The Scroll: Just Breathe, Darn It

Carol Bruess

Carol Bruess

We sat there – 25 usually overly verbose professors – in total silence. What will happen next? Please, make it happen soon, whatever it is. Yes, like most of us socialized in a low-context, mono-chronic culture, I hate silence. Let’s get on with the discussion so I can share what I am thinking.

The next, though, was a seemingly simple invitation from colleagues Bill Brendel and Vanessa Cornett-Murtada, the faculty development workshop leaders: “Sit in a dignified posture. Close your eyes. And just breathe. Give attention to nothing . . . to nothing but your inhale and exhale.”

And there . . . the 25 of us . . . sat. In total silence. Darn it. No chances for me to speak yet.

Okay then. New approach. As a lifelong rule follower (always 29 mph in a 30), I’m game. And I’m always quite competitive (“Kids, losing at Monopoly to your mother will make you more resilient in life!”), so I shift to “this is a challenge I can conquer.” As a student of some meditation before this seminar, I was even feeling a bit smug.

For the first 42 seconds of “just breathing,” I am doing pretty well. Proud, even! Inhale. Exhale. Nice. Calming and relaxed on this summer morning, the sun filtering lightly through the stained-glass windows of the library’s Leather Room.

But at 43.5 seconds, I want to think about everything but the in and out life –sustaining O2 in my fidgety physical and psychological self. Darn it. Many of my colleagues and I are pondering (I learned as much during later discussion) the likes of: Could the invisible clock in my brain move any more slowly? Why is this so hard? How can such a simple command – “just breathe” – become grumpy mood increasing and self loathe provoking? Why did I sign up for this workshop again?

To help you understand, let’s pause for a moment and have the first-ever Scroll “experience.” Have you ever tried a few minutes of “just breathing?” I’ll bet you lunch with the new president on her patio (I’m not really authorized, but what the heck . . .) if you try it right now for one minute, your fabulous mind will offer between 6 and 701 things to consider, list, distract, plan, ponder, worry about or concern you – things you’d rather be doing or thinking about instead of working hard at the challenge and goal of non-doing and non-thinking?

Ready. Set. Go.

Ding. Time’s up. How’d you do?

Don’t lie; it was hard in that minute, wasn’t it?! Your mind wandered off multiple times. Sorry, no presidential lunch for you! Zing.

I feel your pain, but also share your gain. Having successfully graduated from this summer’s week-long faculty development workshop on the oh-so-not-simple task of becoming more mindful of it (just breathing – just being), I’m more centered and clear, and understand more profoundly how meditation can make us better teachers and, in fact, better at just about everything professionally and – bonus – personally!

As we learned in the workshop how to use meditation to gain clarity, intentionality and focus, we simultaneously learned how to avoid grasping onto the thoughts racing through our busy brains like salivating children under a piñata. We were faced with the uber-urgent challenge of calming and wrangling our busy “monkey-minds;” of noticing evaluations about how we were or weren’t “good” and “just breathing;” of how the non-doing /non-judging/non-striving/acceptance/thoughts floating like lotus petals in a stream was going for us while we did sitting, walking and even eating-a-single-raisin meditations; and of the most pressing task of applying meditation practices to our lives as teachers and advisors. Despite the multiple self-evaluations and self-judgmental thoughts, we each left with a profound sense of how to use mindful practices toward being better members of the UST community, and members of our own families and relationships, for sure.

If you’re not up on the latest trends and research in organizational and educational development, peak human productivity, happiness and ultimate overall excellence and well-being, here’s my one-sentence executive summary: Meditation and mindfulness make you better at almost everything by reducing your stress and increasing focus and clarity. Slowing down – mindfully and purposefully – is linked to heightened healthfulness, clarity and creativity, and productivity as people, parents, partners and teachers. It also is shown to result in more-satisfied and productive employees. It seems a bit counterintuitive, I know: slow down the mind and amp up the chances that you’ll perform better and accomplish more? Precisely why and how does that work, I too wondered.

If you’re interested in answers, there is a growing body of excellent research and reporting, including the July 11 article by Peter Goodman in the Huffington Post:  “Why Companies Are Turning To Meditation And Yoga To Boost The Bottom Line.” Goodman nicely summarizes the burgeoning field of meditation and similar wellness practices as they boost outcomes in all areas of life.

So, now that you’ve made it to the end of this long post, you deserve, well, a big exhale. Ahhhh. Stay tuned for more on this topic at UST. For example, one for which you’ll want to save the date: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29, Woulfe Alumni Hall and a conversation between Matthew Sanford, one of the foremost leaders on mind-body awareness in the nation, and our very own beloved Bruce Kramer, former dean of the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling. Their conversation will be moderated by Cathy Wurzer of Minnesota Public Radio. I’ll be in the front row (not that I'm competitive or anything), eagerly soaking in every word our guests have to share of their own incredible stories and journeys.