We often talk about a student’s love of learning as being crucial for their success in school. But what about their love of school itself? In recent years, educators have begun thinking more and more about the impact that a school’s feeling can have on how well children perform, something experts call “school climate.” Broadly defined, school climate encompasses “the feelings and attitudes elicited by a school’s environment”. These emotions create a subjective viewpoint for students, parents, and faculty members towards the school that shapes how much they feel tied to the institution.
This past summer, I came back to Penn a week before NSO to go through PennCORP student leader training. A pre-orientation program for freshmen, PennCORP focuses on getting incoming students involved with civic engagement and social justice work in Philadelphia. Daily workshops and site visits are designed to provide participants with different approaches to service, with the hope that at the end of the program freshmen will stay involved with the communities they encounter.
During student leader training, we threw around concepts and slogans that would be labeled key ideas throughout the program, and one resonated with me above the rest: “Self care is community care is whole care.” The domino effect-nature of the saying was particularly striking to me: by taking care of ourselves, we help our immediate partners, which helps everyone around us. The concept seems simple: a machine can’t function with broken parts.
This concluding post marks my 11th post of this semester for my weekly column, Mindfulness Monday. The two biggest takeaways that I have discovered as a mindfulness columnist are 1) You don’t have to be meditating just to be mindful. Any situation is an opportunity to introduce mindfulness, and 2) nothing is permanent.
My mindfulness journey has surely been a spectacular ride. My role as a columnist has not only allowed me learn and grow as a writer, but also meet so many inspiring individuals along the way. Throughout the journey, I was able to explore the mental wellness community on campus and beyond, as well as document some snapshots of my life through the lens of mindfulness. It was by far one of the most meaningful activities that I’ve ever devoted myself to doing.
In the beginning of the semester, I set out to explore what mindfulness means and how it relates to our daily lives. Although I wouldn’t say that I’m now a mindfulness “expert,” I’ve definitely gained a lot of invaluable insights, all of which have helped me grow and develop as a person. One of the biggest takeaways of my mindfulness journey is the idea of flow– the idea that everything is temporary. And I can’t stress just how important this idea had been in helping me get through the semester.
When we talk about mindfulness, we often associate that idea with nature. And the image that immediately pops to mind is oftentimes that of a yogi meditating in nature. Although we can surely achieve the state of mindfulness when we mediate or do yoga, what I have learned is that we can be mindful in just about any activity, if we choose to.
Mindfulness is a mindset we can use to go about living our daily lives. We can be mindful in the way we eat, in the way we read, and in the conversations we make with others. This means that we are engaged and actively tried absorb ourselves in those moments and experiences. Yet, the beauty of the mindfulness idea is that we don’t necessarily have to be “mindful” in every exact moment. The world is essentially fluid and dynamic in nature, and we are free to both wander and lose ourselves in this world and in our own thoughts. As long as we’re able to find meaning in the things that we do and give ourselves the space to relax and wander, we are mindful.
I’m very grateful that I was given the opportunity to explore this very concept of mindfulness. The simple reminder that things in life come and go has given me a lot more personal freedom to explore, learn, fail, grow, and move on. Whenever I went on Canvas to check my grades, for instance, I was always reminded by the thought that all those grades are temporary. In fact, there is nothing in life that is permanent; there is nothing in life that stays forever. Think winter breaks, embarrassing moments, relationships…etc. There is really nothing in life that is solid or fixed. And that is how mindfulness has helped sustain me throughout the semester. I have learned not to get too attached to my own failures, mistakes, rejections, and troubles. It is also because of mindfulness that I’ve come to fully embrace myself as a work in progress. Instead of striving to achieve perfection every day, I strive for mindfulness. I strive for meaning. I strive to live my life according to my own values and set my own pace.
My experience writing for IMPACT as a mindfulness columnist this semester has surely taught me a lot more than just a basic understanding of mindfulness. It has also taught me how mindfulness is a living philosophy in which every person can define and internalize in their own way. As I conclude my final post, I would like to thank my readers and hope that you all enjoyed reading about my mindfulness journey as much as I enjoyed reflecting on it.
Even though this is the last article of the semester, I encourage further exploration and incorporation of mindfulness beyond the conclusion of this column. I wish you all the best with your finals and papers. Remember, nothing is permanent. Your struggles are temporary. And so are grades.
Photo Courtesy of Linda S.
Because this year’s International Haiku Poetry Day (April 17) happens to coincide with Spring Fling, I decided to write a poem about Fling that is composed of many haiku’s. The theme of which is, of course– mindfulness. I hope you all had fun flinging last weekend, and I hope you’ll enjoy my poem.
Get up, get dressed, get
out to fling. And smile at the
sun for here comes Spring.
Each Thursday night, two Penn students make their way over to Van Pelt Weigle Information Commons rooms 128 and 129. Inside, they place water boilers, piles of cups, and assortments of snacks onto the table—their standard arrangement for the following hours. While it may appear as if they’re setting up for another lengthy evening in the library, the students are actually preparing for their upcoming shifts as Penn Benjamins Peer Counselors.
Every Tuesday and Thursday from 7 to 11 PM, Van Pelt WIC Rooms 128 and 129 are transformed from study to support spaces for the Penn student body. (On Sunday and Monday at the same time, this transformation takes place in the Harnwell Library). During the following hours, these two counselors, along with several other Penn students, will welcome undergraduates into the Weigle Commons GSRs for confidential counseling sessions. In the midst of environments associated with work and stress, these makeshift offices provide the space necessary for a good breather and emotional release.
“We live in a world of ‘blooming, buzzing, confusion’ where there is a huge influx of information. Life goes by so quickly that we get to a point where we don’t necessarily regret the life that we have lived, but we certainly regret that we didn’t attend to those moments that really matter.”
These were Professor Kaufman’s introductory remarks as he started his lecture on mindfulness and spirituality last week. Professor Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist, is the Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute at Penn’s Positive Psychology Center. He also teaches the popular undergraduate course called Positive Psychology. I was honored to attend his lecture on mindfulness and spirituality last week, and today, I would like to share all that I’ve learned with you in a fun and easy-to-understand way!
Let’s start by examining how mindfulness has been defined by 3 different mindfulness experts: Harvard Professor Ellen Langer, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Professor Kaufman himself.
(Photo Courtesy of Lu’s Lens)
Last Saturday, I joined Penn Consciousness Club in a conversation about the importance of finding harmony in our daily lives and making time for ourselves for reflection. Throughout the conversation, I learned that part of being mindful is letting go of our past so that we can explore life with a more open mind.
According to Tara Rajagopal, a junior leader of the club, Penn’s mental health and wellness community wasn’t what it is today a couple of years ago. As she recalled, Penn experienced a wave of suicides during her freshman year including the loss of a good friend of hers. It was a crisis that has jolted the Penn community according to Sheila Shankar, another participant of the conversation.
The Consciousness Club has evolved since, under Tara and her team’s leadership, as an active group in the mental wellness community. The club strives to create an authentic community built upon peer support, group sharing, and mindfulness.
As Tara described it, the club provides a “heart-centric space in the midst of madness” here at Penn.
When I joined the club on Saturday, it was unlike any other experience that I’ve had. Even though there were only 3 people that day (possibly due to Easter weekend), I had a solid, quality hour with the club in a conversation that revolved around acceptance, harmony, and the temporality of our experiences. I’ve gained a new perspective on college life that I otherwise wouldn’t have held as a freshman.
In honor of my Dad who has taught me valuable lessons about mindful living, I have decided to dedicate this week’s post to him for his birthday (in the form of a letter). He has always encouraged me to enjoy the present moment and I hope that after reading this letter, you may also benefit as much from his words and outlook on life as I have. The most important life lesson that my dad has taught me is that life is not a race.
So I ran for an hour along the Schuylkill river on Saturday for your birthday. I went straight out of Huntsman Hall and headed towards the river trail when the sun was setting after an afternoon of studying. I know that if I were back home, you would have paid me to do it– to go out and exercise and be under the sun. I know that you might even pay me extra just to incentivize me further to exercise during midterms season.
I thought a lot about you Dad while I was running along the river. I thought about you not just because it was your birthday, but because college has really forced me to think more about how you’ve lived your life and about the many things you’ve tried to tell me growing up– many of which, I’ve only started to understand. And I couldn’t thank you more for trying to tell me that life is a journey, not a race. After all, where is the race and who are we racing against?
Growing up, you have always challenged my school-centric notion of the universe and told me that life shouldn’t be a path of linear trajectory. You’ve taught me that there is so much more to life than just trying to race through it all and get ahead of everyone else. You’d rather I embrace childhood than try to skip a grade. You’d rather I enjoy learning than try to perfect a score. You’d rather I be happy, healthy, and present than try to race through life. Life is simply too short for that, you’d say.
So really, I’ve been thinking a lot about you and your outlook on life during my first year at college. My experience thus far has been as much about creating new memories as it has been about reflecting upon my past and your words. As I ran along the Schuylkill river, I couldn’t help but to think about the various times throughout college in which I’ve thought about you– times when I felt lost about what classes to take, what clubs to join, or what things to focus on at that moment when I had a billion things to do. During the times when I felt that life was slipping out of control, and I couldn’t see where I was going, I thought about you and the lessons you have taught me by example. Take my time, think things through, and sloooow down.
It is just so easy to get lost here at Penn. But one of the most dangerous things to do– you’d remind me– is to pursue something mindlessly, without thinking. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the moment. Just focus on doing things that matter. I think you’re so right. If I had just focused on completing the miles and mindlessly sprinted along the river, I wouldn’t have reflected upon your words and contextualized my experiences here at Penn. I wouldn’t have noticed the graffiti on the wall, the toddler tumbling on the grass, and the changing colors of the sunset sky. All these things made my run, though brief, so enjoyable. As I slowed down and jogged along the river, I realized that life isn’t as serious as it seems. There is a wide world out there for us, if only we take the time to slow down and appreciate it.
So this hour-long run is for you Dad, for free. You don’t have to pay me. The weather has been quite terrible throughout the week, but it was gorgeous on your birthday. And I want to let you know that even though I’d never really lived a life that truly embraced your values, I try to, and all this time I have been listening.
Happy birthday, Dad!
My Yoga Experience
I started my Sunday morning doing yoga in Harnwell’s rooftop lounge with teachers Karen Zhao and Tai Bendit of Be Here Yoga. It was my very first time doing yoga here at Penn, and when I first walked into the room, the sun shone so brightly through the large window glass panes that I felt transported into a different world.
The session began with a brief meditation guided by Tai who told us to close our eyes and focus on breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Then, Karen took over and started guiding us through sun salutations to warm up our bodies.
Downward facing dog. Hover. Jump. Hands up. Stretch back. Feel your fingers. And repeat– or something like that. I probably don’t have the sequence exactly correct as I recall right now, and I’m probably missing a pose or two, but I can still recall how I felt exactly– calm and liberated. Throughout the session, my mind was soothed by the soulful music playing quietly in the background, and every time I reached up to stretch my arms, extend my spine, and bend my back slightly backwards, I felt liberated from all the chaos and fuss in the world.
I grew up in Asia where tea is abundant and central to everyday life. In the Chinese culture, tea and tea-making are closely associated with the literature, arts, and philosophy of Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian thoughts. Having grown up in Taiwan, I was taught about Chan– a philosophy rooted in Buddhism– that means “meditation” or “mindfulness.” When Buddhism was first introduced to China, Chan also started to incorporate the Taoist concept of naturalness that highlights the importance of appreciating nature in our everyday lives. The art of making and drinking tea thus naturally reflects the Chan philosophy because it requires our minds to be clear and our senses to awaken to the smell and taste of the tea. (Chan later spread to other countries, including Japan, where it became known as Zen.)
Back home, tea is an integral part of our culture.The act of pouring tea for guests is viewed as a gesture of honor. Most restaurants serve tea, and when entertaining guests in our house, my mom always brews and serves tea. Tea bags and tea cups are often given as gifts to express gratitude and appreciation.
Although I grew up in a culture that embraces tea, I’ve honestly never thought much about it. I’ve never brewed my own tea at home, and when I am offered water or tea at a restaurant, I always opt for water. But, that changed this week when I joined Dr. Marien and Dr. Casta at the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for a “Mindful Tea” workshop. For the very first time in my life, I actually sat down to drink and appreciate tea and thought about all it has come to mean and represent.