A student recently visited my office hours in a desolate condition. Complaints about a class, another class, another professor, poured out of his mouth no sooner than tears began streaming down his face. The world as he knew it was crashing in on him. Perseverating on fears, the unknown possibility of a dark future, seemingly unable to be here now…
I found myself calm, attuned, and open-hearted. In listening and observing, I sought to see the student. I sought to provide a mirror, and offered the following “prescription” written on the front and back of an index card:
Practice non-judgement. Notice when your mind perseverates on something — an expectation, a perceived “failure.” Notice when it’s you against yourself in the ring. Yet in noticing, do not judge it. Just allow it to be, and move on. Ah, it is there, my teacher, how interesting. It is not good, it is not bad, it just is. #mindfulness
Notice nature. When you leave my office, look around you in nature. Notice. What is happening outside? The changing seasons, the falling of leaves, the preparation for winter, a cool brisk breeze… These are all beautiful reflections of letting go. Changes occurring in the macrocosm all around you on Earth, are also occurring within you as a microcosm. The antidote is always the opposite. Ground into the earth, drink water, find a place to be, just be, without another agenda. #naturewalk
Breathe. Inhale for four counts, exhale for eight counts. Inhale for four counts, exhale for eight counts. Repeat this breath pattern and notice how your parasympathetic nervous system responds and relaxes into a calmer state with the power of the breath grounding you to the now. #breathe
Seek out support. Find another student in each class that you can confide in, and work through class-related difficulties together. Go directly to each of your professors and explain the trouble you are having. Visit health services and the counseling center. I recommend the “mind spa” which is a quiet room in the health services building for relaxation, meditation, and a space to just be.
As the student left, he called over his shoulder saying, “I’ll see you next week.” I smiled. Mind you, this student is not on one of my class rosters. Instead, he found himself in my office during one of the prize times each week I hold space for students to be, to converse, to do math, to tell stories (i.e., office hours).
As I reflect on this experience, what stands out the most, is the oneness of human experience. We do such a great job of presenting our selves to the world (most of the time). As of late, these representations of self often come through shiny, filtered lenses and posts that portray the best of us. Yet these portrayals of self and of experience often fail to convey the totality of human experience–including the humanity in suffering.
Each of us has a story, has been stuck, has suffered affliction of one form or another. Our challenge then, remains an opportunity. See one another. Hold space for one another. Be. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.