I usually write about nonprofit fundraising in some form or fashion, adding humorous anecdotes to the experiences and lessons. Today, however, I am going to shift a bit and focus not on the work, but the approach to the work, whatever the work may be.
The reason for this momentary shift is because as a consultant in the nonprofit field and a professor here at JWU, I encounter a startling lack of gratitude and an even greater void of mindfulness in the workplace and in the classroom. Please know, I am not shaming anyone, just stating observations of a stressed-out population of hard workers and dedicated learners.
I often argue that the aforementioned lack is the root of the disconnect and disharmony many of us feel as we traipse through our daily lives. This disconnect sets us on edge; we become defensive and contribute the disharmony that irks us, which set us further on edge, and now we are in a nasty cycle.
Before I continue, I promise y’all, this is not going to be some woo-woo self-help piece. I fully acknowledge that the combo gratitude and mindfulness, has, in some ways been, reduced to the verbal equivalent of essential oils, spewing forth from a philosophical diffuser as a promise to cure your emotional measles. I’m not making any promises of the sort, but I can tell you that as you become more grateful and mindful, you generate an existential shift, one that builds genuine connectedness, inner peace, and outward harmony. Practicing mindfulness and gratitude will make your academic life simpler and better.
What is mindfulness?
It is, quite simply, being aware in the moment. Take note of all five senses (or six, if you’ve got that going for you), and how you are feeling and existing in the moment. It’s the exercise of bringing your whole person into the moment and honoring what is happening in that moment.
What is gratitude?
Simply put, it’s the quality of being thankful. Within that, it is humility, empathy, understanding, and genuine appreciation. You are being thankful for the lessons and experiences … even the not-so-great ones. It’s noticing, finding, or creating the silver lining.
I suggest engaging in your academic activities with “mindful gratitude” as mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand. What you’re doing is a meditation, an honoring of space and person — lotus position and tingsha bells not required.
Mindful gratitude means focusing on the present moment, tuning in to physical sensations, the emotional sensations, and being fully aware of everything that you’re doing. It also means being genuinely grateful for the moment, appreciating what is happening within it, and letting go of anxious thoughts about the future or past. Be in the right now.
How can you use it in the classroom?
My challenge to you is this: The next time log in to class, view being in class as a positive activity. Instead of thinking of it as a chore, view it as an opportunity. Shift from “I have to write to a discussion board post” to “I get to write a discussion board post.” Rather than looking at your phone every few minutes, sit still and focus on the moment. Find your breath and flow with it. Observe the environment around you and your purpose for being in this space. Notice the sounds, scents, energy, and tactile objects and then settle yourself into learning mode. Fully invest your attention to what is happening in the classroom and in the work that needs to be done and you will feel a sense of purpose for the tasks and connectedness with others in the class.
Once you are still, settled, and focused, shift your mindset to one of gratitude. Trust me, I know that it’s easy to complain about having to log in to class/work because you are busy/tired/overwhelmed/cranky/annoyed/you’ll-never-use-this-info-in-the-real-world. Alter your perspective; you have a brilliant opportunity to intellectually engage with interesting, driven people at a phenomenal learning institution. Your instructor is a living, breathing fountain of practical knowledge, sharing insights and experience with you so that you are set up for success inside and outside of the classroom. You’re living an opportunity not afforded to everyone. Be grateful and you will feel a sense of peace and harmony.
As a JWU student, you have much for which to be grateful, and you owe it to yourself and those around you to be mindfully involved in class and related work. Even if you believe that you’ll never use this info again (I’m looking at you, geology), the process of mindfulness fosters the formation of new neural pathways, decreases volume of stress receptors, and increases emotional regulation including empathy and patience. You’ll also be armed with random trivia to be tossed about at parties, meetings, what have you. (Did you know that people who wade into the Dead Sea automatically float as the dissolved salts make the water denser than humans … thus, we float! Thanks, geology! Seriously … life of the party here.)
Mindfulness takes practice and effort. No one is good at it when they first start. Your mind is likely to wander repeatedly. You’re likely to get caught up in stresses and worries. But, with practice and patience, you’ll get better. And eventually, you’ll recognize that you’re living a more mindful academic life enjoying benefits like decreased stress, better connectedness, a happier outlook … and random party trivia.