Update 1/19/19: My memoir, Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation, can be pre-ordered now. It is a #1 new release in several categories. I would love it if you helped me make near-death experiences more mainstream.
Mindfulness for Millennials: If you are a millennial, you may have heard of mindfulness in connection to Buddhism, meditation, or yoga. Perhaps, you already have a practice. If you do, hopefully the peace and awareness from your practice extends into every area of your life. Mindfulness is something you should try to incorporate in every area of your life. At a very basic level, mindfulness is being in a state of awareness, and even if you are not interested in meditation, consider the importance of mindfulness in your day to day activities.
It took a devastating car accident and a near-death experience to wake me up at twenty-one, but I would like for you to wake up in a gentler, kinder way. Being conscious of the world around you can save your life, but it can also bring more peace and understanding to your everyday activities. You will be able to handle stress more effectively and make better decisions in all areas of your life. You will be better in relationships, better in school, and in the workforce. You intuition will increase, and you will understand the world and other people in deeper ways. These tips definitely apply for those who are a part of Generation Z, as well as to those in Generation X and Baby Boomers who haven’t examined their relationship to technology and set aside time away from their devices.
I made a YouTube video about this topic, but I have also created this post about five ways to be more mindful.
#1 Be More Mindful with Technology: One of the first ways to become more mindful is to consider how you navigate the world with devices. As I walk the halls of the college where I teach, students are glued to their phones. Often, they nearly run into me in the stairwell. I’m an instructor, and these students might want to ask me for a letter of recommendation at some point. They should smile, make eye contact, and look around the world. They should talk more frequently to those around them as they wait for class to start.
A popular spoken word video by Gary Turk came out a few years ago called Look Up. The video shows people in different situations and how their world would deepen and become more meaningful if they put down their phones. I want to tell millennials (and Generation Z) to look up and stay looking up. Interact with people around you. Observe others. The more you observe the world around you, the deeper your intuition grows. Intuition is a completely different subject that I will return to at another time, but for now know that intuition is often a whisper. You have certainly felt your inner guidance warn you about someone. Maybe you overlooked this warning and listened to what someone said about themselves instead of what your feelings were telling you. Later, you might have found out you were right. That was your intuition talking. If you constantly distract yourself with your phone, you will not develop intuition and pick up on the subtle cues that people give off with micro-expressions. With a bit of training, you can easily pick up on lies and other subtle clues that people give you with communicating face to face.
Additionally, professors and bosses will react more positively to a face to face meeting than another email or text. We receive hundreds of emails daily, but a face to face interaction is much more memorable and meaningful. You are more likely to get the help you need with a meeting in person.
#2 Be More Mindful about How You Interact with People: As I look around the world at millennial couples, I see a lot of people together but lost in screens. I am not sure if one person is addicted to social media and the other person feels lonely waiting for that person to get off their phone, so they interact to fill the time. Whatever the case, mindfulness teaches you how to see the beauty and mystery in other human beings. Develop curiosity about the lives and feelings of those close to you. Make a lot of eye contact, and create conscious, loving moments with people you love. Your friendships and romantic relationships will greatly benefit with more conscious attention.
After my near-death experience, I was deeply curious about everyone. I wanted to know what made people tick, what secrets they kept in their hearts, and what dreams they had for themselves. Develop curiosity about people, and believe that they can and will show you their best selves. As you develop greater intuition, you will also discern who you should not to give your time to and who might be dangerous.
#3 Take Breaks: Mindful people know how to take breaks and how to deeply enjoy these breaks. Meditation has amazing physiological and psychological benefits. During my recovery after surgery, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I discovered the joy and peace that can be found through meditation. My body healed quickly, and I attribute part of my speedy recovery to meditation.
When my body cast was removed, and I returned to the beautiful U.T. Austin campus, I often took breaks that semester. I felt ecstatic just to be alive. I sat on benches and watched the world swirl by me. I felt gloriously happy just to walk, have breath, and be alive. I have felt grateful for most every moment in my life since, even the tough moments. I realized after my NDE that it is a blessing to be above ground and to get to experience the world in deeply meaningful ways.
Millennials are a stressed-out group, and you need breaks badly. You expect things to happen for you instantly and quickly. Breaks help you enjoy life and develop patience. You need to take time just for yourself and not answer a single text, email, or engage with anything other than silence for a part of your day. However, if silence is too overwhelming, and you are not ready for a daily meditation practice, consider shutting your eyes and listening to calming music as you breathe deeply every day for a specific amount of time. Alternately, you might do as I did and sit somewhere in a beautiful area and think of all the things you are grateful for in your life. Whatever you do, experience daily breaks in a meaningful way.
#4 Go Out in Nature: Generation Xers had more freedom growing up, and many tend to associate nature with playing and having a great time. I want your generation to experience the same child-like glee that many of us feel in nature. Climbing a mountain is not only great exercise, but it allows you to get far away from everything that troubles you in your life below. It is not a coincidence that many temples are built on mountaintops. You are literally closer to God or a higher consciousness because you have escaped the hustle and bustle of the world below.
Nature is not just something to look at; rather, it is something to experience. Being in nature invites you to open up to your senses and be in the here and now. There is healing energy in nature, and your brain relaxes and thinks differently in beautiful areas. If you have experienced trauma in your life, nature is a place where you can begin to heal these parts of yourself.
The Celestine Prophecy outlines the ways that humanity can begin to awaken, and one of the first ways is to become aware of the energy and power in the natural world. Once you are aware of this energy, you realize that nature gives you energy. The millennial generation should be the generation that creates greater sustainability and awareness of nature. To do this, you need to get out and appreciate it yourself.
#5 Nourish Yourself: Don’t always reach for sugar and caffeine when you need energy. Consider drinking water and eating a piece of fruit. Look to nature as a way to determine what might be most nourishing for your body. After my near-death experience, I was deeply aware of what it felt like to have a body again, much like an infant or child is aware of the body. Though I grew up a little quicker than an infant, I deeply appreciated the senses for quite a while. Food sometimes felt like a psychedelic experience. After being in ICU for three days, and fed through an IV for several more days, the first sensation of food sent me spinning and felt like manna from the heavens.
Once I left the hospital, I researched diets and decided on a mostly raw fruit and vegetable diet. I attribute the diet to how quickly my body healed. Do research yourself, but also use common sense. Everybody is different, but more raw fruits and vegetables added to any diet will probably benefit you.
My Connection to Mindfulness: My near-death experience taught me mindfulness in a direct and instantaneous way. I was pleased to be back in the body and experience all of my senses. I loved to taste amazing foods and interact with others. Even through the physical pain of healing, I used meditation and other tools to speed my recovery. I didn’t run from the pain; rather I embraced it without pain killers and trained my mind to adapt to the pain and work through it. Pain passes, and it passes quicker when you don’t run from it or deny it.
Additionally, my near-death experience showed me that I needed to return to my body and become a teacher. For several years now, I’ve taught English and Creative Writing at the college level, and I’ve observed and worked with thousands of millennials. Though millennials are a great, fun group, I would like to see more of you practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness will help you become more successful students, friends, romantic partners, employees, and employers. Mindfulness may be an important key for success, and it is my sincere wish to see this amazing generation grow more conscious and aware.
So many educators are aware of the importance of teaching mindfulness to students. Here is a wonderful blog post about teaching mindfulness in the classroom.
If you would like to learn more about meditation, I high recommend reading the books of Thich Nhat Hanh. You might also check out this YouTube video where Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses what mindfulness and meditation are really about: presence of heart.
If you would like a simple way to practice a loving, healing five minute meditation, check out this one by Louise Hay.