In 1974, towards the end of the Vietnam War, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk wrote a letter from exile in France to a staff member of the School of Youth for Social Service in South Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh was the founder of the school and author of the letter which was translated in 1991 for print under the title "The Miracle of Mindfulness." In his letter, Hanh suggested, "while washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes."
As someone whose kitchen sink is perpetually filled with the remnants of my morning oatmeal and the eight separate, yet completely necessary, glasses of water, I thought Hanh's advice was perplexing. How could Hanh credibly give dishwashing advice to peace workers who were witnessing the atrocities of war? If I, a simple college student, could not even motivate myself to do the dishes, let alone mindfully, how could they? I have found answers to these questions through my own practice of mindfulness, which I believe can help other college students like myself.
I stumbled across mindfulness in a yoga class that was recommended to me by one of my more spiritually-minded friends. Having struggled with anxiety since freshman year, the simple advice of focusing on my breath, unfortunately at the cost of contorting my body in ways which my genetics do not favor, was eye-opening.
After that class, I felt like I had always taken my breath for granted and began to notice it throughout the day. I realized even when my mind had been preoccupied with school, relationships or anything which could trigger my racing thoughts, my breath had been a constant companion which brought me peace and had been waiting to be recognized for its loyalty. Although an awareness of the breath is how I would recommend introducing yourself to mindfulness, mindfulness can be applied to just about anything.
According to mindful.org, mindfulness is the "basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around us."
Any person has the capacity to practice mindfulness. You do not have to be a Tibetan monk or a yoga guru to find a little more quiet throughout your day. One of my favorite meditation sayings is if you do not think you have enough time to meditate, you probably need to meditate more often.
You may associate meditation with a strong spiritual experience. While this is certainly true for advanced practitioners of meditation, who meditate on life, death and other weighty subjects, for many people, meditation is simply a way to help clear the mind. I will often meditate before a test or a challenging conversation. If you are new to meditation, I would recommend downloading a meditation app like Headspace, which provides guided meditations as short as a minute.
However, it would be a mistake to limit mindfulness to meditation. One of my other favorite practices is meditative walking. During this practice, which can be done during the walks between classes, you simply notice the sensation of placing one foot in front of the other. Focus on the feeling of the ground beneath your feet, and engage all your senses, taking note of what you see, smell, hear, feel and even taste. In the stress of life, it is often easy to forget the miracle that is the ability to walk. Noticing the sensation of walking will produce a sense of gratitude which you can carry with you throughout your day.
The benefits of mindfulness are endless. It allows you to slow down and appreciate life on life's terms. Being in college can feel like you are constantly being asked to achieve, but mindfulness only asks that you be. If you happened to pick up this copy of the Reflector in a rush between classes, if you are scrolling through this article on your phone as fast as your thumb can take you or if you simply do not know why you are reading this article, but you are here—pause and breathe. Maybe even plan on washing some dishes later.