Mindfulness club president talks impact of meditation, group goals | Arts & Culture

The walls of Mike Thibodeau’s room are covered with posters of the universe. Books about astronauts and nebulae are scattered across his bed, and he even has a UFO tattooed on his chest.

Outer space is a huge theme in his life, so between weeks filled with 16 credit hours of classes and overnight shifts as a dorm desk assistant, all he wants after a long day is to be transported out of this world. That’s something he can achieve through meditation.

Thibodeau, a junior studying psychology, has been a member of the Mindfulness and Meditation Club since he was a freshman, and he has worked his way up to being co-president this year. The student organization is dedicated to helping students learn mindfulness and meditation techniques. These techniques have been proven to change your brain by reducing stress and increasing cognitive flexibility.

In a recent interview with the Kansan, Thibodeau explained what KU Mindfulness and Meditation is and how it helps students achieve peace of mind.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

On the organization of the club:

“KU Mindfulness and Meditation was a group set up four years ago by the now-graduated Danny Theisen. This is our first year continuing the group without him in charge. We are led by myself, Matthew Farrahi, and Brianna Marsh, with a couple other students on the board.

“Our meetings are usually set up to where we have one speaker and then everyone sits in a big group circle. First, we teach a basic meditation, then we talk about mindfulness and life. At each meeting we usually have 15 to 30 students. The students vary everywhere from freshman up to seniors, from all different majors and walks of life. We pull in a pretty big group of people and they’re all fun.”

On the club’s guiding philosophies:

“We pull a lot of our ideas from a school of psychology that was created in the United States in the 1960s by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s called ‘mindfulness-based stress reduction,’ and it’s a secular way to teach mindfulness and meditation. It draws on ideas from things like Buddhist and Hindu ideas, but it’s more of a secular version.

“We try to leave out the spiritual because we know we have Christian students; we have Hindu students; we even have some Muslim students who come to the club. Atheist, agnostic, a whole wide range. We are very diverse, so we try to keep it secular.

“In the meetings I’ve led, I’ve talked about things like uncertainty, and I’m hoping to talk about vulnerability, seeing patterns in life, and the ways that our mind processes the world. How we can use our mind more effectively as a tool to help make our lives better. One thing we’ve added new this year that we do at each general body meeting is ‘diad’ (short for ‘didactic’) interviews, where you just turn to the person sitting next to you. One talks for two minutes, and then there’s a switch off and the other person talks. The other person is just silent while the other person talks, so we can focus a bit more on being present in the conversation, simply listening rather than feeling the pressure to respond right then and there.”

On reflection rooms:

The reconstructed Burge Union will include new reflection spaces and locations for Legal Services for Students, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center and the Emily Taylor Center for Women’s Sexuality and Gender Diversity.

“This was a big project of the club that Theisen started about two years ago. He pushed for the Student Senate, and the schools themselves, to dedicate one room in every couple of buildings on campus to be a place where you can sit and reflect. They’re called reflection rooms and they’re found all across campus in certain locations. They are just quiet, blank rooms where you can go sit for a couple minutes to catch your breath in the middle of the day. Students can go there if they would like to pray, or just simply meditate or reflect.”

On the club’s events:

“A lot of the board members are returning from last year because of a new leadership change, now we’re just kind of focused on getting the club running and functioning without Danny. So far, we’ve done a pretty good job of that. We focus on the little things, like making sure our meetings run smoothly. Even though we try to do different speakers each year, we try to go through the same phases while still adding our own personal flair to them.

“We’ve also been focusing on doing a lot of events this year … We’ve done a kite flying event; we had roller skating last week. We’re planning on doing a yoga event later in the semester. We’re just focused on trying to organize the club and have a real focus this semester on building a sense of community in the club. So when people show up, even if they’re new, they can come and just feel like they are free to talk right off the bat. Or just sit there in a warm, welcoming place where, instead of being judged for what they say, you can simply come talk about life and maybe leave with a bit more of an idea what you’re going to do. Or an inspiration to live your life and be a bit happier and mindful in the moment.”

On his experience with meditation:

“I actually started meditating every single day probably about eight months ago. When I started doing it every single day, I realized the practice helped a lot with boosting my confidence and simplifying my life in a way. Instead of having all these things running through my mind, I wouldn’t get so caught up with them and attached to them. I haven’t even been practicing all that long, but I’ve noticed a lot of positive changes, so I keep doing it. That’s a very similar story to what a lot of the board members have gone through. A lot of us meditate every single day, and most of us have had a lot of growth from it. We have this idea of wanting to introduce people to meditation and this idea of positive psychology because we’ve seen what it’s done in our lives. We like trying to share it. But we also realize we’re all college students — none of us are psychologists — so there is a limit on what we can do, but we like being able to do what we can.”

KU Mindfulness and Meditation meets every alternating Wednesday and Thursday in the Malott Room of the Kansas Union, from 6-7 p.m. These meetings are free and open to everyone.

— Edited by Gabrielle Cinnamon 

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