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Women Living Well - Spring 2005 Student Papers On Serendip

Mindfulness, the Body, and its Environment

Danielle McManus

As was demonstrated by all four of the speakers in the "Women Living Well" series, mindfulness of ourselves and our actions helps to create a more manageable, peaceful, and satisfying lifestyle, one that rests in a state of well-being. Mark Schulz's lecture on mindfulness and brooding spoke of the importance of our relationship to our environment in determining well-being. Specifically, Professor Schulz proposed that it is how we view and interpret the people and circumstances around us that can profoundly affect our happiness; in other words, wellness, both physical and mental, is dictated not by external influences, but by our reactions to such external forces. Mindfulness therefore stresses the role of individual will, the decision to process frustration calmly, with a sense of the transience of the feeling and of our own capacity to overcome it.

The lecture offered by Glenn Smith on the topic of time management furthered this theme of the power of the individual to manage her environment. Rather than stressing the importance of how we process events, Mr. Smith emphasized the crucial role of the way we approach our decision-making and set our priorities. When we let external factors decide or set our priorities for us, rather than being consciously mindful of how we are relating to our environment, we lose our sense of balance and begin to feel worn by a continual sense of struggle with our daily life. Thus, as with mindfulness, learning to manage our interaction with environmental stimuli is crucial to arriving at a sense of balance, of empowerment rather than victimization. Mr. Smith illustrated this idea with a matrix that served to break down quotidian tasks according to priority and time commitment. One of the primary ways in which we begin to feel controlled by our environment is through a sense of being overwhelmed, without time to organize and consider. Mr. Smith's matrix, however, provides a visual example of what happens when we do process our responsibilities hierarchically: our lives appear manageable, our tasks ordered rather than random, our priorities reinforced rather than scattered and undermined by feelings of powerlessness.

Where Mr. Smith's lecture began to contextualize how mindfulness looks in relation to our daily life and our priorities, Mimi Murray's presentation on mindful eating added the additional dimension of physical health to the concept of mindful living. Where Professor Schulz and Mr. Smith dealt with how we deal abstractly with our environment, Ms. Murray explored our physical relationship with the environment through food. Just as it is essential to reflect on the ways in which we interpret abstract environmental influences on our well-being, it is necessary not to neglect our understanding of our body's physical interactions with the environment in order to arrive at a sense of well-being. Food plays much more than a nutritive role between our body and our environment; it is both a means of manipulating our body's emotional and physical status and of choosing whether to control or be controlled by that environment. When we allow external factors to dominate our choices, influencing when, what, and how much we eat (be it too much or too little), we begin to feel out of balance and to sense our own inability to mediate in the relationship established between our internal needs and desires and external influences. What Ms. Murray proposes is mindfulness in eating, first becoming aware of the external influences that affect our physical drive to eat and then learning to effectively mediate between them, effectively reflecting on and taking responsibility for the decisions we make about food and eating.

Mr. Brzycki's presentation on physical fitness contributed more to the series' consideration of the physical aspects of mindfulness, for not only is eating a key factor in our interaction with the physical environment, but also our body's capacity to physical maneuver through the world. Mr. Brzycki emphasized the importance of being aware of your body's physical state in its interactions with the external world and of how to use this consciousness to improve that relationship. Often we find ourselves feeling helpless not only because of an inability to manage responsibilities or unpleasant events, but because of our inability to manage our own body and its physical state. Mr. Brzycki proposed the acronym "F.I.T.T" as a model of how to arrive at mindfulness and a sense of physical balance: by manipulating the frequency, intensity, time, and type of physical activity we perform we begin to establish a closer relationship to our body and thus a greater understanding and consciousness of how our body relates to our environment. We become responsible for our physicality.

Thus, well-being and balance are achieved through mindfulness of our interpretation of environmental influences, our consciousness of our priorities and fitting allotment of time and energy to them, our ability to mediate between external influences and our physical drives, and finally though our understanding of not only our emotional, but our physical state in the world.

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