It is so easy to get stuck in patterns of fear, oppression, or habits of mind. Whether you are teaching a class in physics, calculus, creative writing or science or working in social justice and human potential sometimes the solution, answer or outcome we are searching for doesn’t seem obvious; either for the community or for your self. In fact, at times it can feel nearly impossible and unreachable to come to a settled place. Even the thought of moving from stuck and paralyzed, from not knowing how to take the next step, or realize what the next step is can feel daunting. This work, of mindful self-awareness can help open the heart and gain perspective.
Unstuck...from Inaction to Action Research indicates that use of guided visualizations deepens the connection to our subconscious mind and can improve our visualization skills, which can help to improve right brain thinking. Guided visualizations also strengthen the connection between the right and left hemispheres of our brains, leading to more holistic or ‘whole brain’ thinking.
Here are what I see as the key steps to creating an environment on campus where students can “cross borders” and reach a place of genuine understanding and connection. I believe these principles are relevant to any classes or other on-campus forums aimed at fostering inclusion and positive cross-group relationships; I hope instructors for other courses also consider how to incorporate some of these principles into their work.
As a professor of Media Studies, I often meet students who express concern about the impact of digital media on their personal lives—for example, their ability to concentrate or to form healthy, authentic relationships. Less often, but occasionally, students voice concern about the torrent of images and less-than-trustworthy “news” they encounter online, and its impact on their ability to engage effectively as citizens. In fact, helping students make connections between the personal and collective dimensions of digital culture is one of the most important, and most difficult, responsibilities I face in the classroom.
In my role as the Contemplative Life Advisor at Hampshire College, I support students to practice, develop and integrate meditation, mindfulness, and related principles of awareness and compassion into their lives. This includes reflecting on key systemic forms of suffering, particularly oppression, climate disruption and other environmental damage, and potential remedies/right actions of social justice and sustainability.
Research shows that mindfulness practices help us focus, give us greater control over our emotions, and increase our capacity to think clearly and act with purpose. Might mindfulness assist police and other public servants in minimizing the mistaken judgments that lead to such harms? Might they help the rest of us—professors and deliverymen alike—minimize our biases as well?
If you haven’t heard: it has been a challenging year to inhabit a Black body as social media and cyber-activism have allowed us to witness the ongoing assaults against Black bodies on American streets, in parks, in the aisles of big-box stores, during traffic stops and in an array of public and private spaces.
There’s a scene in the movie Garden State where Natalie Portman’s character exclaims, “You’re really in it” as Zach Braff portrays someone beginning to feel more sentient coming out of a long-term, lithium-induced haze. This phrase, to me, serves as enthusiastic recognition of someone working the space between the anxiety of existence and sheer exhilaration of being alive.