Student Pepe López-Rúa Taboada shares with the IEU Community his journey of reconnecting with the present through mindfulness.
I’ll be starting my fifth and final year of the Dual Degree in Laws and International Relations this fall. I’m a Madrid local but have strong family ties in the region of Galicia in northern Spain. I’m actively involved with The Stork, where I used to be an editor but now write about culture. I’m also a member of the Student Advisory Board at the IE Center for Health, Well-Being and Happiness. Last year, I was a co-organizer of the first-ever IE International Short Film Festival, while serving as head of the Film and TV Industry Club.
I have a wide range of interests but my main passions are world affairs, sustainable development, and storytelling (I’m also obsessed with Meryl Streep and dogs). In my free time, I enjoy reading, writing and doing yoga. I’m even currently working on a small piece of literature with a friend! I love that IE University has shown me a world of possibilities, allowing me to follow my other passions no matter what I study.
I hope to be able to use my interests to become a valuable member of my community—not just a part of it. Public service—whatever that means—might be what I was born to do. But then again, who knows.
The first time I heard about mindfulness techniques, my mind must have instinctively pictured some middle-aged socialite from New York looking for some spare time to relax from the trouble of her East Hampton garden makeover. Like many people out there, I saw meditation or yoga as nothing more than an indulgence: busy Westerners frantically looking for ways to “gloss-up” their lives and come closer to becoming the newest member of Desperate Housewives.
This is why in the beginning; I was so reluctant to try mindfulness when I really felt an urge to reconnect with the present. Far from seeking to fill my vanity, I was in great need of feeling more grounded. So when I gave it a shot, I was surprised that not only did it help me feel better and more free, but I also felt that everything was finally falling into place.
So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is nothing more than conscious awareness and attention-redirection. You have to put a number of techniques into practice as a way to be in the moment, as stereotypical as it may sound. It has nothing to do with stopping thoughts or worrying about anxiety. Instead, mindfulness focuses on areas like meditation through breath regulation, noting distractions and gently coming back to your anchor—your breath. It may also emphasize mindful eating, or allowing yourself to be aware of the taste and texture of every food you eat. The essence of mindfulness is to observe the mind and to consciously choose to remain present, regardless of thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations.
That said, I must confess that I am not entirely comfortable with the word mindfulness. I seem unable to dissociate it from the cheap self-help books you would find in a dark corner of a department store. So, I choose to see it more as a way to cultivate presentness.At the end of the day, the practical meaning one attaches to the theory is deeply personal. What really matters is the results you want to achieve.
Regardless of how you label it, let us not forget that mindfulness is a skill that requires commitment and persistence. Choosing to train myself to remain present involves what is perhaps the most humbling exercise I have ever had to face: acceptance. The full-bore readiness to take things as they come. When feeling sorrowful or nostalgic, this means being willing to stay with the feeling for however long it might be there, no shortcuts allowed. When feeling cheerful, I consciously choose to deconstruct how these feelings manifest themselves on a physical and emotional level.
But, it goes without saying that staying curious and alert is nothing short of daunting. Let’s take heartbreak as an example. The combination of pain, grief, and disappointment that come along with it can feel like the end of the world. But what if instead of taking these feelings to the extreme, either by pushing the emotions away or by magnifying them, we allowed ourselves to just feel? What if we decided not to engage in mental wars, and just observed the ways in which our minds and bodies naturally respond?
This can be as simple as sitting down with your eyes closed, giving yourself a few minutes to stay with the pain. It might even imply turning to drawing or writing as a way to describe where in the body those emotions are manifesting themselves more clearly. Of course, though, this is easier said than done. In situations of hardship, humans feel more drawn to less healthy ways of snuffing out the issue. Yet with time, you will realize how soothing and life-changing understanding your mind really is.
As I have said, results will only come if the commitment is sustained and the intention is genuine. Personally, my training is an hour of yoga every day. The different asanas have been extremely effective in developing my mental and physical strength while forcing me to focus on not breaking a leg during Naukasana,the boat pose (is that even possible?!).
I still don’t understand the science behind mindfulness. I could talk about how the brain’s plasticity allows for it to blend and adapt over time, but I would probably get the explanation wrong. Instead, I will say this: choosing to overcome my initial reluctance and doubts amounts to one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. So, if for whatever reason you find yourself in the midst of struggle, I invite you to hang in there and nurture presentness. It will not make the pain go away, but it will help you find the silver lining in the most unremarkable and unexpected places.