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Living in The Present: Alexis Santos Speaks on Mindfulness

D.Zhu/The Phillipian

Alexis Santos, unhappy on his path at medical school, travelled to India, where he discovered mindfulness.

Alexis Santos, a former Buddhist Monk and mindfulness teacher, ­­spent several years mastering meditation and mindfulness. Today, he finds joy in providing a more accessible approach of the subject for the mental development of others. On January 11, Santos presented on ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into everyday life in Kemper Auditorium.

His presentation, “Your Life is Your Practice: Mindfulness in Everyday Life,” continues the Mindfulness and Meditation Speaker Series, sponsored by the Office of the Head of School and the Tang Institute. 

Santos began the talk by defining the basic act of being mindful. According to Santos, reaching a certain level of calmness requires constant practice.

Santos said, “Mindfulness is clearly knowing what is happening in the present moment in our direct experience. It is not so much related to thinking about things, it is the immediate experience and being aware of it. Over time, we learn how to allow whatever is happening to happen.”

Santos continued, “Through mindfulness, we are basically using our mind to try to develop our daily lives. Obviously, this did not make sense for me at first, because my mind is full of delusion, confusion, and restlessness. But to do it from the inside, it takes some practice getting used to it.”

Santos acknowledged the difficulties of being mindful, and said he believes that people who are just beginning to practice mindfulness generally overcomplicate the process by putting in an unnecessary amount of forced effort.

“One of the reasons why we think mindfulness is difficult is because we put too much effort. We try too hard. The energy that we need to be mindful is much less than we expect. The challenge is that it is so easy to get caught up in our experience. It is so easy to entangled with the things we are doing,” said Santos.

According to Santos, incorporating mindfulness to daily life brings profound benefits, such as being able to make better choices by having a clearer mind in moments of decision. Santos noted that being mindful in small moments helps to achieve this ultimate goal.

Santos said, “As we get to know what is happening, we get to know what is worth doing and what is simply worth being aware of and letting pass. The power of mindfulness allows us to look into the very processes that are so familiar that in a way, they become invisible and unconscious to us. My experience is so familiar to me, so it is difficult for me to recognize that it is actually an experience that I am having, and my mind is participating in it. But through the use of mindfulness, we get to know what is worth doing and what is simply worth being aware of and letting pass.”

Santos recalled previous experiences with his teacher at Burma to stress his point on mindfulness development. Santos emphasized that even a short amount of mindfulness per day could foster improvements in mental well-being. 

“Very light touches in the day can make a lot of difference regarding mindfulness. Someone at the monastery before returning to a very busy work was advised by my teacher at Burma to be mindful in just one moment of the day. When he came back, he said that it was amazing. He followed the instructions, starting with a full breath in and out. He noticed the difference that it made. That moment started to grow. That started to grow to minutes, the activities that he started to do, and to the point where it was really getting momentum. It is so possible, regardless of what we are experiencing, to be mindful,” continued Santos.

Ellerman Mateo ’21, an attendee of the event, has been doing mindfulness on a regular basis. Santos’s words resonated with him, because being mindful has helped him both in the classroom and on the track field. 

“I started picking up mindfulness before Thanksgiving break. I would meet with [Andrew] Housiaux, [Currie Family Director of the Tang Institute and Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies], every Thursday evening, doing mindfulness. You should be aware of what is happening while doing mindfulness, but you should not be dragged in by the distractions. If you recognize that you are being distracted towards a thought, you have to bring yourself into a clear mind. The continued practice really helps me calm down and concentrate when taking an important test or right before an athletic contest,” said Mateo.

The Mindfulness and Meditation Speaker Series has hosted and will feature many more mindfulness speakers. Housiaux noted the importance of hosting mindfulness events.

Housiaux said, “The Tang Institute has invited several mindfulness teachers this year in response to interest on campus and in the broader community. It been been rewarding to see faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni from the [Andover] community learning alongside our neighbors in Lawrence, Andover, Tewksbury and surrounding towns. The high attendance of the event speaks to the interest people have in learning more about how their minds work and how they can integrate mindfulness practice into their daily lives.”