By Daniel Strawhun, A&E Editor
The spring 2017 semester has officially begun at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and with it come the stresses and worries that accompany a full schedule. UMSL students will not only be attending classes this spring, but many will also be working full- or part-time jobs and participating in extracurricular activities around campus. During the semester, days start early in the morning and run late into the night. Most students live in a state of constant motion, moving always from one activity to the next.
Such an existence affords students little time to be mindful of the present. With such busy schedules and so many different obligations to attend to, college students often forget to fully acknowledge and experience the “here and now.” That is why UMSL offers a weekly guided meditation session through the Counseling Services department.
Dr. Christopher Sullivan, Clinical Director for Counseling Services, holds the sessions every Wednesday afternoon from 12:30 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. in MSC 131. As Sullivan explained, the sessions have become somewhat of a fixture in the department: “The mindfulness group has met on campus for more than 10 years. It has been led by Counseling Services staff since it was first started. It was initially started by the previous director of Counseling Services, who had an interest in mindfulness.”
The Mindfulness Meditation sessions typically attract between two to 10 people each week, with a number of regulars usually in attendance. Sullivan starts each session by first introducing himself. He then asks for brief introductions from the other people in attendance, after which the meditation begins. Sullivan has a soft, soothing voice that has an immediately calming effect on the mind. He tells attendees, “For the next couple moments, there’s nothing to do, nowhere to go. These moments are opportunities to put down our projects and our calendars, to let go of our worries, our fears, and our deadlines.” This request—to leave the worries, fears, and deadlines behind—is especially welcome at the start of the new semester when most students have just received their syllabi, which tend to induce worries and fears, and which are, by default, full of deadlines.
Sitting in chairs, the meditators are first instructed to straighten their spines. Sullivan tells them that their feet should be firmly and squarely planted on the ground, and he suggests that they fold their hands comfortably in their laps. Then he instructs them to relax their bodies and concentrate on their breathing. Their breaths should be neither strained nor forced, and throughout the 15 minute session, he continually reminds the attendees to focus on nothing but the sensation of breathing. Whenever they notice their minds start to wander, Sullivan gently urges the attendees to acknowledge the thought and then return to thinking only of their breathing. He tells them, “When you notice that your attention is no longer here and no longer with your breathing, without judging yourself, bring your attention back to your breathing, just riding the waves of your breathing, fully conscious of the duration of each breath from moment to moment.”
After around 15 minutes of meditation, Sullivan brings the session to a close by ringing a bell and instructing attendees to open their eyes slowly. In the few minutes that remain, participants are invited to share their experiences with each other.
Regarding the health benefits of meditation, Sullivan said, “Mindfulness has a number of well-studied and documented benefits. The American Psychological Association identified a number of benefits: reduced rumination, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, focus, less emotional reactivity, greater cognitive flexibility, and relationship satisfaction.”
Students, faculty, and staff at UMSL are all welcome to participate in the Mindfulness Meditation sessions. More information about relaxation techniques can be found at the Counseling Services’ virtual relaxation room: http://www.umsl.edu/services/counser/resources/Relaxation.html