Mindfulness in the age of cat videos

Troy Wilkinson

Troy Wilkinson
Troy Wilkinson

The start of the academic year brings the need to focus. Hunkering down to listen to an hour-long lecture about eastern religion or chemistry is no easy task, even if the subject matter is compelling in its own right. Even though I am being taught quality content, my mind will most definitely wander, almost like it wants to get distracted. That’s probably because it does.

Over years of staring at a screen and looking for constant stimulation provided by technology, modern minds have been training themselves to look for something new, something more mindless. Prime examples are checking social media streams such as Twitter every five seconds or using Vine to get distracted for a whole six seconds. It’s important that people of the age of advanced technology take time to center themselves and train their minds to focus on what’s actually important. Otherwise, we will get distracted by thoughts of doughnuts, Instagram posts or useless Facebook notifications.

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A recent study from the Microsoft Corporation states that our increasing immersion in the digital world has not only crippled our ability to stay focused, but has also worked to shorten the human attention span to eight seconds.

Mindfulness is usually thought of as being thoughtful or tactful, but it actually means to have non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Becoming more mindful can help you focus on what truly should have your attention – like the actual content of a class – instead thinking about what the next season of “Game of Thrones” will be like.

In one of my classes I was surprised to learn that my teacher gives a “mindfulness bell” to a student every lesson. The bell gives off a long, humming tone when it gets hit, and the student in possession can strike it at any point to re-center the minds of everyone in the class. While the bell is humming, the professor stops talking, the students stop talking and everyone remembers that we are in class to, believe it or not, pay attention and learn.

The point of having the bell is to remind people about where they are and what they are doing. That’s really one of the main points when it comes to cultivating mindfulness – not the bell specifically, but a deliberate act of having something that reminds oneself of their purpose in that moment.

To affirm the importance and benefit of mindfulness, we can look to Silicon Valley. The leading innovative companies of the world are constantly utilizing meditation and other tactics to inject energy and creativity in their workers. Google has different meditation classes and “mindfulness lunches” that employees take part in. Twitter and Facebook have followed suit and taken up mindfulness practices as well.

Mindfulness allows one to focus, think impartially and learn more efficiently, but there are plenty of other benefits. Huffington Post listed 20 benefits of mindfulness meditation, some more useful than others. For a college student, three specific benefits seem more immediately useful than others: better sleep, higher grades and lower stress levels.

Taking time to break up the daily routine of classes or work is an imperative step in the hopes to achieve a fully-engaged life. Whether you choose to meditate or just ask yourself to take a breath, you are training yourself to be more mindful, to have non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.

Collegian Columnist Troy Wilkinson just lost his favorite pair of pants and can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @blumitts.