Sims Hall

Kelly Homan Rodoski

In one Syracuse University course this summer, students will engage in creative ways to learn about and incorporate the practice of mindfulness into their lives.

“Mindful Communication Skills,” CRS 347, will be offered for six weeks in Summer Session II, July 3 through Aug. 11. The course is taught by Diane Grimes, associate professor of communication and rhetorical studies (CRS) in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and will be held Monday-Thursday from noon to 1:45 p.m. in Room 123 of Sims Hall.

Registration is now available, and the course is open to students, faculty and staff. For more questions or more information about the course, contact Grimes at 315.443.5136 or dsgrimes@syr.edu, or Joanne Balduzzi at balduzzi@syr.edu.

Mindfulness, at its core, is the practice of paying attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way, and is a practice that is developed over time. Grimes is one of the founding members and the director of Syracuse University’s Contemplative Collaborative, which comprises more than 140 members from a wide range of disciplines and offices across campus. Members work to enhance student development and promote academic excellence in tandem with personal well-being.

“The Contemplative Collaborative brings together such a range of people, from professors who include mindfulness practices in their teaching, to students, to those researching mindfulness, to those concerned with the wellness and personal development of both students and staff, to community members,” says Grimes. “Many areas of the university are involved precisely because mindfulness can be helpful in so many contexts.”

In the CRS 347 classroom, meditation cushions replace the traditional chairs. Cell phones are silenced and put away, so that participants can experience the class with minimal distractions.

Grimes draws from a range of mindfulness practices in her teaching. Class begins by sitting in silence and focusing. Yoga and meditation are a part of each class. Personal reflection goes hand in hand with the sharing of practices, insights and journal entries between participants and the development of trust and openness. Participants keep daily reflection journals.

“Communicating Mindfully,” a book by Dan Huston, a professor and expert on the practice of mindfulness, is used in the course. But much of the learning happens through creative activities. Poetry, music, creative arranging, mandala coloring, free writing and photography are just a few of the ways Grimes encourages her students to develop mindfulness.

The course is meant to expose students, both intellectually and experientially, to contemplative practice and to help them consider the relationship between contemplation skills and the communication skills they use in daily life.

“This is not a religion course, nor is it a course in Buddhism,” Grimes says. “People of many religions (and none) practice meditation and other mindfulness practices.” Benefits of mindfulness, she says, include increased awareness, creativity, happiness, mindfulness, improved relationships, relaxation, resilience, self friending and self knowledge; and decreased anxiety, depression, pain, reactions, resistance and stress.

Grimes has received a great amount of feedback from students on the how the practice of mindfulness has had a positive impact in their lives. “Out of all the ideas and concepts I have learned from classes that I have taken in the CRS program, I believe that mindfulness will stick with me the greatest,” says one student. “It is not just a concept that you study and keep in your brain for a specific time in the future, but what you apply to whatever you are doing in the moment. Living in the present moment is not something I had focused on before taking this class.”

“If people are open to it, mindfulness can result in changes that will improve the quality of their life,” Grimes says. “Meditation is one of the few things that can actually reset the happiness ‘set point,’ allowing people to be happier regardless of difficulties or circumstances.

Mindfulness practice is incorporated into several courses Grimes teaches. During the academic year, she and students in her “Communication, Mindfulness and Social Justice” course (CRS 360) work with first graders at Frazier Elementary School in Syracuse. They use puppets and the Disney movie “Inside Out” to help them process emotions and become mindful.