By Morgan White
Sitting in the 1794 session at my orientation this summer, I was immediately overwhelmed by the options that I had to choose from for my UNHO 101 course. The newness of college was already stressing me out, and now, on top of that, I—an extremely indecisive person—was being asked to make yet another decision. In a state of panic, I scrolled through the catalog of classes that fulfilled this credit, and one basically screamed at me: Mindfulness and Meditation for Academic Success. This class, offered Friday mornings, focuses on teaching students relaxation and stress management techniques to help them succeed academically at the University of Tennessee.
This class seemed like a perfect break from a busy week of classes, and I assumed it would be really easy. I pictured myself sitting on the floor with my legs crossed, repeating om over and over again every Friday morning for just one hour, and clicked “enroll.”
As the first Friday of classes quickly approached, I was excited but also nervous, given that I had never meditated before. When I walked into the dance studio of the Alumni Memorial Building, I was greeted by a group of about 20 of my peers sitting in a circle of chairs in the middle of the room. Professor Sams introduced herself and the class, and she quickly charged us with our first assignment—a five-minute breath focus meditation. This assignment is how we begin every class, and it involves solely focusing on the sensation of breathing while sitting upright in your chair with your feet planted and your eyes closed. It sounds simple enough, but it is amazing how hard it is to allow yourself to think only about breathing for five minutes.
Once this breathing meditation came to a close, we went around the circle and each shared our experiences meditating with each other. This process of checking in is also a staple of each class. From there, we are instructed on new meditation techniques each week, and once the skill has been explained we practice it for the remainder of class.
This 50 minutes every Friday morning flies by, and it is a much-needed break for my busy, and sometimes seemly monotonous, schedule. I think what makes this class stand out from my others, and has me looking forward to it every week, is the relaxed environment. I love coming in for one hour each week to let down my guard, connect with myself and my thought patterns, and do all of this in a supportive environment of people like me. In many of my other classes, the professor does the majority of the talking while students act as sponges, trying to soak it all in. In Mindfulness and Meditation, either my classmates and I are conducting the class with discussion or we are all focused inward on ourselves and the meditation skill of that week.
Through this open class environment, my classmates and I have gotten to know each other on a more personal level than I would have if Mindfulness and Meditation were like a standard college course. With meditation there is a certain vulnerability that you have to have to really benefit from your practice. When we step into that class each week, we all let our guards down so we can connect deeply not only with ourselves, but also each other. This, in my opinion, has been one of the best things about this UNHO 101 class. It has allowed a group 1794 Scholars to grow closer to each other in a way that our normal activities would not let us. There is a level of trust developed between people when they can sit comfortably for up to 20 minutes with their eyes closed and not panic about what we are all thinking about each other.
Mindfulness and Meditation has brought me a genuine connection with other students and has made the large school of the University of Tennessee a smaller and safer-feeling place—a major benefit to a freshman coming in and adjusting to a college lifestyle.