How often do you stop and consciously think about what you’re doing?
This may be coming a bit late — considering the stress of midterms has passed — but there is increasing evidence of health benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of being completely “in the moment” and being so in the moment that you don’t realize you’re “in” anything. By concentrating solely on one’s actions, whether reading “War and Peace” or eating breakfast, one can become more present. A recent University of California Los Angeles study found that mindfulness reduces stress by encouraging concentration exclusively on what you are doing. Instead of contemplating future plans or dwelling on the past, you can be more effective in the present.
Try it. Take a moment to feel yourself sitting, feel your feet on the ground and concentrate on your breathing. Don’t let your mind wander to thoughts of work, classes or stress. By concentrating exclusively on just “being,” even for a moment, we return from this moment more refreshed.
You may be asking yourself: “Why is this crazy woman asking me to breath deeply and concentrate on nothing?” It helped me and has the potential to help you. The average University student is wrapped up in exams, jobs, projects, paying rent, issues with friends, organizations — we forget to give ourselves a break. To be unaware of details and only aware of purely being is a way to literally take a breather.
After you have relaxed, try to be mindful of yourself. Think about your social identities, which include your race, gender, ability status, religion, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation.
Now take a second to go deeper, and think about how your social identities shape the course of your everyday life. Do you spend most of your time with people who have similar identities as you? Do tend to question people who are different from you? Do you tend to notice people who are different from you?
It’s important to think about these identities because they shape the way we see the world. A Harvard study found those in minority groups often have greater awareness of their social identities than those in the majority. This may be obvious, but why is it that those who do not have the same identity as the majority group have more intense awareness? And what sort of privilege does this grant the people of the majority group?
It may be uncomfortable for you, but talk to someone of a minority social identity, and you may be surprised. The advantage of not having to be aware of one’s identities is a privilege.
I am a white upper middle-class heterosexual person who spends the majority of her time with other white upper middle-class heterosexual people. Do I think this shapes my day-to-day life? Absolutely. In fact, the only way I have friends that are not upper middle-class white people is by my involvement with the Program on Intergroup Relations.
This organization creates a space for people to talk about the self-segregation that permeates our campus and build meaningful relationships beyond this self-segregation. If I had not become involved with this group my freshman year, I would not have nearly as much awareness about my social identities, nor would I have many friends who are different from me.
My privilege of being a member of the majority race on this campus may present itself this Halloween weekend. A recent Ohio University poster campaign illustrated that when people dress up as a “Mexican” they are attacking a culture, not wearing a costume. Many costumes, whether it is a terrorist, gangster or geisha, attack a specific culture and make assumptions about people within respective cultures. By wearing a costume that represents a race that is not your own, you are participating in a form of black face. As a white person I will be aware of my race when choosing my costume and when talking with friends about theirs.
If our campus community as a whole became mindful of their social identities and the privilege or oppression within them, more conversations about injustices in our community and our world might begin. The combination of mindfulness for our health and mindfulness of our social identities could lead to a happier and healthier University.
Nora Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.