Elli Weisbaum

Mindfulness for Life

When I decided to pursue a PhD I was told over and over again that it would be overwhelming, isolating and painful. My response? No thanks! First of all, there isn't anything I choose to do in my life that I would describe in those ways. Secondly, the topic of my thesis is mindfulness - so pursuing a PhD on this topic with this framing just didn't make sense to me. But the more I was told this, the more it made me wonder what a mindful PhD might look like. Mindfulness is not only the focus of my research, but an integral part of my life. The practice is woven into the fabric of everything I do. For me, integrating mindfulness into the meta approach of pursuing my PhD seemed not only natural, but also ethical and imperative for my mental health. The aspiration behind this blog is to bring awareness for myself to this journey and to share the experience of attempting to navigate a PhD on mindfulness with mindfulness. This isn't to claim that I will never suffer or experience being overwhelmed, isolated and in pain during this process - but it is to set an intention to meet these feelings with kindness and care and to transform them so that I can also experience joy and happiness as part of this 5 year adventure.

We are all unique wonderful butterflies

Tackling self doubt & belonging

Plum Village - International Wake Up Retreat (Summer 2017)

Plum Village - International Wake Up Retreat (Summer 2017)

Non-judgment, the act of being kind and accepting towards oneself, is an integral part of mindfulness practice. As with many mindfulness concepts, it is a simple to say, but not so easy to actually do.

When I introduce the idea of non-judgment, I often ask people to share about ways that they judge others and themselves on a daily basis. Examples often include judgments around our appearances, and actions (do I look good enough?, did I sound smart enough?, why couldn't I have explained that better?, etc.).

Judgments towards ourselves are little acts of unkindness that we perpetrate—consciously and unconsciously—against ourselves all day. They add extra worries and stress to our already busy lives. As a grad student, I have enough to think about everyday without adding additional stress about my worthiness!  

I bring this up because I have been noticing that I sometimes find myself in situations where I wonder if I am enough (for example, the first day of my PhD, meeting all the other medical science students, or joining a new research committee). I am lucky that I have enough drive, excitement, and personal resiliency that these thoughts don't stop me from diving into new situations and experiences. But nevertheless, they pop up anyway and eat up my mental energy. 

Next time you notice any self-doubt or concerns about belonging, I invite you to try what I’ve been doing: instead of ruminating on these thoughts, smile to them and remind them that they aren’t facts, but come from a place of being human and self-aware. And with this awareness, let them go as soon as possible.

And here is the irony: it inevitably turns out—after I start a new project or join a new research group or start teaching a course—that actually I'm totally cool, everyone is pleased and impressed with my work, and there really wasn't a reason to have had those worries or thoughts in the first place. Being aware of this ongoing dialogue of has made me wonder if we aren’t all just wonderfully unique butterflies who should stop worrying so much.

So the next time you notice any self doubt or concerns about belonging, I invite you to try what I've been doing: instead of ruminating on these thoughts, smile to them and remind them that they aren't facts, but come from a place of being human and self-aware. And with this awareness, let them go as soon as possible. It's important to be kind to the thoughts, but it’s also much more fun without them.


Suggested Practice: Mindfulness Of Thoughts

Below is a summary of a meditation practice that can help you to let go when your mind has become full of judgmental thoughts. This practice is from the wonderful book “The Mindful Teen” by Dr.Dzung Vo (a few small adaptations have been made).

In this exercise, you imagine you are observing your thoughts drift by like clouds. By watching the thoughts, instead of trying to control them, you may find it easier to observe and be more at peace.

Exercise: Mindfulness of Thinking

Try this meditation for 3-5 minutes, sitting or lying down. If you are comfortable you can close your eyes, or pick a point in front of you to focus on.

Begin:  Anchor yourself in the present moment by becoming fully aware of your in-breath and out-breath. You may like to think the word in as you breath in, and the word out as you breath out.

Next:  Observe your thoughts as clouds in the sky. Noticing as they come into view, for however long they stay in the picture. Notice whether you’re having lots of thoughts, fast thoughts, or slow thoughts. Obverse your thoughts with kindness and curiosity, without getting caught up in them. If no thoughts are arising in your mind, simply notice that.

Experiment with silently labeling each thought using one word, according to category, such as “planning”, “worrying”, memory”, or “rumination”.

You don’t need to try to figure out whether your thoughts are true or not. You don’t need to suppress certain thoughts or judge yourself for having them. And you don’t need to get carried away by the story your mind creates. Every time you feel lost, confused, or overwhelmed remember that mindful breathing is always there for you. Simply come back to the next breath, and return to the present moment. When you’re ready, bring your attention back to your thinking, and observe what thoughts are arising now. You can go back and forth this way as many times as you need.

Practice from: The Mindful Teen, Chapter 9 “Seeing Your Thoughts As Only Thoughts” written by Dr.Dzung Vo


Be up to date on all of Elli's Blog posts!  Subscribe through RSS or email