mental note, I’m more aware of my present experiences and because of this awareness, I’m more in control of what I’m feeling, and with this knowledge, I’m better able to choose how I react in a situation.

For example, if I’m in class and am worried about my grades; I might acknowledge that thought as – “I feel worried,” and leave it at that. By acknowledging the thought as a thought, I am choosing not to think about what will happen if my GPA is not good enough and how that can lead me to not getting in the major I want and then not getting the job I want, etc.

In noticing my worry and not lingering on it, I am able to return my attention to class and not get distracted with negative thoughts that are speculative.

I found that when I chose where to spend my mental energy, I freed up energy to focus elsewhere.

Slowly, with a few weeks of practice, I noticed behavioural and thought patterns. I sometimes became frustrated because I’d catch myself having thoughts I wish I wasn’t. It was important to not be hard on myself. I think of meditation as going to the gym for my mind, and every time I identify a negative thought pattern, I am doing a mental ‘rep’.

Noticing patterns in your mind be them ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is healthy; the goal is to see that we can’t escape from spontaneous thoughts. With that realization, I understood that I wasn’t the thoughts my mind was producing. After this insight and with consistent practice I noticed that the act of making a mental note (i.e. bringing awareness) to an unwanted thought or emotion was the only solution to dissipating the intense feelings that they used to produce on me. Paradoxically, the more that I was aware of the overwhelming feelings, the less they overwhelmed me.

What my meditation practice is

In mindfulness meditation, you learn to focus on a single object e.g. the breath. By sitting still and focusing on just that, you are strengthening your ability to focus while examining how your mind operates.

A meditation session can go like this…

You begin by closing your eyes and observing your breath. Within 15 seconds, your mind will wander…

When your mind wanders, you may think you failed, but the point of meditation is to practice ‘catching’ the wandering mind. Eventually, the 15 seconds will turn into 30 seconds of attention span, and so on. With this experience, you will not just be more focused, but also understand the types of patterns that trigger positive and negative states of mind. With this nuanced understanding, you will find ways to minimize unnecessary negativity and stabilize your emotional wellbeing.

And that’s it! Do this for 10 minutes every morning until it becomes a part of your habits.

Starting your journey

There are different paths to developing a meditation practice and many resources on the subject. A great starting place would be the interactive websites and apps and meditation groups that are available to the campus community.

 

Sources:

Carol Anderson (2004). Robert E Buswell Jr (ed.). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. MacMillan Reference

[1] Carol Anderson (2004). Robert E Buswell Jr (ed.). Encyclopedia of Buddhism. MacMillan Reference, Thomson Gale. pp. 295–297

 

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