As colleges and universities across the country report an explosion of mental health problems, a new book argues that college life may be more stressful than ever. Dr. Anthony Rostain, co-author of The Stressed Years of Their Lives, notes that today’s college students are experiencing an “inordinate amount of anxiety” — much of it centered on “surviving college and doing well.”introduction to NPR’s Fresh Air interview with the book’s authors, 28 May 2019
College has always been stressful. I can recall my own first days of college, and I have also spent the past four decades observing what incoming (and returning) students go through year after year. And, to best of my recollection, much of that stress has derived from our wish to not only survive the experience, but to also handle every academic and social challenge perfectly.
Life can be very fine in so many ways, but it is never, never perfect. The image we try to measure ourselves against is ill-conceived (define an all-encompassing ‘perfect life’ for me).
Understanding the impossible nature of perfection is not an excuse for turning our backs on effort, on goals, and on life. But to see the images of perfection as they arise in our minds and to set them aside, and to likewise see the self-judgments arise that we are somehow defective or lacking and to set them aside as well, this is the opportunity that a meditation practice can offer.
The interview is worth listening to. The sources of stress that college students routinely deal with go far beyond what I have mentioned here, and from my observations, they seem endemic in society as a whole. We must help each other heal.
Looking back at nearly a half century, a lifetime really, spent in academic chemistry (I started my first college chemistry course in 1972 and decided that this was “it” for me), I can see plenty of choices that I made over the years that were guided by the need that I felt to do things faster, to do things bigger, and to just do more. Perform my experiments more quickly. Write a paper that will make a bigger impact. Do three projects instead of one.
Only rarely did I ever stop to consider whether this orientation was in keeping with my natural tendencies or would create a satisfying life for me, a life well-lived. Instead, I labored under the assumption that I needed to set my objectives and perform my work in ways that would please others and the only way to do that was to consistently exceed their expectations.
I was inspired to reflect on all this recently when I read an essay by Dr. Irene Nobeli, “In praise of slow,” that appeared on the back page of Science magazine (Working Life, 2 Feb 2018). Continue reading
“Anyone who enjoys inner peace is no more broken by failure than he is inflated by success.“ – Mathieu Ricard, “A Way of Being” (Tricycle, Summer 2006)
It’s hard to go through a full day without wishing for something. A sample: I often wish that my body was more fit, healthy, that my mind was a kinder, more stable companion, and that I might find something entertaining or meaningful to fill my time. Even when I stop to meditate, I am not above hoping that something great will happen: I will become calm, maybe I’ll bliss out.
Wishing isn’t a bad thing, but it would be sad if we accepted it as the complete story of our life. Meditation offers a chance to step out of the wishing story. By sitting still and paying attention, we can discover that most of our storytelling (“I’m sick, unhappy, bored, … so I wish …”) is just a story, a passing cloud in our mental atmosphere, and that there are aspects of our seemingly imperfect lives that, in fact, are perfect and gratifying just as they are. Kevin Kling’s beautiful fable of The Cracked Pot (On Being, 19 May 2016) shows how it is possible to appreciate life by looking at it from a new perspective:
The American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA) publishes a monthly newsletter called the Mindfulness Research Monthly that lists recent research publications and studies. Quite a few of these research investigations bear on issues that might be interesting to members of the Reed community so I will start publishing short lists of my top picks from the newsletter.
What follows is a list of articles mentioned in the December ’15 issue that describe how mindfulness interventions affect academic performance, working memory, emotional resilience, and more. (Note: only a few articles are ever available through our library’s subscriptions so be prepared to file interlibrary loan requests.)