By Jim DeLa
A group of New College students are learning how to better cope with the stress of college life by spending several hours a week in meditation and practicing other stress reduction techniques.
They’re even getting credit for it.
More than 30 students, primarily first-years, are enrolled in an independent study project this month called “Mindfulness Meditation: Bringing Focus and Creativity to Your College Experience.”
Created by Assistant Professor of Religion Manuel Lopez, the class is a collaboration between New College and the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute. For two weeks, instructors from the Institute will do various exercises with the class.
Students also meet with Lopez regularly to discuss assigned readings that explore how meditation can enhance focus, as well as discussing examples of writers, musicians and artists that have used meditation to develop creativity. They’re required to keep a meditation journal throughout the class and write a short reflection paper.
Lopez offered this ISP last year with 10 students. He says the ISP can be particularly helpful for students under pressure. “You see a lot of first-years struggling, not because they’re not intellectually prepared, but because they aren’t emotionally and mentally prepared” for college.
“They’re going to be able to learn techniques that will help them throughout their college career,” Lopez explained. “It’s going to be a very useful tool.”
The course uses a technique called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. At one session in the New College Music Room, instructor Lynne Lockie guided the class through short meditations designed to relax participants and foster a sense of awareness.
While meditation is used, it’s not the only way to be mindful, she said. “Mindfulness takes many forms,” Lockie said. “If meditation isn’t your thing, you can experience it in other ways … in the shower, opening a door or driving.
First-year student Claire Besancon said she hopes the class will help her. “I really like it. It’s so peaceful and calming,” she said. She said the class and other activities help her to be more focused in the moment. “It will help me with stress and anxiety.”
Second-year Michael Dwyer is in the class because he’s taken other classes with Professor Lopez, and this “seemed like it would be fun,” he said. “It’s been everything I thought it would be, it’s met every expectation.”
Mindfulness, according to the Institute’s website, is “the gentle effort to be continuously present with one’s experience. That means paying attention to what you are sensing, feeling or thinking without judging it as good or bad. Mindfulness is the opposite of being on ‘auto-pilot.’ When we are mindful, we respond rather than react.”
Jake Pavao, a second-year biology AOC, said he wanted to do something different during the January interterm. “It’s pretty enjoyable. It’s relaxing. It’s a nice way to break up the day.”
Lockie says while the Institute has programs for children of all ages, she sees particular benefits for college students. “Research says college students are very judgmental about themselves. They’re leaving home for the first time, starting their own lives. They have to deal with the stress of meeting expectations.”
— Jim DeLa is digital communications coordinator at New College of Florida.