Amidst the hustle and bustle of exams, term papers, social obligations, and work schedules, life for today’s college student can get pretty complicated.  That is why the best solutions for managing such complexity are often simple.  A recent trend in enjoying life’s simple pleasures has emerged through the increased practice of mindfulness.  In other words, sometimes we are more effective in recognizing and paying attention to life’s little gifts if we could prevent our minds from being hijacked by the convoluted elements of our existence.

Mindfulness operates on three simple principles:

1)      AWARENESS

2)      of the PRESENT MOMENT

3)      WITHOUT JUDGMENT

AWARENESS involves becoming attuned to your senses, all five of them.  Imagine how freshly baked cookies smell, or how a swill of clean water tastes.  Imagine the light touch of a masseuse or masseur, the sight of a beautiful painting, or the sweet sounds of a song that fits your mood.  Looks good, huh?  Now think about how often we encounter these little things in our lives but miss out on them because our minds are elsewhere.  Awareness “gets you out of your head” and into the world around you.  It allows you to take a break from the tiring pace of your mind and to embrace a reality that you have to do nothing to manipulate, just enjoy.

Attention to the PRESENT MOMENT by definition keeps things simple.  Focusing on past and future events adds more moments with which to concern ourselves, and sometimes it is liberating to attend to a single moment as it happens.  What is notable about mindfulness is that one does not create such liberating moments; it involves simply responding to what occurs.  Often people work really hard to construct their own liberating moment (sometimes by engaging in risky behaviors such as alcohol/drug use), when it can actually be found right in front of them (if they could just take the time to look).  For example, like looking into a kaleidoscope, you could take the same walk to class each morning and notice something unique and interesting each time.

And finally, there’s the principle of SUSPENDING JUDGMENT.  Our minds wander.  We get off track.  We have self-defeating thoughts and feelings about ourselves.  When these things happen, simply bring yourself back to the present moment, without anger, frustration, or disappointment.  If you have a mind, it will wander.  If you have a heart, it will encounter some difficult feelings.  Just redirect yourself back to your center.  If you have to do so many times, then do it as much as you need.  The key to doing this technique successfully is to view your own thinking and feelings from an impartial perspective.  That way you can evaluate whether or not a particular thought or feeling is helpful or not.  If it is helpful, roll with it; if not, bring yourself back to the present and wait for the next thought/feeling to come to you. An example of this is sorting through junk mail.  Your mailbox will constantly get mail: some important, some not.  Simply discard what is “junk,” rather than critique the process by which you receive mail.

Here are some good examples of when you can use mindfulness:

Trying to sleep: If you are trying to fall asleep and cannot, simply focus on your senses.  Notice the temperature of the air, the feel of the plush mattress, etc.  The technique accepts the fact that you are not quite asleep, and by accepting this, you are more likely to actually fall asleep.  Also, you’re not judging yourself for not being able to fall asleep, neither are you feeling as if you have to work to make that happen.

Eating and drinking: Savoring each bite of food you take can actually make eating more enjoyable, and because you slow down the process of food consumption, you end up eating less and feeling more satisfied.  Tip: Practice mindful eating using a grape, nut, or raisin.  Mindfulness techniques have also been used in a similar way for people trying to reduce alcohol and nicotine use.  For example, replace a cigarette with the mindful eating of a Popsicle.

Relieving stress: Busy studying?  Take a break.  But instead of doing something mindless, do something mindful.  Rather than playing Angry Birds, go outdoors and watch or listen to the birds.  Just doing so for five minutes gets you out of the cognitive stress of storing information and into the simple world of responding to the world around you.  Mindfulness has a knack of relaxing you without you even trying, which is helpful because when we try to relax, we set ourselves up for judgment as to whether or not we are actually able to achieve it.

I hope this brief primer on mindfulness helps you.  If you would like to learn more about it in depth and even try out some mindfulness meditation scripts with one of our talented clinicians, feel free to contact us at Student Counseling Services.  Our phone number is 334-844-5123 or visit us on the web at www.auburn.edu/scs