Adapting to Canvas: A Lesson in MindfulnessWith the recent launch of the University’s new Learning Management System (LMS) called Canvas, I’ve been forced outside of my former LMS comfort zone. While I’m excited about all of the innovative features Canvas offers, the tediousness of learning new processes and familiarizing myself with a completely new interface has provoked anxiety and consternation.
The Study of Mindfulness
Lately, I’ve taken a deep interest in the study of mindfulness. Last summer I attended several conferences on mindfulness and learned different ways to keep strengthening my mind’s ability to remain calm and attuned to the present moment. I learned from author and researcher, Gina Biegel, that mindfulness is about bringing attention to your senses (smell, touch, taste, sound and sight) no matter what you’re doing (2016). We’re usually so caught up in our thinking, that we often let our awareness drift to worrying and away from what’s happening in the present moment.
I also learned from neuroscientist and author, Dan Siegel, that developing greater capacity to be mindfully present can have profound effects on mood and peace of mind. Rather than being rigidly stuck in repeating patterns, blindly influenced by our moods, or being a slave to our particular personality predilections in rigidly confined patterns, through mindfulness, we can move freely and create fresh approaches to old problems (Siegel, 2010).
Putting Mindfulness into Practice
I must admit, cultivating greater moment-to-moment awareness of my present surroundings and sensations has come in handy during some of the most stressful situations. Through mindful practice, I am learning ways to train my awareness, so I can remain focused and grounded instead of distracted by the constant barrage of thoughts over emails, text messages, and worries about the past or present.
One of my favorite mindfulness exercises is one called the Raisin Activity. Basically, you take an edible object, like a raisin, and approach it as though you’ve never seen it before. You pretend to have no clue what it might be. As you hold the raisin between your fingertips, you allow yourself to be filled with a sense of wonder and non-judgement. You practice letting go of placing any judgements on it. You allow yourself to smell the raisin, all the while maintaining a sense of non-judgement, openness, and curiosity. Instead of giving the object a name, you focus on qualities that you can observe such as surface textures, or the sensation of each ridge of the raisin’s surface in your fingertips. As your mind drifts, like it always does, you recognize the drift, while gently and lovingly bringing your awareness back to the present and the sensations of touch, smell, and eventually, taste.
I’ve done the raisin exercise multiple times with groups of coworkers, friends, and even students. It’s always amazing how powerful this simple activity can be. What I hear time and again is how peaceful and calm this activity helps one feel. People say that it gets them out of their head and helps them remain content in the present.
Mindfulness and Canvas
I’ve decided to take my own advice and apply what I’ve learned from activities like the raisin exercise to my encounters with Canvas. Instead of getting caught up in anxious thinking or allowing myself to dwell on the tedious aspects of learning this new LMS, I can pay attention to my breath and remain open and curious as though every day is a new and wondrous adventure. Mindfulness can help me approach Canvas as a fun adventure instead of a dreary effort; in doing so, I’ll be able to pass on positivity and confidence to the students in my classes as we learn and grow together.
Written by Eric Muenks, PhD, LMHC, Lead Faculty
Biegel, G. M. (2016, April). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for teens: Practical Strategies and Techniques in clinical practice. Training presented by PESI, Orlando, FL.
Siegel, D. (2010). The mindful therapist: A clinician’s guide to mindsight and neural integration. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.