All Counseling Psychology students have to take Psychology of Diversity and Difference, typically in their first semester at MSPP, and the course focuses on teaching students how to become culturally competent therapists and counselors. Taking hands on learning to a different level, students have to immerse themselves in a community different from their own, to understand and learn about a particular population of their choosing. I decided to learn about Buddhism because I believed it is vastly different than Islam. This past Sunday, I headed out to a Zen Center in Rhode Island to attend a meditation service. Prior to this trip, I had little to no understanding of what it truly means to meditate, and partaking in such an experience was really eye-opening to me.
I was first introduced to the idea of meditation in the beginning of this semester, in a couple of my classes. The professors recommended it, citing that it is an incredible focusing tool. At the start of one class, my teacher would guide the class with a brief meditation. I struggled with this though because I thought the concept of meditation meant the act of not thinking. I found out this past Sunday though that proper meditation involves letting your mind wander and recognizing its direction, but then accepting it and letting the thoughts go. On Sunday, the teacher also gave us a mantra to hold on to while mediating and it was to repeat “Clear mind, clear mind” as you took a breath in, and say “Don’t know, don’t know” as you let your breath go. Having words to focus on helped me center my mind when it would wander away. Because this was my first real time meditating for a long period of time, my mind would end up following branches of thoughts, but as soon as I realized what was happening, I just repeated “Clear mind; don’t know” and I felt my thoughts recompose. At one point, I realized I zoned out for some time. I wasn’t sure if this meant I was meditating well or if I had accidentally fallen asleep…let’s pretend it was because I reached a tranquil meditating state :)
As aspiring therapists, I believe meditation can be a powerful tool to keep in our handy-dandy tool box, and now that I learned more about it, I urge others to check it out as well. It can help you be more present in a session, unwind after an emotionally taxing conversation with a client, and overall assist you in clearing your mind. When your thoughts are not muddled and stuck together, you can help your client that much better. Therapy can be a form of conversation but when there are a million things running through your mind, it can be very difficult to keep track of what opinion/insight is in reaction to what stimulation or experience. Meditation can help you with that, even if it’s a minute or two of meditation.
Another student blogged about the importance of self-care, especially in graduate school, so I don’t want to regurgitate the information again, but I will say meditation can also be a powerful self-care tool. It can help you leave your work at the door and give you the ability to focus on yourself when you get home. Even in regards to school work, I believe meditation can be very useful. That feeling of overwhelming stress is hard to avoid, but by meditating for a little before tackling your ever-growing “To-Do” mountain, you can feel ready to jump right into it all and begin to cross things off.
Meditation can in fact be very liberating and freeing, and I think many would benefit from its practice.
In case anyone is interested in visiting a mediation center, I highly recommend the Providence Zen Center. They have a meditation class every Sunday morning at 9 am, followed by a period of sitting and walking meditation and a dharma talk with lunch.
For more information on meditation in general, especially for beginners, I would check out: Zen Habits and Gaiam. There are also guided meditations on youtube, like this one, and even meditation apps.
Good luck meditating! Don't forget to not stress :)