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Orientation Session Focuses on Mindfulness

By Jill Anderson on September 11, 2012 1:51 PM

Without a doubt, going back to school for many can be filled with new challenges and stress. At orientation, Professor Jerry Murphy and Adjunct Lecturer Metta McGarvey led a session called “Tools for Thriving at Harvard: Practice-based Session on Mindfulness,” that introduced interested students to scientific-based practice of mindfulness as a way to savor the joys and navigate the difficulties of academic life with calm, clarity, curiosity, self- compassion, and resilience.

“If you are experiencing butterflies, … if you are feeling tension, you are human! Heebie jeebies are normal,” Murphy said to a full room of students. Murphy pointed out that, while everyone may look calm and collected on the outside, it is natural to be filled with worry on the inside.

It was 42 years ago that Murphy arrived on Harvard’s campus and his life changed. He told the students that not only did he find the experience to be “intellectually challenging” but also emotionally and physically challenging as well.

“Each of you possesses inner strengths to deal with graduate school … . Mindfulness is a way to release those inner strengths,” he said.

“I think it is smart to take time at the beginning to figure out how to have your better whole self here at Harvard,” McGarvey said, noting that although university life is about the “intellect” it is important for students to bring their whole selves wherever they go.

The 90-minute voluntary workshop introduced mindfulness exercises including the hourglass, which helps to slow down the mind; a calming method to help manage stress and incorporate the relaxation response; and insight meditation. McGarvey and Murphy also discussed ways to identify and reduce stress. Among the benefits of mindfulness are the ability to see more clearly, accept situations, and show compassion toward yourself and others.

Following the exercise, students asked questions about ways to continue the practice on their own. While mindfulness and meditation can be undertaken in private time, there are also opportunities to engage in activities via the Harvard Wellness Center and the occasional session on the HGSE campus.

“For most people, this isn’t something that comes clearly or easily,” McGarvey said. “Whatever practice you decide to do, make sure it is one that you like and you feel better after you do it.”

Brazilian native Juliano Porto, a visiting scholar, said she attended the session in part because of her interest in yoga and was happy to learn that such mindfulness practices have a presence on the HGSE campus.

“It was a very helpful session. They brought some sense of how [mindfulness] works as a practice,” Porto said, noting that it was nice to see how the school’s offering of such a session demonstrated that they cared about student’s whole being.