When academia meets mindfulness

How mindfulness transforms my reality in academia 👊

Mindfulness originates from Buddhism and is making more considerable influence than ever. The two-thousand-year-old core philosophy of mindfulness has withstood the test of time. As a practitioner of mindfulness, I genuinely feel the power of it. The insights I have got from mindfulness is tremendous and transformative and even can be disruptive for an academic.

Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, also a mindfulness practitioner, in the book “How to change your mind”, described the “mystery of consciousness and existence” from meditation as:

“Something way, way beyond a material worldview that I can’t really talk to my colleagues about, because it involves metaphors or assumptions that I am really uncomfortable with as a scientist.”

He further commented:

“Here I am, a full professor, publishing like crazy, running off to important meetings and thinking I was a fraud!”

I feel the most profound resonance for the word “fraud”. I have to say the spiritual experience is very disruptive to the widespread belief held in academia. Only after the journey of mindfulness could I feel the strong sense of “fraud”, which is not so communicable for the “me” before.

In this short article, I will summarise a few disruptive influences over my academic reality. I have to admit it is hard to write down because most of the insights from mindfulness are beyond the description of languages and any way of putting them down can distort and absolutise the meaning outright. However, I still choose to write something down, to let you know me a little bit. If possible, I hope you can read those texts without caring about the language too much, and I also hope you could get at least some of the ideas I want to get across beind those sentences. Anyway, communication is really tricky, and let me try.

  1. Academia is basically mindless. Mindfulness conveys a strong message of unity and oneness on a spiritual level: everything is interconnected because of the mind, everything is about the mind, so is academia. In contrast, the widespread viewpoints in academia are rather worldly. Too many disciplinary boundaries have been drawn, generating many overspecialised subjects. I can say the philosophy behind the current academic set-up is very contrary to mindfulness. However, mindfulness indeed provides a robust philosophy to conduct interdisciplinary research. To my observations, atavistic thinking in academia abounds; great thoughts and bold actions only belong to a tiny port of the people there; the proportion of which there does not seem to be higher than other fields or industries.
  2. Mindfulness lets me have a different intention to do research and get rid of the ego-centric motivation. The purpose is not about getting a degree, a tenure track or some unexamined big dream driven by unspeakable desires, but something valuable to contribute to the well-being of human beings, not to meet the uncontrolled urges of them. Also, it is the research itself, not the external values attached to it.
  3. Mindfulness gives me the courage to be an independent researcher. After recognising the essence of the human being, nobody is mysterious. People are emotionally, physically and mentally the same. So the worship due to the title and fame no longer works on me.
  4. Mindfulness lets me awaken to the value of solitude. I need to manage the interaction with others; not every conversation is worth joining, not every collaboration is rewarding, high-quality intellectual cooperation is desirable but hard to come by. Solitude provides the space to grow the mind and keep it from being polluted before it gets strong enough.
  5. Mindfulness awakens the awareness of non-importance in me. Regarding something as important quickly leads to overfocus and obsession. Actually, nothing is important, so let go of everything and try to focus on things properly. It is challenging, but the efforts are worthwhile.

Anyway, there are much to share than I could express, but I have to stop here. Please forgive me for the incapability to articulate better.


On a peaceful evening.

Chao (Cico) Zhang
Thinker, Mindfulness Meditator, Mathematician, PhD Candidate

With mindfulness and philosophy, think about the meaning of being and doing.


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