Former Buddhist Monk Alexis Santos on Practicing Mindfulness Under Stress

Alexis Santos shared his beliefs on how technology can hinder one’s attempts at mindfulness.

Alexis Santos, a former Buddhist monk, believes that anyone can practice mindfulness regardless of religious background or prior experience. He discussed the accessibility to meditation in his presentation, “Mindfulness in the Age of Anxiety,” on November 1 in Kemper Auditorium.

Santos began the discussion by evaluating what causes anxiety for people today. After hearing responses from viewers in the room, he concluded that some of the most common causes of anxiety today involve the state of the government, worry for loved ones, and social media.

Santos then posed the question, “What is the appropriate response to difficulty and challenge?” He said that by developing an awareness of the mind and heart, meditation allows people to be present in the moment and ease anxiety.

“Meditation can be done in a really natural way… It’s not something that we have to find the right conditions for or the right situation for. It can be really as natural as just remembering to notice any part of our experience. If you’re reading this newspaper for example, to just notice that you’re holding the paper or reading online that you are knowing you’re reading, that you’re able to feel your body. That awareness practice is really very accessible and it’s something that we can do from moment to moment in our life just as we’re living,” said Santos.

After walking his audience through a ten-minute self awareness exercise, Santos said that being vulnerable and present takes courage in a world where technological developments have increased stress. He emphasized that mindfulness helps the practitioner cultivate empathy and alleviate stress.

Santos said, “[Meditation has a] unique gift in a way. [It can] help us to see the suffering that we each experience, to see the causes, and then to understand the nature of those causes, and ultimately let them go… We each uniquely suffer when we start to see that because we’re trying to impress all of our friends, or becoming too attached to our phones, or whatever, our particular form is, we begin to see that that’s actually not serving our well being.”

“That mindfulness also allows us to generate those qualities of the mind and heart that are beautiful. Qualities of compassion, qualities of awareness, of wisdom, that help us, you know, to meet life skillfully,” he continued.

His talk was part of the Mindfulness Series hosted in partnership by the Tang Institute and the Office of the Head of School. The Tang Institute has organized the Mindfulness Series for the past two years, and Santos has been a part of each one. During the first year, Santos lead a meditation workshop. A group of Andover students, staff, and faculty requested to bring him back to campus, according to Andy Housiaux, Currie Family Director of the Tang Institute.

Since then, Santos has lead mindfulness programming at Andover during the Meditation Series, which usually consists of a presentation and practice session. According to Housiaux, meditation is an informative process for members of the community who choose to opt-in.

“I think for students who are interested in learning more about their emotional lives and exploring self-inquiry in this way, mindfulness can be a meaningful approach. But I don’t think mindfulness is something that we should mandate students to do. I think it can be a wonderful opportunity for self-exploration for students who really are interested in it,” said Housiaux.

Attendee Saida Ibragimova ’22 noted the sensations she felt when practicing mindfulness.

Ibragimova said, “I didn’t know much about the technique he uses. For example, how he wants us to relax every part of our body, starting from our heads and ending with our toes. Being present, feeling our bodies, feeling the blood flowing through your veins. This was something very new for me.”

Ibragimova also said that there are a multitude of ways to practice mindfulness.

“I feel like meditation is different for everybody. We all have our own ‘meditations’ in a way. Like for me, I take long walks downtown to decompress and relax, and I feel like this is my way of meditating. Similar to actual meditation, I’m just spending time alone with my thoughts and letting go of what may be bothering me at the moment,” said Ibragimova.

Joshua Park ’22 believed that the lesson was an introduction to the teachings and principles of meditation that he previously did not take seriously. However, he recognized that meditation’s ineffectiveness can be ameliorated with proper training.

Park said, “In Korea and my background, meditation just wasn’t a thing. It was often something my friends and I would joke about, honestly. I didn’t think it was very effective, but Alexis Santos spoke about his journey with public speaking and how meditation helped his experience. So I feel like it can really be an effective practice if done correctly.”