Mindfulness Strategic Philosophy
Questions: To what extent have we created a culture in which people are disconnected from each other, their communities, their own ways of knowing, their own creativity, and their own bodies? How do we address the cultural changes (involving technology) that negatively affect our ability to be present and do focused work?
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.
Harvard Professor Ellen Langer, in Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity, defines it as “The process of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. It’s the essence of engagement.”
An article titled, Mindfulness and Innovation published in Now Unlimited states, “It is impossible to innovate whilst in a mindless state of mind where one is firmly immersed in rigid and fixed views about objects, the world, and the self. For example, ‘we do it this way because we always have’. In mindfulness, the habitual and conventional interpretations are identified, acknowledged and then choices made that allow us to pursue new and more adaptive ways of seeing the world. Mindfulness reduces reactivity and promotes a state of calm. In this state, people become more receptive to ideas and develop their ability to engage with their surroundings in a more focused and vibrant way.”
Many higher education institutions are beginning to integrate mindfulness into their academics. At Vanderbilt, they strive for a contemplative pedagogy “designed to be quiet and shift the habitual chatter of the mind to cultivate a capacity for deepened awareness, concentration, and insight.” Vanderbilt cites the article Toward the Integration of Meditation into Higher Education: A Review of the Research by Shapiro, Brown and Astin (2008) as integral to their mindfulness pedagogy. Their research finds that “meditation is noted as contributing to enhanced cognitive and academic performance (including attention and concentration), management of academic stress, and the development of the “whole person.” Harvard i-Labs includes Mediation Mondays, a program that helps inform their entrepreneurship and innovation center. Their emerging emphasis on mindfulness is reflected in an article in the Harvard Business Review, Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity:
“No matter what you’re doing—eating a sandwich, doing an interview, working on some gizmo, writing a report—you’re doing it mindfully or mindlessly. When it’s the former, it leaves an imprint on what you do. At the very highest levels of any field—Fortune 50 CEOs, the most impressive artists and musicians, the top athletes, the best teachers and mechanics—you’ll find mindful people, because that’s the only way to get there.”
Mary Elizabeth Williams in Why Every Mind Needs Mindfulness says: ““It’s no coincidence as we find ourselves increasingly barraged with distractions—a 2013 University of Southern California study estimated that the
average American consumes an astonishing 13-plus hours of media a day—we simultaneously find ourselves in the midst of a mindfulness revolution.”
Forty years of research shows the positive effects of mindfulness, and more research is rapidly emerging around the connection between mindfulness and innovation as well as the dangers of constantly being plugged into technology. Having a cluttered brain gets in the way of deep and agile thinking. We live in a competitively frantic culture and people are feeling the impact of always being connected. It used to be you left work and went home. Now you’ve got a device on you at all times. The body is designed to be energetic and active and then recover. People no longer have recovery time, and there’s been a silent, invisible ratcheting up of invasion of our space.
We are already seeing the negative impacts of this cultural shift on the present generation of college students. In 2014, a Penn State study found that anxiety had surpassed depression as the leading mental health issue facing college students. Depression and anxiety are prevalent problems in colleges across the country. “There is no question that all of the national surveys we have at our fingertips show a distinct rise in the number of mental health problems,” said Jerald Kay, M.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Wright State University School of Medicine. According to mental health research conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
One in four students have a diagnosable mental illness
40% do not seek help
80% feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities
50% have become so anxious that they struggle in school
Anxiety is not a state that allows for innovation to flourish. Further, social and emotional well-being play a fundamental role in the attainment of positive academic outcomes. Research shows that mindfulness increases focus, memory, cognitive flexibility, information processing speeds as well as decreasing task effort. In addition to cognitive benefits, mindfulness practice has also been proven to reduce anxiety and stress, regulate emotional reactivity, and increase empathy and compassion. Innovation at CC seeks to give students, faculty and staff access to mindfulness practices to clear out the endless distractions and onslaught of information so they can access their innate wisdom and creativity.