Giving thanks

Welcome back to this week’s Mindful Path to PhD! Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, coming very early this year (or perhaps I just feel that time is flying by much too quickly now) and I wanted to take pause and reflect on a few things I’m thankful for. Here are my top three things I’m thankful for this year:

  • Those I cherish most, my family and friends
  • The opportunity to pursue higher education
  • Giving mindfulness a chance & prioritizing self-care

I never wish to take my loved ones for granted, so I must say my family and friends are something I’m always grateful for all year long. While this might come as a surprise and despite how challenging graduate school is, I’m grateful for having the opportunity to pursue higher education. Finally, this year I’m thankful for having tried mindfulness meditation and for having incorporated self-care practices as one of my top priorities. My highest, and arguably only, priority used to be work. However, the demands of graduate school really began taking a toll on my overall well-being, particularly my mental health. So this year, I’m going to take some time to acknowledge how far I’ve come and be thankful for all of the support and opportunities that have come my way. 

I still have one giant deadline looming over me and that is my first independent fellowship application to the NIH. I will likely be needing to really focus on work during the Thanksgiving holiday, but I’m going to do so mindfully. I’m going to do the best I can do, and not dwell on ensuring each and every word is correct. I’m going to keep working hard and complete the task. I plan to mindfully be present in my work when I’m working and then to be mindfully present with my loved ones when I’m celebrating the holiday with them. My family’s tradition is to put up our Christmas tree on Thanksgiving evening and I am choosing not to let my deadline ruin that tradition this year. I hope you all take some time to reflect on those things that matter most to you. Happy (almost) Thanksgiving!

Surviving + thriving the daily grind

Welcome back to this week’s Mindful Path to PhD! This week I want to talk about how to survive and even thrive during our daily grind, no matter how difficult things get. This past week I had terrible commutes nearly everyday both times of the day, I had the first of my three big deadlines come and go, and I had to jump from one task to another without a moment’s hesitation. Have you ever experienced days or weeks like this? How do you usually end up feeling? I noticed by Wednesday I was experiencing a serious mid-week slump with my body feeling sore and lack of energy and motivation to do anything that required my attention. More so, I felt cranky, frustrated, and generally down; very unlike my usual smiling self.

Frustrating days like what I had last week, they come and go in our life. I try to view them as nature’s balance. What I especially noticed last week was how upset I was over my commute each day, in particular my morning commutes- something about getting to work later than I planned for and after having been packed on a bus like sardines in a can, really made a terrible way to start my work day. Waking up and realizing how I reacted to my daily struggles brought a smile to my face. I congratulated myself for having recognized my reactions and used this self-awareness to breathe through my burdens. I wondered how many other people muddle their way through their own daily struggles, carrying their burdens without ever realizing how much baggage they lug around each day.

Mindfulness meditation teaches us ways to thrive during our daily struggles. So how does it help, you ask? One of the core tenants of mindfulness is learning how to be present. When we are present, we can become aware of how we are feeling and reacting in those moments. This provides us with the option to simply notice and let ourselves be experiencing those moments fully or to guide our minds to another perspective to shift how we are experiencing those moments. Being present helped me notice how frustrated I was becoming over my challenging commutes last week. To some extent, my miserable commutes are outside of my control- they are just something I have to handle living in the city. Mindfulness also teaches us acceptance. My practice in mindfulness meditation over the last 6 months has enabled me to go beyond handling these difficult daily struggles, but to build peace and happiness as beacons of light, illuminating life when it becomes dark. I hope you all may begin, or continue, your own practice of mindfulness meditation. May you all find light amidst the dark, and may you all begin to thrive in your daily grind. Thanks for stopping by!

Be a tree: Resilience in grad school

Fall tree harvard IG
Fall foliage @ Harvard University. Follow me on Instagram @MindfulPhDstudent

Earlier this week, I was awe struck at the beautiful, fiery fall foliage all around campus and the city. I was beyond impressed by how lush the trees still are for this time of year, particularly so because we already had our first Nor’easter of the season. The strong wind gusts and heavy rains were no match for this tree, just yet, anyway. It made me begin to think about how we should be more like trees. Sounds silly, right? Let me explain!

Trees are one of nature’s finest examples of resilience: grounded, stable entities; can weather nearly any storm; they bode change beautifully; when the time comes, they let go; when the time is right, they flourish again, year after year. I feel like we could all benefit by being a little more like a tree. As graduate students, we are required to weather numerous “storms”. There is the qualifying exam, challenging experiments, annual progress reports, and, finally, the defense itself. In my experience, each new year of the PhD is not like previous years. Each year has its new opportunities and challenges, so we need to be amenable to change. While it seems contradictory, every academic year has its usual flow and this can help us find the time of year that we flourish the most. When we begin to understand how we respond to the different academic “seasons”, so to speak (and to some extent, maybe it just is related to the seasons themselves), and accept that some parts of the year can be a little more dormant than others, we will be more at ease knowing our time to thrive will come again.

Perhaps most importantly, there is learning to let go. We should all learn from our mistakes, but many grad students (myself included) don’t let go things that are unnecessarily draining to our soul. Failed experiments, a snappy response to a colleague under a moment of stress, poorly communicated criticism from others, our own negative feelings of inferiority, the list can go on and on. Spending time and energy dwelling on worries from the past and for the future can impede our scholastic endeavors, not to mention ruin our overall quality of life. If we can learn to let even just some of these things go, we’d be making space for other opportunities and able to better perform those other tasks by being more at peace with ourselves.

My practice in mindful meditation not only let me recognize and appreciate the resilience of trees, but to realize how important it is for graduate students to be resilient, too. I like to think I’ve always been a resilient person, but after 100+ days of mindfulness, my resilience has transformed like a caterpillar into a butterfly. I used to manage difficult things in life by putting my head down and distracting myself with either work or something else, living life in blissful ignorance. It wasn’t until work (i.e. grad school) became one of my toughest experiences that I realized how unhealthy my coping mechanism was. It was then that I began practicing mindful meditation. Mindfulness has given me the courage to keep my chin up and face difficult things head-on, and has taught me kindness and acceptance as means to handle those difficult things. My resilience has now become more grounded, deeper and stronger. I hope you can all develop your own reliable resilience to help you thrive in graduate school. Thanks for stopping by this week’s Mindful Path to PhD!