Denison University’s 178th Commencement took place on Saturday, May 18. Watch the ceremony in its entirety including commencement keynote speaker Jennifer Garner ’94.
Mindful Denison Coordinator Linnea Pyne is a mindfulness facilitator and consultant. She brings broad-based mindfulness education to campus, and gives the community opportunities to engage with it — both in concept and practice. Pyne is on campus every other month but also is looking at ways to offer the practice remotely, especially through social media.
Pyne notes, “The beauty of mindfulness, which I’ll define here as the art and practice of learning to pay attention to present moment experience in a non-judgemental and curious way, is that both an understanding of the “lens of mindfulness” and the practice itself have so many applications that there are endless possibilities for mindfulness education on a college campus.
When people are trying to get acquainted with mindfulness, what’s the best way to get started?
What I always want “newbies” to know is that they have already practiced mindfulness in some capacity in their life! It’s not something strange or weird or different. It’s a state of in-the-moment present awareness that we all have a natural capacity for but that we don’t often purposefully practice or cultivate.
If you have ever had a moment of joy or openness or relaxed focus where you were fully present — not worrying about the future or ruminating over the past — then you’ve experienced mindfulness. Maybe it was on the top of a mountain, traveling to a special place, playing a sport, creating art, laughing with friends, snuggling a pet or in a quiet moment in nature. The difference is, when we consciously practice and cultivate mindfulness we are using our own focused attention to bring ourselves into this natural state more often so that we can reap the evidence-based benefits of it in our daily life.
What observations or experiences have you had already during your visits to campus?
Statistics tell us the landscape of higher education is changing and that college students everywhere are experiencing new levels of stress and anxiety. I don’t think we know all the reasons for this yet, but early research shows that mindfulness practice can have a positive impact as an intervention strategy.
The students who have engaged with mindfulness on campus report that they find it helpful in various ways — some find it relaxing or calming, some say it helps them focus, some use it to help them sleep. The students who have attended the Mindful Study Breaks report that they really appreciate having a person in their midst, reminding them to take a pause and teaching them a systematic way to do that.
A student recently spoke at a gathering about her experience at the Denison Mindfulness Orientation. She said she hit a difficult time during her freshman year and thought, “Ok, well why not try it? That’s why I learned how to do it.” She was surprised to find that it worked in unexpected ways. She initially sought relief from stress but found that the more often she practiced, the more she noticed she had more perspective about her situation and what she was feeling. She found some space and self-compassion around the stress of college life. So, from a mindfulness perspective, her overall resilience in the face of stress became higher.
What potential do you see in the Denison community? What excited you about working with us and our students?
Since my very first visit to Denison, I have been struck by the kindness of the community and by students’ willingness to listen, try new things and engage. In fact, each time I am on campus, I find more people — students, faculty and staff from all parts of campus life — willing to ask questions and be curious. That curiosity is paramount in giving mindfulness a long-term life in any organization.
I have found that just bringing mindfulness “programming” to an institution without mindfulness education simply does not work in the long run. It’s important for those being offered mindfulness concepts and practices to understand what mindfulness is and what the benefits are, even those who don’t engage in practice themselves. At Denison there is a distinct willingness to engage in this process to discover how mindfulness practices can best be cultivated here. That willingness is very exciting!
Tell us a little bit about you.
In addition to being a mindfulness facilitator and consultant, I’m a mom, partner, and Californian of 20 years who grew up in Buffalo, New York. Looking back, I have always had a deep drive to understand human behavior and how we can live in greater harmony with each other.
I studied physical anthropology and neurobiology early on as a Leakey Fellow, looking at brain evolution in primates. Later, as a graduate student, I purposefully shifted my attention to the arts to try to answer the same questions from a different perspective. As a theatre artist I was constantly exploring what it meant to be human in many different situations and from many different points of view, and later as a parent and educator as well.
I began practicing mindfulness many years ago - at an age not much older than the students here at Denison. It changed my life. So, in 2012, when UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center began training long-time practitioners to facilitate mindfulness for businesses and organizations, it felt like a calling for me. Since graduating in 2014, I have facilitated in many different environments and for many different individuals, groups and organizations, but my work with young adults and in higher education has been a distinct passion of mine. Perhaps because it was at their age that mindfulness so deeply touched my own life.
How can students, faculty and staff get involved with Mindful Denison?
I’m so excited to be part of the Denison community! There are so many ways to learn about mindfulness and to engage in it — a whole continuum of mindful awareness practices in addition to formal or classic mindfulness meditation techniques.
I’m available to come into classrooms, clubs, and meetings and can offer practices that range from 5 to 20 minutes and beyond that are done individually or with others in a fun, interactive and engaging way. Mindfulness complements leadership, communication, and interpersonal skill sets.