The initiative is the result of a collaboration between the Center for the Common Good and the Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation, which piloted One University – One Breath to great success in fall 2017.
President Julie Sullivan, who participated in the pilot, links One University – One Breath directly to two of St. Thomas' core convictions: “personal attention and gratitude guide us to mindfully take care of all creation, including ourselves," she said. "As we experience the stress of our busy and full lives, I urge all of us to pause for a moment and participate in One University, One Breath.”
“Practice gratitude for what we as a St. Thomas community have been given and remember to take care of each other with the respect and empathy that each person deserves,” she added.
Encouraging everyone in our community “to slow down enough to take one conscious breath and to notice the world around you,” Sullivan invites St. Thomas community members to practice mindfulness as a means to changing ourselves, our community, and the world: “Join me in making One University, One Breath a habit at St. Thomas. I feel blessed to be part of this community of mindful changemakers!”
Why (Just) One Breath?
One University – One Breath is inspired by Eckhart Tolle’s famous statement, “One conscious breath in and out is a meditation.” The goal is at once simple and ambitious: that all members of the St. Thomas community take one conscious breath a day.
Taking one conscious breath a day represents an easily accessible entryway for the St. Thomas community to engage in a broader range of mindfulness techniques as illustrated in the Tree of Contemplative Practices. In addition to traditional contemplative forms involving stillness, such as meditation, the top-most branch on the tree is labeled “activism,” connecting directly to the mission of changemaking.
Whether it is simply taking one conscious breath a day or engaging in a broader spectrum of contemplative activities, those who intentionally practice mindfulness reap physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits—benefits that, in turn, ennable and augment our work for the common good.
What exactly is “one conscious breath”?
Vanessa Cornett-Murtada, associate professor of music and a specialist in mindfulness practice, describes it this way: “Mindfulness is simply the gentle focus of attention on the present moment. We can do that fully in the short time it takes to inhale and exhale, setting our gadgets down, looking around us, sensing our physical selves, and acknowledging our thoughts and emotions with curiosity and compassion. And in those few seconds, you have a moment of mindfulness!”
A podcast of Cornett-Murtada guiding us in one conscious breath can be found in this one-minute podcast. A short registration form to participate in One University – One Breath can be found here. Everyone who signs up will have the option to receive occasional email reminders and encouragement to take at least one conscious breath a day.
A Home in the Center for the Common Good
Theresa Ricke-Kiely, executive director of the Center for the Common Good, said, “I am excited to have PMC join our Center and look forward to teaching our community about mindfulness and contemplation through the One University One Breath initiative.”
“This daily practice is an easy and powerful way to practice personal changemaking," she added. "The research demonstrates that mindfulness increases listening and empathy as it decreases stress.”
With the Center’s support, One University – One Breath will become part of the fabric of life for all members of the St. Thomas community.
In Fall of 2017, 312 students, faculty, staff, and administrators participated the one-month pilot of One University – One Breath, some of whom are featured below.
Here are some representative comments from the post-pilot survey:
“After participating in taking one conscious breath a day, I feel like it has not only helped me to deal with stress but it has also improved other aspects of my life. For example, I feel like when I take a conscious breath it does not only help me to relax but it also helps me to feel more focused on what I am doing after.” (Student)
“The stop and take a breath technique proved to be very effective for me. I think we're so used to just pushing forward, no matter how we're feeling, that to do something as simple as to stop and take a breath really brings you into the moment and best of all, can refocus your energy.” (Staff)
“I was a little surprised by the positive response I got from my students when I suggested we try it together at the beginning of class.” (Faculty)
With the support of the Center for the Common Good, One University – One Breath now has the potential not only to transform the culture of St. Thomas, but also to grow into a national model for introducing mindfulness to communities-one conscious breath at a time.