Editorial: Mind Over Matter: Here and Beyond

Graphic+Courtesy+of+Anh+Nguyen+%2717+

Graphic Courtesy of Anh Nguyen ’17

Loomis students live in a bubble.

For many of us, living on a beautiful campus surrounded by rivers, woods and meadows also means that our only connections society become news articles, text messages, pictures, and videos online. While we initially came to this Island to carry forth the Founders’ dream — to achieve our best selves and the common good — many of us fall into the abyss of endless tasks and responsibilities that overwhelm us with stress and competition in the Loomis world. Exhausted, we might feel less willing to reach out, less conscious of the world around us. Perhaps we have forgotten why we came here.

Have we lost track of the pursuit of our best selves and the greater common good of society in this beautiful, stressful, and isolated bubble? Possibly. But we can reach beyond the limits of this bubble by not only prioritizing wellness and personal growth, but also engaging ourselves with critical issues and events occurring in the outer world. In other words, we should be more mindful of our presence on both a personal and social level.

Mindful Inside: Why and How  

According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness represents the “moment to moment” awareness of the present and of our behaviors. As a practice of understanding our connections to the world, mindfulness allows individuals to focus on the “mind,” one’s will power and purpose, over “matter,” the results. Such mentality is vital for busy Loomis students who are pressed by an invisible hand to get good grades, to get into a prestigious college, to compete with their peers and succeed in extracurricular activities, rather than acknowledging their personal and intellectual growth from the educational experience. By employing the practice of mindfulness, such as recognizing merits and foibles of ourselves, we can focus on what is important in the long run and appreciate what we obtain from our successes and failures.

Additionally, understanding the application of our knowledge in real life situations would help develop a genuine motivation for learning rather than just “getting good grades” and focusing on the “matter.” It is crucial that we understand why we are learning these subjects. After all, we use the knowledge gained in the classroom to solve real challenges in the world and achieve our best selves. For example, when learning about bacteria identification in microbiology class, we need to focus not only on getting an A on a test but also on understanding the significance of such tests in the real world — for instance, diagnosing and preventing foodborne illness. With a purpose that serves something bigger than ourselves, burnout can be replaced with renewed motivation to serve others and contribute to the common good.

Mindful Outside: Be an Aware Citizen

While it is certainly important to look introspectively, mindfulness stretches beyond focusing on one’s own growth. Its applications extend to the world around us, and it is critical for us to understand these broader implementations. In order to become good citizens and serve the common good, we have the responsibility to learn from our classmates and teachers and to engage in thoughtful discussions of social and political issues that affect crucial decisions in our society. In order to engage in these conversations, we must first develop sufficient knowledge of our community and of the world. For example, if we have no knowledge of the economic and technical contribution of immigrant workers in the United States, we will not be able to form an educated stance on immigration policies in the face of overwhelming xenophobia and nativism.

More importantly, our diverse community reflects, to a certain degree, different parts of the real world. Although key issues such as air pollution in China and police brutality against African Americans may not directly impact our lives at Loomis, these issues directly affect the wide varieties of communities where our students come from. Being mindful of different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds of community members allows us to be inclusive of different people at Loomis and help us recognize and fix potential issues at our own school. For instance, learning about the rape case of the former Stanford swimmer and the frighteningly high rate of sexual assaults in American colleges allows us to have productive conversations on preventing sexual misconduct on campus and providing students with more accessible support.

However, since we live and learn in a relatively isolated and sheltered “Island,” it is more difficult for us to interact with communities beyond the Loomis bubble. Therefore, as students and global citizens, we must put even more effort into becoming mindful of events occurring in the greater world. We can gain a better understanding of policy debates in the U.S. and other countries by frequently reading a variety of news sources such as the New York Times and The Washington Journal, publications that the school provides free subscriptions to.

What Should the Administration Do?

To help foster mindfulness of events outside the Loomis bubble, the administration should more explicitly extend the definition of mindfulness so that it is not limited to de-stressing and self-meditation. Currently, activities related to the all school theme “mindfulness” seem to focus narrowly on introspection and relaxation, with little mention of awareness of one’s connection with the world. Instead, mandatory activities surrounding the school theme should also prioritize raising social mindfulness by incorporating activities such as the Alvord Center of Global Studies’ salon on foreign policy in election season and the Norton Fellowship that fosters student engagement in political discussions and local community.

Remaining mindful throughout life allows us to see the world as it really is and participate in ameliorating contemporary social issues as educated and aware citizens. Although locally we find ourselves isolated and overwhelmed by stress, seeking out a holistic perspective allows us to strive to promote the common good and bring out our best selves, truly achieving what our Founders had always dreamed of.