This piece was written for Religious Studies Professor Kerry Skora’s “Mindfulness, Meditation and Healing” course, an advanced seminar in religious studies and biomedical humanities. Inspired by Jon Kabat-Zinn’s and Richard Davidson’s pioneering work in mindfulness and healing, this course presents an in-depth study of the natural connection between medicine and meditation, mindfulness and healing. It combines third-person religious/cultural/historical/humanistic and scientific studies of mindfulness and its relation to healing and compassion, with “critical first-person” encounters of one’s own body-mind, using Buddhist-based contemplative practices.
From a religious studies/humanities perspective, students in the class studied various Buddhist-based teachings and practices connected to medicine, healing, well-being and wholeness. They focused on notions of suffering and freedom from suffering. The practices and teachings were connected to contemporary studies from the science of mindfulness on the benefit of meditation for healing and caring with compassion.
For this assignment, students drew from first-person contemplative experiences (they had to follow a rigorous eight-week mindfulness program) and third-person descriptions and interpretations, in response to various readings, thinking about the value of mindfulness and meditation.
Machines & Mindfulness
By Dana Yeater ‘18
There seems to be a new epidemic in our world, where personal electronics are taking us over. Every way that we look, we have a good chance of being able to spot a cell phone, a laptop, earbuds, music players, fancy watches or even something like high tech running shoes. No one can deny that technological innovations have taken off and increased in access drastically since the 21st century began. With this rapid change in access to personal electronics, it seems that our relationship with them was not able to develop quite as quickly, and that we are still catching up. It is easy to imagine those from generations who lived in a time without this computer epidemic saying, “Oh, those kids with their texting! They are never paying attention to what I’m saying!” Even among the generations who grew akin to these devices, there seems to be an awareness of the fact that we are just not paying attention half of the time.
Through daily habits and mindless use of these devices, we have developed habits that have lead us to stop paying attention. Most of the time, we are swirled up in another sphere, one that is instant, and infinite, and are rarely with ourselves in the present moment. We are either existing in the past or the future. Constantly tweaking and attending to second selves or identities, we use our devices to exist in virtual worlds, where texts have already happened minutes or hours ago, social media posts are forever collecting into the past, and identities are refined to the point of delusion. In many ways, the digital realm is one of fantasy; media being a distortion of the real world, a second world, and a second self.
The main issue with this world of fantasy, is that we are constantly trying to do something, or “be productive”. And yet, what is one more scroll of Instagram or Facebook doing for us? Is it accomplishing anything meaningful? We escape to these digital realms in moments of stillness, gaps between tasks, moments we often call “boredom.” We exist under this idea that we always need to be doing. This idea is dangerous, because we forget to enjoy or acknowledge what is before us, in each moment. When we are no longer engaged, we try to escape, when in reality, there is so much to take in during each moment. This desire to keep doing is what is often called “the rat race,” and as we have all experienced, perpetually running the race causes serious stress.
The exciting thing is, that we don’t have to be a part of this perpetual desire to do something; we can stop running the rat race. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), has suggested a way to do just this. Using meditation and mindfulness exercises, the MBSR program teaches people how to break out of the rat race, which he calls “The Full Catastrophe of Living.” Kabat-Zinn presents the common American with the idea that they can do nothing. Because of the dominant “rat race” mentality, the thought of doing nothing, or “not being productive” initially comes off as a bad, lazy thing for us to do. Yet, Kabat-Zinn’s program proves that these non-doing states of being are actually beneficial and accomplish a lot for us, especially in reducing stress and increasing our ability to not be distracted so that we can enjoy each moment more. And, these non-doing states actually require quite a bit of effort. This relates to our relationship with technology, and how it can remove us from moments and cause us stress. By stopping the constant “doing” — or trying to escape to these digital realms in moments of stillness, gaps between tasks, of moments of “boredom” — we are able to live in and appreciate the present moment much more.
I have personally used the MBSR program and integrated meditation and mindfulness into my own life. I have found that it has been profoundly beneficial in developing my relationship with technology, states of doing and stress. I have started to dismantle the things that have been ingrained in me from society, and with this have become aware of the fact that we as a society have not had time to contemplate the implications of having this technology so accessible and available to us. I have realized that most of the time, our technology distracts us from what matters more often than it helps us. We no longer use it as a tool, but as an extension of ourselves.
I have started changing my relationship with technology by asking myself a small series of questions before I partake in answering a text or email or other such engagement: “Do I want to be here? Am I trying to leave here? Is this more important than who I am with or what I am doing right now?” Being mindful and asking myself this has allowed me to be much more present in the moment, and much more available with the people I am with. I have tried to make it so that I will not use personal technology when I am around others, so that I can fully enjoy being with them and enjoy developing skills like listening, empathy and compassion. It also allows me to take moments to enjoy the pleasure of simple things around me, like the beauty of nature, humanity or access to the resources around me.
Practicing mindfulness and developing a more mindful relationship with technology has allowed me to live in and appreciate the present moment much more. Mindfulness allows us to bring our attention to otherwise untouched habits, and leave “the rat race” to seek a deeper sense of accomplishment. Through mindfulness, we are able to illuminate and refine the parts of ourselves to make a truer and authentic inner self shine through. Mindfulness is a solution to our mindless technological epidemic.