We are a dedicated team of two CalmCircleCollege missionaries on the road with The Huffington Post #sleeprevolution College Tour. I wish I could tell you what day it is but one runs into the next and it's hard to say. A blur of airports, trains, rental cars and hotel rooms is brought into focus by one thing: preaching the word of relaxation practice, mental rest and quality sleep.
In some ways, it's pretty easy because it is hard to find even one student who doesn't have a significant stress story to tell (except for the University of Chicago sophomore who said that math makes him feel peaceful). Sometimes their stories don't have words and are told only by the look on their face. The universal connection is that stress and sleep struggles are an epidemic.
CalmCircleCollege was conceived, designed and implemented as a simple, easily accessible way for college students, or anyone, to begin a daily meditative practice and keep it up with a minimal commitment of just ten minutes a day. There is always a recognition, a sense of relief, that comes over students when we begin to discuss the idea of mental rest and how important it is. For a moment, you can even see their physical body release at just the thought of spending a few minutes each day "being" rather than "doing."
But it doesn't take long to see that they also are deeply rooted in the very lifestyle that is causing them such misery. I have asked many students and counseling professionals why they think it is so hard for students to imagine being kind to themselves by making mental rest a priority once they realize how much it could help. The answers always involve the widely held belief that they must push themselves to succeed at whatever cost, even if it means borrowing from sleep hours and being "fueled" by stress.
Many students have told me that they are reluctant to learn to relax because they are afraid it will diminish their drive somehow, make them weaker and less competitive. I always explain that, in fact, it will have the opposite effect and science has supported that assertion. But they aren't buying it. Their way may not be the healthiest, but they are dedicated to it because they have believed it for so long and it is so familiar.
We also talk about how meditation and learning to regularly access your own place of relaxation can improve performance and allow you to reach your potential, whether it be an exam, a competitive sporting event, or a difficult emotional situation. The idea of improving academic performance is a powerful concept for most students under pressure to perform, but it is still difficult for them to imagine that such improvement can take place in a more positive, nourishing way without the traditional sacrifice of sleep and life balance.
I am haunted by the stories I have heard, the faces I have seen, and the culture of perceived success at all costs on college campuses. These experiences have informed my commitment to the belief that even if things get worse before they get better, it is a good mission. It is a movement towards healing, wellness and self-compassion that can be within the reach of any student who is brave enough to change their own vision of success. And the circle of calm will be waiting when that happens, no matter how long it takes.