A group of freshman EOP students learned how to battle stress and become more receptive to the world around them through the application of Mindfulness, a meditative practice rooted in Buddhist tradition.
Sean Ramsden
Students participated in a breathing and meditation experiential activity during a Mindfulness workshop on February 7.

Students participated in a breathing and meditation experiential activity during a Mindfulness workshop on February 7.

While a group of first-year Rider students understand that they are unable to control the world around them, the way they respond is usually up to them. Through the application of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a meditative practice rooted in Buddhist tradition, these Equal Opportunity Program students have begun to respond to external stimuli in a way that lets them relax and even fully savor the richness of the present moment.

Dr. Trevor Buser, assistant professor of Counseling, and Danielle Hickey ’11, a recent graduate of Rider’s Master of Counseling Services program, were in the SRC Seminar Room on February 7 to present a Mindfulness workshop to 16 freshmen as part of EOP’s Empowering Today’s Young Leaders program. The program, new to the University this year, provides freshmen in the EOP a series of opportunities to develop their leadership, communication and life skills through collaborative learning and mentoring sessions with upperclassmen, faculty and staff.

In this most recent session, students were introduced to the increasingly popular method of Mindfulness which, according to Buser, has been applied in psychotherapy for several decades, and has now become more integrated into the mainstream.

“We can get so wrapped up in our worries about the future, or tangled up in thoughts about the past, that you can really miss the present moment, and all its richness,” said Buser, who explained that the practice requires a focus on your immediate experience, and a quality of attentive state – one of curiosity, openness and acceptance. “The goal is to welcome the present experience as a guest (to you).”

Buser and Hickey led the group through a series of exercises engineered to acquaint them with the ability to focus on what might otherwise be routine sensations. In one, they showed the group the poem If I Had My Life to Live Over, by 85-year-old Nadine Stair, in which she reflects with a deepened perspective on what in her life was actually worth the worry. They asked the students to reflect on Stair’s words before sharing the lines that affected them most.

“I’d dare to make more mistakes next time” and “I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones,” were two of the lines cited by students, including one who said it allowed her to reframe her own perspective.

“When I read that, I feel like I should pay more attention to the choices I make,” she said. “I’m only 19 – what will I do?”

In another exercise, Buser asked students to rise from their chairs and take a walk around the room, mindful of what they felt with each stride. After a few moments, he asked them to slow down to half-speed, and to “notice the sensations of each step, to check in with their current experience.”

At the conclusion of the exercise, Buser asked the students for their reactions to the walk. One student claimed she actually felt a bit disoriented by the experience, claiming that her sharpened focus on walking actually made her feel slightly off-balance. Another confessed that her ankles began to ache the slower she strode.

“We can also interpret the sensations we feel as our bodies telling us something, about something that needs attention,” Buser explained, adding that after practicing this basic exercise, Mindfulness practitioners often feel more grounded, and more in concert with the earth.

Shifting gears, Hickey explained that Mindfulness has a variety of therapeutic applications, including the treatment of depression, stress reduction, general anxiety disorder and several other psychological and physiological maladies. She shared a written passage that encouraged Mindfulness practitioners to think of themselves and their human experience as being a guest house for any number of occurrences. “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide,” the passage urged. “Welcome and entertain them.”  

Hickey explained that it took her a number of readings to understand that the passage “is really talking about emotions, and each one having a purpose.”

A final three-minute experiential activity in breathing and meditation brought the presentation to an end, and while students reported varied abilities to lose themselves in the exercise, Hickey said it is not unusual for beginners to have trouble surrendering themselves to the activity.

“The first time I tried this, I kept thinking about things I had to get done, the things I had to do,” she explained. “Mindfulness is a skill, and you have to build it up like a skill. But you don’t even have to be stressed to practice it. It’s just as effective for just relaxing.”

Queen Ross ’15, an Accounting major from Willingboro, N.J., said that she was completely unsure of what to expect from the presentation, but that she can see the breathing and meditation exercises having a positive influence on her life.

“That really helped me get to a state that's hard to get to, and I enjoyed it,” Ross explained. “I think I’ll use it before I do my homework.”

Some, like Ashley Reeves ’15, focused on the larger picture. “The walking exercise made me feel much more in tune with my body,” said Reeves, a Global Studies and English dual major from Edison, N.J. “Instead of going so fast all the time, maybe I need to take more time. If I’m moving too fast, what else am I going to miss?”