Practicing Mindfulness

It’s easy to get caught up in the pessimistic, fatalistic tendencies of today. With all the news coverage on natural disasters, political strife, and international conflicts, it’s difficult to maintain a sense of silver lining. Despite the challenge, it’s important to keep perspective and be mindful for all we should be thankful. Especially with Thanksgiving and the holidays just around the corner, I’m reminded to be grateful for all I do have and to do my best in sharing my blessings.

Everyday, small acts of kindness make an enormous impact, and practicing mindfulness is paramount to making those small daily adjustments that can not only enrich your life but the lives of those around you. They can be as simple as saying thank you to the barista who makes your morning coffee or holding the door open for someone even if they’re a little out of the way. With our hectic schedules, we’re all apt to go on autopilot and make excuses for not being genuinely present in our own lives. By doing so, we cheat ourselves from enjoying every moment and experiencing life as it is. We become accustomed to the routines and daily responsibilities that we don’t even notice the beautiful day or that someone needs our care. We’re so busy with tasks and stresses that we are literally absent from our own lives.

I’ve found that practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be difficult, or even something that takes enormous effort. Mindfulness is the ability to enjoy a moment with awareness and without prejudice. There are various methods of achieving this, but these are a few small changes I’ve implemented in my own life that have brought about some eye-opening rewards.

1. Smile.
It’s the most simple, yet often forgotten gesture that is enormously influential. You never know what kind of day the other person may be having, but your offering a smile can brighten both yours and their day. There’s even scientific evidence to back the claim that smiling makes you happier, better looking, and more likely to put others in a better mood. 

2. Listen to music and do nothing else. 
Let it be whatever genre you love – just don’t do anything but enjoy the music. We’re usually working out to music or studying to it, but rarely do we take the time to simply listen to the verses, the instruments, and the harmonies that comprise the music. I grew up as a pianist and violinist, so I listen to a lot of classical pieces when I need a break from all the hubbub and noise in life. Letting yourself mentally wander to your favorite tunes can help center and de-stress your mind.

3. Take a break from multi-tasking.
As the Multitasking Generation, or genM, we’re often found emailing, texting, skimming the news, and doing our homework simultaneously. Despite our belief that our brains are capable of concentrating on all those activities at once, the truth is that we’re not one hundred percent focused on any of them; instead, we’re toggling back and forth from one to another. So close the laptop and give your full attention when your friend is talking to you, or put down the phone at dinner and be mindful of engaging in the present. This is my greatest personal challenge, but by focusing on one task at a time, I am a better listener and am able to take a more active role in my life.

Stop Stalking, Start Talking

We live in an age where face-to-face communication has been replaced by email and texting conversations. Social media and the Internet, albeit a great resource to stay in touch with long-lost friends or family far away, fuels our need for instant correspondence and inevitably affects our abilities to partake in a true, in person conversation.

Ironically, all our technology savvy makes getting to know someone that much harder. The use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless other social media outlets allows us to gain intimate insight into the lives of basically anyone we are “friends with” or “follow,” yet simultaneously poses a veneer of impenetrability. It also makes us prone to some stalker-like tendencies. That cute guy you saw at the bars last weekend? Give it a few clicks and you’ll know which high school he attended, what he’s doing now, and who his friends are all before you’ve even introduced yourself.

These habits feed our incessant need for control and instant gratification; we want to know where that person of interest is from and what he’s up to because we’re trying to figure out if he fits our criterion for that all elusive “ideal person.” Problem is, by judging an individual from his online presence, we cheat ourselves from actually getting to know someone and learning of their interests, passions, and backgrounds.

As a self-proclaimed control freak, I’m guilty of this habit. I tend to want to know all these details about someone I’m interested in even before I’ve expressed any sort of interest in him. It’s understandable; the information is readily available and we want to know if that person fits the bill and would be “worth” our time. And sure, becoming Facebook friends with your crush can give you a glimpse into snippets of his life: that summer trip to China, Christmas with his grandparents, or his older sister’s college graduation. But that’s all they are – snippets.  In order to see if there is a genuine connection, it’s important to have conversations and build a rapport. That way, when it is time to decide whether or not your person of interest is someone worth investing your emotions into, you can be confident in your decision. So as terrifying as it may be to suggest coffee with the guy whose only correspondence with you has been through text, one face-to-face conversation can tell you more about where your relationship (or non-relationship) is headed than a hundred text messages.

Less is More

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Donate the twelve pairs of shoes lying in your closet, unworn for god-knows-how-long.
Stop getting a new phone every few years.
Recycle the newspapers, magazines, gift wrap, old notebooks that you swore you needed as keepsakes.

Strip away all the unnecessities, and you may be surprised to find yourself feeling cleaner, more free, and ultimately happier. In this consumerist economy, we forget that less can really be more. We buy without regard, thoroughly believing that the more stuff we acquire, the better off we will be. Our hedonist tendencies encourage us to buy, buy, buy. But instead of feeling elated amidst a sea of possessions, we’re finding ourselves in debt, stressed, and not at all happy in the long-run.

So how can we live with less while pursuing happiness?

1. Think before you buy.
I like to treat myself to nice things here and there, but with most of my purchases, even the most mundane ones like a specific toothpaste brand or type of tea bags, I ask myself, “Is this really worth it, and will it truly make me happy?”
This way, the things I buy become items I will love and take care of and not simply things that take up space.

2. Refine ruthlessly.
Edit and edit and edit again. Watch all the excess disappear and trust me, you won’t miss any of the old sweaters or paperback books you decide to give away to the local shelter or library.

3. Increase functionality.
We live in a time where our phones double as our laptops or our electronic books double as a gaming device. So buy things that have multiple uses. Sure, at first glance they may seem more expensive, but if they are gadgets that you’ll use every day or often enough, they’ll come in handy and you’ll save money in the long run. If anything, at least you’ll be saving some space by buying an iPod speaker that works as a radio nightlight, and alarm clock all in one!

So, ask yourself, “can my life use a little editing?”
Because once you admit that and act upon it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that less really is more.

Like Brother, Like Sister

Friends are those whom you choose to be family. Some of them were instantaneous, while others took more courting. When I was 16, I had the misconception that my best friend at the time would be my best friend for the rest of my life. Then when we drifted apart, I was inevitably devastated. It felt as if I had lost some integral organ in my life. We had gotten very close very quickly and had been so inseparable that when we were no longer best friends, it almost felt as if I didn’t know how to be me without her. For some time, I wondered what I had done wrong. Had I said something to put her off? Had I been too busy and had not been a good friend? Questions were on a continual loop in my head until I finally figured out that we had simply outgrown each other and had not put in the effort to grow as friends together.

Unlike with family, whom we basically have to grow up with, with friends we have the choice to develop and adapt to each others’ character changes. We all have our own personal milestones, and our friends are those with whom we share such experiences and those who still accept us, not in spite of, but because of our maturation and growth. In turn, we demonstrate the same courtesy to them knowing that changes are inevitable and what matters is how we adjust to them.

This isn’t to say that even the best of friends can’t have their ups and downs. My best friend of four years and I had our first ever quarrel just a few weeks ago. Yes, it was uncomfortable and yes, we were both upset. However, we knew holding onto the negativity wasn’t going to do anything but widen a rift convenient for a nasty thing called resentment. So we both chose to listen to each other and move forward, and it’s allowed both our selves and our friendship to mature.

My personal struggle is maintaining perspective that we are not stagnant beings and that we all mature at different rates. Therefore, it’s even more important that we reserve the utmost compassion to the people we hold dear. For the individuals we want to maintain positive friendships with, we have to make the conscious decision to grow up with them because they’re our brothers and sisters from other mothers and misters.

A Degree Does Not an Education Make

When I was growing up, going to college was never even a question. Working hard in high school to ensure admittance into a university that would foster my growth, intelligence, and ultimately raise my chances of acquiring a respectable post-graduate job wasn’t just an expectation, it was the norm. And statistics would show that this sentiment resonates with a lot of people since in Fall of 2013, a record 21.8 million students enrolled in colleges and universities across the U.S..

I’m thrilled that more students can partake in the unique experience we call our “college years.” But looking back on my undergraduate years, I also distinctly remember too many times where my professors and classes were not sufficiently challenging, mentally stimulating, or were truly educating me. I listened to lectures, took my notes, and simply regurgitated information, and as students, we were no better; we sought the “easy-A” courses, in hopes that we’d churn out good GPA’s for those elusive high-paying jobs. College today, feels more like a training ground for the ideal employee and not a place of true learning and intellectual challenge. What’s more, we rarely seem to question this status quo and collectively groan at the prospect of 8:30 classes or the notoriously demanding professors because who were we kidding, we were here to pick the “right” major and get a degree for that lucrative job – applying oneself and learning, optional.

Call it idyllic, but my idea of a college education is about more than getting 4.0’s, choosing the major with greatest job security, and then finding employment.  I see it as an opportunity for engagement, critical thought, and innovation, yet sometimes it feels as though our universities have forgotten how to provide that kind of creative environment while students  have become complacent in seeking one. There is so much more to an education than what can be taught out of a textbook. There needs to be dialogue and intrigue and even some adventure because amazing things come to fruition when individuals are inspired to communicate and share ideas. Undoubtedly, academia is important. There needs to be some standardized method to gauge how much effort a student has input to learn and retain the appropriate material. The application of the knowledge our degrees provide us is also important. However, I would love to see our universities and students try harder in upholding the integrity of a true education with the reminder that it’s not just about the degree.

Our college years are some of the most uninhibited and wondrously selfish years of our lives, yet many of us are so busy cramming for exams with our eyes glued to powerpoint lectures that we completely forget there exists is an entire world at our fingertips. There are books to be read, exotic foods to try, cities to explore, and interesting people to meet. Such experiences provide character, depth, compassion, and a wealth of cultural knowledge that exists outside our narrow bubbles of thought. A true education equips us with, not only facts and figures, but also the willingness to ask questions and seek answers that can’t be found on a multiple choice exam.

So with my remaining few months as an undergrad, I plan on maximizing my education. I’ll be honest, some days I do wish I could re-do it all. As much as I have no regrets, I would definitely do some things differently. I would have told myself to be more confident, more motivated, and more inquisitive than I have been the last three years. And here’s to hoping that when the time comes to put on my cap and gown and walk side by side with the friends that made college a home, I can truly say I had the best education possible.