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I often find myself in some pretty unorthodox classes. This semester I have been enrolled in a fascinating course called Nature-based Contemplation. The class seeks to deepen a student’s relationship with nature through the marriage of modern biological science and ancient indigenous wisdom. Reading books, writing essays, and discussing material can only go so far in this ambitious endeavor. So, an integral part of the course is to sincerely engage in the age-old practice of nature-based contemplation.
Similar to meditation, nature-based contemplation involves the act of sitting in a state of peaceful open-awareness with focused attention on the biosphere or a particular manifestation of nature like a pond or a bush. Nature-based contemplation departs from meditation, however, with how a student should end the practice. After having spent some time embracing and accepting aspects of nature, a student is meant to thank those entities for their presence. Yes, you read that right. A student is supposed to explicitly express gratitude to a pond or a bush. Sounds insane? I thought so too—for a little.
The first seven times I said, “Thank you!” to a tree I felt like a crazy person. I am not a shaman nor am I a psychedelic-induced flower child, so why would I ever thank a tree for letting me share its presence for a few minutes? My eighth time around practicing nature-based contemplation, however, I made some slight adjustments to my approach. Rather than directly express gratitude towards the tree as my teacher instructed (sorry Professor Traverse…), I simply took a quick moment to appreciate the fact that I was able to spend ten minutes of my day with the beautiful tree. I was appreciative that I had not spent those ten minutes daydreaming about what I want to do for a living, or worrying about an upcoming exam, or deciding what drinks I was going to get for the party that night. Saying, “Thank you!” to a tree might be a little out there, but recognizing a moment for what it is certainly is not.
I have now begun to incorporate gratitude into my daily meditation practice. After each of my ten-minute morning sits, I take a second to recognize how thankful I am for the chance to briefly exit the calamity and stresses of everyday college life. By including this one measly second of intentional gratification in my morning routine, I have become keener to all the things in life that I really am thankful for and previously took for granted. The small pleasures of life are ever so slightly amplified the next time around when I honestly reflect on how happy I am for their present existence. A starry night will look brighter. A homey fireplace will feel warmer. An emotional kiss will feel sweeter. Consistently giving thanks is a natural high that makes living life more enjoyable.
For whatever reason, human beings have this strange intuitive proclivity for pessimism. The grass seems to always be greener on the other side of the fence. Perhaps then gratitude is the natural irrigation that will make your lawn flourish.
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