Harvard Students Get Mindful — Creating Interconnectedness

By Eric Michael B.

In January 2018, more than 50 students from across Harvard University gathered in North Andover, Massachusetts for three days of silent retreat, community building, and mindfulness meditation. The retreat was led by iBme teachers Kaira Jewel, Rod Owens, and Cara Lai FitzGibbon and was supported by several dedicated iBme mentors.

The gathering was the latest of several retreats for Harvard students facilitated by iBme over the last three years through a partnership made possible by the visionary generosity of an anonymous donor and Harvard alumni. Since these retreats are open to all Harvard students, the group represented the diversity of experiences and passions to be found throughout all of Harvard’s schools, with participants ranging from college undergraduates to graduate students in design, law, business, government, medicine, education, and ministry.

Inside the Retreat

Over the course of the retreat, this multinational group cultivated their capacities for focused attention, nonjudgmental awareness, and compassionate engagement through a dynamic range of guided meditations and group activities, including seated meditation, mindfulness-themed workshops, walking meditations, and a special evening program on Martin Luther King Jr. Day exploring how the practice of mindfulness might help us all work towards achieving Dr. King’s vision of the “Beloved Community.”

When asked why they had chosen to attend the retreat, one student replied: “I use mindfulness to both heal sadness and achieve happiness by enjoying more of what I already have.” Another student responded: “I hoped to learn practices that would help me find peace and calm.” Students chose to invest time in a mindfulness retreat over their Winter Break for reasons as various and diverse as each individual’s academic and extra-curricular interests. When asked how they would apply what they had learned on retreat in their daily lives, one student replied: “I hope to continue not just the practice [of mindfulness], but always keep the love, compassion, and interconnectedness at the heart of my actions.”

Students were also eager to offer gratitude to the donor who had made the retreat possible and accessible for them. Among the many thank-you’s written in various hues of magic marker on brightly colored construction paper were: “Thank you so much for this incredible opportunity. I will carry it with me throughout the rest of my life”; “Thank you for enabling me to restore a sense of awe about the world and people”; and “It has been the most restorative experiences of my life. I am inspired to do more for my community.”

Recent Research Shows Positive Outcomes

While student’s experiences on this retreat were each unique and wide ranging, one recent study published in The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology by Dr. Brian Galla gives a glimpse into the positive outcomes of iBme retreats. The study explored the relationship between mindfulness meditation retreats and emotional regulation, self awareness, and cognitive functioning among adolescents. His study enrolled teens with an interest in meditation to participate in a week long retreat facilitated by iBme over the summer of 2016, as well as enrolling teens into a non-retreat control group. Through a series of self-report questionnaires, the study collected data on emotional functioning, self-regulation, and working memory from both groups before and after the retreat.

Dr. Gala’s data suggests that these kinds of mindfulness meditation retreats may support improved psychological health and well-being among adolescents. When compared to the control group, retreat participants reported decreased depressive symptoms, increased gratitude and positivity, increased emotional self-regulation, and increases in working memory.  

While the generosity of one particular individual has made it possible for these students to experience the unique learning that can occur in multi-day, silent, residential mindfulness retreats, iBme will continue to make similar retreats accessible and widely available in diverse communities and for adolescents and young adults from all walks of life.