For our purposes, the concept of mindfulness derives from various schools of thought and practice and we do not believe there is a "one-size-fits-all" approach to creating a campus-wide cultural shift toward being more mindful, more resilient, more authentic, and more kind. The Mindfulness Task Force seeks to create opportunities for fulfillment in campus life and work through various forms of mindfulness teachings and traditions.
According to Merriam-Webster, mindfulness is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”. Other scholars have described mindfulness as cultivating the ability to notice with acceptance, curiosity, and compassion in order to experience the “fullness of each moment” or, more simply, as a “calm, unemotional attachment to the present moment”. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader of the contemporary secular mindfulness movement, adds that mindfulness is the practice of non-judgmental awareness in the present moment and non-reactive, non-judgmental, and open-hearted observation.
Mindfulness is an ancient wisdom practice originating in Buddhism. The spirituality of mindfulness emerged during the Axial Age when liberation from suffering was viewed an essential part of life. Today, thanks to scientific evidence displaying how mindfulness practices can reduce stress and improve overall health and well-being secularized mindfulness practices have been widely adopted by Western medical systems, educational institutions, and work places.
Mindfulness is the practice of non-judgmental awareness in the present moment and non-reactive, non-judgmental, and open-hearted observation.
There are many understandings and applications of mindfulness. In its simplest form, mindfulness is the conscious act of paying attention to an object, situation, or experience. This practice of awareness is at the root of many Mindfulness Based Interventions (MBI) including Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Another way to view mindfulness is the union of this conscious act of paying attention with wisdom, a quality of the mind, that leads to a “complete blossoming of psycho-spiritual well-being,” an abandonment of preconceived notions and ideas, and the realization of the world being not as it appears, but being what one sees it in their own mind - where practitioners can non-judgmentally receive every experience and practice awareness with authenticity and acceptance and without judgment or criticism.
APPLICATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Finding a calm place in academic life can create clarity, an energized ability to focus, and more self-awareness to refresh one’s view of the world (Webster-Wright, 2013). Just 10 minutes of mindful awareness per day can have a significant impact on a practitioner’s life. Mindfulness as a non-judgmental awareness practice can be brought into the classroom as part of contemplative pedagogy and could involve moments of silence at the beginning/end of classes or full contemplative integration into assignments and lectures. In the context of higher education, directing one's attention to the present experience is a place where wisdom, scientific, and educational grounds intersect. For example, when a student is seated in mindful meditation, they are not attending a curriculum that is decided meaningful by society, but instead, a curriculum of their own inner experience which they engage with directly. Within this “metapedagogical attentional perspective”, attention can be focused either inward or outward, rather than just outward, and a student’s experience of both worlds can be better understood and nourished. GVSU's mindfulness initiative, "Be Well GV", considers non-judgmental awareness to be an integral part of a mindfulness practice.
Self Compassion and Acceptance
Kristin Neff – a leading researcher in self-compassion – explains that to be compassionate, one must first be aware of another’s suffering. When this occurs, another’s suffering can move one to feel warmth, to care, or to desire to help the suffering person in some way. When one truly feels compassion for another, they realize that suffering is part of the shared human experience. Practicing self-compassion involves acting the same way toward one’s self when we fail, feel insecure, or don’t like something about ourselves. Neff’s three elements of self-compassion include self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-acceptance and authenticity are other facets of self-compassion and mindfulness. When a practitioner is capable of practicing non-judgmental awareness of the self, total and radical acceptance of one's authentic state of being can be experienced. This is a practice acknowledging what you are and who you are.
APPLICATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Self-compassion and acceptance can be manifested when practicing non-judgmental awareness and directing attention to the present moment. One meditation in particular –Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow (BRFWA) – encourages practitioners to observe their experiences and existence with compassion and respect. Koru Mindfulness meditation, which has been designed for emerging adults, specifically aims to generate compassion and acceptance. Koru facilitators will often challenge students with their own judgments and/or encourage students to continuously be aware of any difficult things they’ve already done and overcome. Students who participate in Koru often report feeling more calm, more mindful, more rested, and more compassionate toward themselves. Additionally, Laidlaw et al. (2014) evaluated a course designed to create understanding and develop compassion among college students. The courses focused on building self compassion skills and a personal practice. Participants experienced improvements in self compassion and were less self-critical.
At GVSU, self compassion and acceptance are common practices in Be Well GV mindfulness initiative programs. The MTF also encourages faculty members, department heads, staff, and students to practice self compassion and encourage others to do so.
To practice non-judgmental awareness, self-compassion, conscious communication, and a mindful sense of being, one must take care of their personal needs. Self-care practices are critical to creating and sustaining any cultural shift toward mindfulness, resiliency, and kindness. Practicing mindfulness and caring for one's self is a cyclical process. Self-care can take many forms. At the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, self-care involves aligning the body and mind with the natural rhythms of a day. For others, self-care means knowing one’s own worth, creating a healthy work-life balance, managing stress, and improving physical health. Shannon Kaiser, author of Self-Love Experiment, sees self-care as the foundation to self-love and suggests celebrating small victories, practicing forgiveness toward one's self, dancing to up-beat music, and starting the day with gratitude to practice self-care when times are tough.
APPLICATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Self-care requires an understanding of the mind-body connection and can occur at the physical, emotion, mental, or even spiritual level. Each person's self-care needs are different and knowing what to practice involves listening and attending to one's self in the present moment. Through self-care, other qualities such as vulnerability, compassion, and authenticity can emerge. Some beneficial daily routines could include meditating, walking or running, eating nutritious meals. At GVSU, self-care is also be encouraged yoga and meditation offerings. Be Well GV, a mindfulness initiative programs will include a segment on self-care which addresses boundary setting, identifying personal needs, and creating time for personal practices such as time for exercise, for cooking a nutritious meal, or for relaxation.
Conscious Communication and Action
The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health approaches conscious communication with the aim to create a full and happy life. To do this, one much be conscious about the specific language he or she uses and how it impacts their perspective and “meaning making process". Kripalu offers four steps to practice conscious communication. They include: (1) using “I” statements to “awaken awareness and creative force” ; (2) practicing co-listening where the listener gives their full attention to a speaker and practices non-judgmental awareness when listening; (3) practicing reflective listening, which takes co listening to the next level - after co-listening, the listener will say, “What I hear you say is this…”, repeat what they believe they heard, and ask if they heard correctly, known as restorative/facilitated conversation; (4) practicing empowering feedback such as appreciation or a giving a potential improvement point with the intention to inform and empower with respect. Regarding conscious action, De Zoysa (2016) explains another way to view mindfulness as the coupling of being mindful with clear comprehension - where a practitioner is sensitive to their personal attitude and how their actions will affect themselves and others. In the higher education context, Coburn describes how contemplative practices allow people to “be the change” rather than just speak it. According to Monteiro and colleagues (2015), modern day MBIs that encourage practitioners to take responsibility for their own experience will help one develop a greater sense of wisdom when managing experiences.
APPLICATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Conscious communication has been practiced before and after group meditation or yoga sessions or taught in a semester long introductory class for first-year students. Ramasubramanian (2017) found a mindfulness-based communication 14-week course for first year students to help students experience more positive emotions and perceive less stress. At GVSU, conscious communication is a ground rule in all Be Well GV programs. MTF members, along with mindful champions (leaders among faculty, staff, and students) will hold one another accountable in practicing conscious communication at work, school, and at home and conscious communication an action practices will be reflected upon. Additionally, mindful leaders across campus are encouraged to host restorative justice circles to practice conscious communication and action.