Continuing the events of Wellness Weekend, former Buddhist monk Alexis Santos led a workshop called “Compassionate Awareness: Knowing Yourself, Knowing Your World” this past Saturday. The workshop was a part of the Tang Institute’s “Mindfulness Speaker Series,” in which speakers come to campus to speak about mindfulness and the importance of it in their own lives.
Santos is an instructor at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and travels around the United States and Europe teaching meditation at different retreat centers. He has also led online meditations on the “10% Happier” app and worked to create mindfulness exercises for Lumosity, a wellness website.
The workshop, which was six hours long, welcomed faculty, current students, alumni, and people from outside the Andover community. Audience members sat on yoga mats, cushions, blankets, and chairs.
Julia Beckwith ’17, who was involved in mindfulness on campus during her Upper and Senior years, was one of the alumni who attended the event.
Beckwith wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “The audience was invited to meditate alongside Alexis for about half of the workshop, and for the rest of the workshop, was listening to and taking notes on what he said. I think it is beneficial because it brings community members to campus and gives students the opportunity to learn more about mindfulness in a low-stress, friendly environment.”
Attendees spent time in quiet sitting and walking meditation while listening to Santos’ reflections. Participants were also given the opportunity to share their observations and questions with Santos.
Becca Brewster, who works in the Office of Academy Resources, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “[Santos] introduced and incorporated several Buddhist beliefs and concepts and shared a few beautiful stories from his teachers and of his own experiences. Some of the participants shared their perspectives, experiences, and questions for [Santos]. Probably half the time was not in discussion, but in silence, quiet meditation and observation.”
Brewster continued, “He offered an overall framework for meditation practice: relax, observe, be aware or interested in what’s going on. He encouraged that we notice habits and that we do this with compassion. For instance, being forgiving to yourself and others. He also encouraged a gentleness in the effort taken in being aware. He encouraged us that a mindfulness practice over time can shift our habits of the mind towards benefitting our own well-being and the well-being of those around us. He stressed that this is a slow process that takes time.”
The exercises continued throughout the lunch period. Brewster wrote, “He encouraged us to consider having lunch in silence and the only assignment was to pay attention to one full complete bite of food.”
Andrew Housiaux, Currie Family Director of the Tang Institute and Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, wrote in an email interview with The Phillipian, “[Andover] is a private school with a public purpose, and events like Saturday’s workshop with Alexis Santos help us to realize that aspiration… There were teachers from public and private schools in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, students of mindfulness from all over the greater Boston area, and a number of first-time meditators from Andover, Lawrence, and other nearby towns who were able to meet and learn from a well-respected meditation teacher.”
Brewster said that Santos’ workshop was helpful to her and made her reflect on many things about her life.
Brewster wrote in an email interview with The Phillipian, “He talked about the ‘right view’ through being curious, without judgement. This is about observing the experience, knowing it, and moving on, such as ‘I am frustrated. This is frustration.’ That was super helpful to me.”
Beckwith took away a similar perspective about mindfulness from the event.
Beckwith wrote, “For me, the general message was that mindfulness is a gentle practice and awareness — even if what you are becoming aware of is uncomfortable — leads to less suffering in the long run…[Santos] talked about his own experiences as a monk and offered to answer any questions from the audience, especially from people just beginning their practices.”
Brewster explained how mindfulness has helped her grow in her personal life.
Brewster wrote, “[Mindfulness is] a practice that is personal to each of us. For me, a mindfulness practice is so helpful and grounding in my personal life and in my work. I find it supports understanding, compassion, connections with each other and in communities, and health and wellness.”