Welcome back to Mindful Path to PhD! This week I want to divert from my usual reflections on how mindfulness impacts my graduate school experience, but rather talk about how I actually made time for mindfulness amidst the chaos of pursuing a PhD. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in higher education is familiar with the concept of juggling multiple facets of your life and always feeling like there’s not enough time to get everything done. When I first began thinking about trying meditation, (sometime in my 3rd year of PhD out of necessity for my well-being) I felt like it was completely out of my reach. I thought there was no way I had time for meditation. The idea alone made me anxious (on top of my grad school anxiety) and guilty that I would be taking extra time out of my day for myself that was not 100% devoted to my research. I didn’t know if this was OK.
One of the luxuries & difficulties of graduate school is the lack of structure and freedom of time, to some extent. To me, it feels like the general consensus with all of this flexibility is that graduate students should always be working. In reality, more discussions should be had around helping grad students develop good time management skills for creating a healthy work-life balance. By my 3rd year of PhD and with the guidance of a superb lab mentor, I reached an understanding that it was healthy to say “I’ve done enough today and the rest will be waiting for me tomorrow” and an understanding of when I’ve reached that point each day. After many months of practice (and still some difficulty remains), that understanding led me to create a little bit more time in my days for myself. That little bit of time was just enough to begin trying mindfulness meditation.
I began my journey in mindfulness by reading the book, “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Williams & Danny Penman, during my commute to and from work each day. I highly recommend this book if you are new to mindfulness. The book teaches you what mindfulness is often using real-life examples of people’s stories and gives you a series of meditations to practice (usually 10 minutes or less). I recommend reading the book if you can fit it in because you’ll learn that mindfulness is much bigger than the 10 minutes you spend on daily meditation. Mindfulness is all about connecting to your inner self, your breath, and using that connection to help you better react to things in your life. In my opinion, mindfulness permeates every aspect of your life and becomes a shift in perspective, one that helps you feel truly alive.
Creating time for the meditation aspect of mindfulness is important because those are the moments when you are actively cultivating a mindful perspective which can then carry over to the rest of your time. For my schedule, I found it useful to take 10 minutes every morning when I wake up to follow a guided meditation and simply sit + breathe before I begin getting ready for my day. Over time, I began to fit in a second, 5 minute evening meditation that I do right before sleeping. This helps me unwind and shed any burdens on my mind to free it for a peaceful and restful night of sleep. These 15 minutes each day actually make me feel like I have more time and improved productivity for work. If this sounds reasonable to you & something you are interested in, head over to the Mindful Scholars page to learn about an initiative started by Lynn Curry and I to spread mindfulness to scholars of all levels. At the very least, please head over to my mindful scholar page to learn more about the wonderful Lynn! We invite you to join us in the group Mindful Scholar on Insight Timer- an awesome, user-friendly, free meditation app. Here’s to finding your zen!