In this series we ask people around campus what mindfulness means to them and how they are surviving and thriving in the new circumstances we find ourselves in. Here, we talk to Isabel Lanzetta Marshall ’22
What does mindfulness mean to you?
In my mind, mindfulness is the embodiment of my most authentic self. To me, this necessitates a certain depth of understanding both my inner and outer worlds: how my physical, spiritual, and mental health are impacted by the external and how my inner world, in turn, affects those around me. Mindfulness is not only a choice to be conscious of the way we make ourselves a part of the world around us, but also one to tune into the world inside of us — to pay heed to our very human experiences. It necessitates slowing down, reflection, and most importantly —kindness.
How is mindfulness different from calmness or relaxation?
For many of us who live in an environment hyper-focused on “what comes next?”, the practice of mindfulness sometimes does go hand in hand with calmness or relaxation, if only to give us enough space to absorb the moments in our life that are already fleeting. However, mindfulness asks that we do more than binge watch “Tiger King” or take a long bath (although both of these can be remedies in their own right). Mindfulness asks for us to practice presence in our lives. To be mindful, many of us need not only to slow down, put away our phones, and take care of ourselves, but we must also make a conscious effort to pay careful attention to the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors we are exhibiting. Not with judgment, but in an effort to understand the very complex and profound experience of being human in a sometimes joy-filled, sometimes painful, world.
How does mindfulness help at a time like this of uncertainty and worry?
How can we process suffering in the world? Not only during a time when COVID-19 has impacted communities across the globe, including our own, but especially during the times when we find our communities safe from the crossfire. I’m still trying to figure that out myself, but I do know that we all experience uncertainty and worry differently. And right now, some of us may be undergoing especially difficult challenges. It’s important to remember that we don’t have control over what is happening or what may happen in our lives because of the COVID-19 crisis, as with many other upheavals we may face in our lives. Practicing mindfulness allows us to focus on what we can control, and to shape the people we will be when this is over. It is the greater awareness of ourselves and our interactions with others that mindfulness cultivates which will help us bring compassion into our communities. Remember that your physical, mental, and spiritual health is important, even during a global pandemic, because taking care of ourselves gives us the strength to take care of others. What’s more — mindfulness in all moments of our lives brings awareness to the suffering of others, so that we can hold space for their experiences with compassion, let go of trivial matters, and heal. I would summarize this with the help of the Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh:
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
What are some of your favorite practices that you’re leaning on at this time?
As a writer, journaling is one of my favorite mindful practices. Reflecting on not only the events that happen each day, but also the emotions and thoughts that follow has taught me to be attentive to the conversation happening inside and to recognize that my voice is valued. Movement is also what sustains my practice. Yoga, dance, running are all meditative for someone like me, who tends to be stuck in my head. I don’t think I really realized how the strength of my physical body could empower my subconscious mind until Heather Horton from the WRC made that connection for me. Really honing into the strength and perseverance of our bodies can remind us of our fortitude, especially in our most vulnerable moments. That knowledge has been transformative for me.
What suggestions can you offer to someone who might be struggling to be mindful now?
Be gentle with yourself! Mindfulness is not a perpetual state of happiness, nor is it a cure-all. Maybe you are feeling frustrated at yourself because of how you are coping with this crisis, maybe you are feeling bitter about the turn your life has taken, and maybe you’re feeling lonely and terrified. Mindfulness is not trying to eradicate these emotions to create a somehow superior state of consciousness. Mindfulness is making the conscious choice to sit with yourself, no matter what you are enduring or experiencing in this moment, to really uncover what is going on inside of you and embrace it with compassion.
What resources does CC offer that can help those right now who want to cultivate mindfulness?
The WRC hosts a virtual Mindful Stress Management every Wednesday at 4 p.m. MDT and a journaling series on their YouTube page CC Wellness Resource Center. The Chaplain’s Office hosts a virtual morning meditation every Thursday at 8 a.m., MDT, as well as a Qigong practice and other mindfulness workshops you can look out for on their Facebook page. And finally — asking counselors, chaplains, and campus support for help is an exercise in practicing compassion to ourselves.