Alison Cohen, a certified mindfulness teacher, expanded attendees’ understanding of mindfulness through guided meditations in the first of the Tang Institute Mindfulness Series. Comparing mindfulness practices to control over our experiences, Cohen expressed that mindfulness helps provide more awareness of our actions, emotions, and lives.
“Part of why mindfulness is called a practice is because over time with practice the fear of pausing transforms to relief and gratitude for the opportunity to more fully inhabit more moments of our lives and have a stable enough container with which to do that. Rather than needing to run away from joy or sadness or from whatever, there is the ability to need [joy or sadness] with wisdom and care,” said Cohen.
According to Cohen, many young people are not aware of the practice of mindfulness and oftentimes overlook its potential benefits. In an email to The Phillipian, Cohen discussed her own introduction to practicing mindfulness, and how the effects of mindfulness benefited her emotionally and psychologically.
“I went through an emotionally and psychologically difficult period when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and I wanted to learn how to feel more at home in my own head, heart, and body rather than constantly feel this fear-based urge to run away from my internal world. Mindfulness practice introduced me to a more compassionate, wiser, courageous, and more joyful way of approaching the wild ride that is being human. As I saw how much I benefited from it, I wondered why hadn’t I been introduced to mindfulness practice earlier in my life, and this question led me to start teaching mindfulness,” wrote Cohen.
In a fast moving world, with many people having access to social media and breaking news, Cohen emphasizes the importance of mindfulness in allowing one to slow down and be more present, regardless of where or who you are.
“This is a radical and countercultural approach. In a society ‘designed to distract us from ourselves,’ as the saying goes, mindfulness practice encourages us to cultivate the ability to pay attention in a way that allows us to tune into our own wisdom and act from there rather than from external pressures or our conditioned, robotic ways of engaging with ourselves, each other, and the world,” wrote Cohen.
During the session, Cohen discussed how practicing mindfulness and doing self-care can have “ripple effects” in the form of one’s relationship with others, extending beyond oneself and to the people one cares for.
“Anytime we tend to our own nervous systems, anytime we choose, as each of you are doing right now to pause, here are ripple effects to that and how we show up interpersonally. And how we tend to the young people in our care. Or if you are a young person on this call, how you tend to your peers, how you engage with those various agents, our nervous systems matter, and it’s far from selfish to care for them. In fact, it’s the opposite.” said Cohen.
Cohen continued to explain how the rush of people’s lives detract from their search for inner peace and tranquility, as people are constantly thinking about what they are doing next rather than being fully present in the moment.
“The frenzy of our activism can neutralize our work for peace because it kills the roots of inner wisdom, which makes work fruitful. The rush and pressure of modern life are perhaps the most common form of its innate violence to commit oneself to too much,” said Cohen.
Cohen’s message resonated with Amy Wiggins, Athletic Trainer, as Wiggins feels that both students and faculty at Andover feel overwhelmed. According to Wiggins, taking the time to practice mindfulness will hopefully reduce students’ stress.
“In the crazy life that we lead at [Andover,] between your athletics, or music, there are so many other things that our students are doing. At times, we feel so overwhelmed. And mindfulness or meditation, taking that time to practice one or the other, can really give you a sense of calmness to then process what’s next in your life. What’s next on your list, what’s next that you want to try to accomplish,” said Wiggins.
Wiggins continued, “I want to make a better effort to make sure that every time I’m talking to one or whoever, I’m focused on just them and not the 30 other people that are standing up that door creeping in towards me who want to come and talk. I want to make sure that each student knows that I’m listening. And I’m totally focused on just them in the situation. And I know that I want to work on doing a better job of that.”