A cool atmosphere permeates the room as a group of introspective individuals practice closing their eyes and becoming aware of each part of their bodies through meditation.
Dressed in black and giving off a chill, self-aware aura, Jesse Fleming, an associate professor for the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, passionately presents the concept of mindfulness and meditation during his MINDFULNESS class at UNL.
Fleming began the class as an initiative to give students the opportunity to improve their well-being. The classes themselves are conducted in a very loose way, as participants are able to come and go whenever they like.
“What we’re doing is going through the senses and finding different objects of meditation to start to find a focus on,” Fleming said. “We will be working each time on different strategies to achieve a state of mindfulness.”
For the past 18 years, Fleming has been exploring the concept of mindfulness and meditation alongside teaching a weekly meditation class for two years in downtown Los Angeles.
Fleming came to UNL to expand his research, which focused on the five senses and the concept of mindfulness.
With his research, Fleming strives to guide others on how to utilize their senses as tools. He said he pushes students to stay present in the moment and fortify themselves against the technological addiction and clickbait of the world.
“[I am] looking at building meaningful experiences and interaction and content through the lens of the senses,” Fleming said.
To help UNL students employ the power of the senses, Fleming began a weekly mindfulness class that began Oct. 14 and will continue throughout the semester. Thao Duong, a junior advertising and public relations and dance double major, utilizes Fleming’s tools to help her with mindfulness.
“I sometimes use dance as a mindfulness practice,” Duong said. “It felt really nice to just have a moment … to pause everything and bring the focus to myself and trust myself.”
Duong expressed a particular interest in the techniques used in Fleming’s class to bring back memories and then tie those memories to mindfulness.
“I really like the techniques he used of bringing back the memories as content to feel the somatic feelings,” Duong said.
These somatic feelings are feelings that relate to the body, and they can feel especially separate from the mind. The concept of mindfulness is just that — a concept.
“[Mindfulness is] a piece of language,” Fleming said. “It’s pointing … to something. But a ‘something,’ like all language is, is a shell.”
Mindfulness, according to Fleming, isn’t concrete. It’s more of a mechanism that points to something greater.
Fleming has been greatly influenced by Shinzen Young, an American meditation teacher. Fleming has adopted the term mindfulness from Young to denote a toolset of sensory clarity, concentration and equanimity.
“Equanimity is a cultivable response to stimuli which stays grounded … and neutral,” Fleming said. “It’s less prone toward grasping or pushing.”
According to Fleming, equanimity represses the urge to act upon stimuli such as hunger or itching and instead leads one to explore the urge.
“You want to itch? In mindfulness, you don’t,” he said. “You … pay attention to [the itch]. You open up and investigate that situation rather than acting on it.”
By resisting the urge to act upon that sensation, the capacity to stay still is refined.
If that response is cultivated, it can be liberating, Fleming said. Rather than immediately acting on the urge, one is able to explore the feeling.
He explained that mindfulness not only helps people slow down and become aware of their senses, but also provides improved self-control.
For example, rather than immediately replying to a triggering email or indulging in a piece of cake, those who practice mindfulness are able to surf the urge. In this way, bad habits can be stifled.
“You notice the triggering responses, and they’re gone. It’s a very active thing,” Fleming said. “It can help us be more in the world without getting jerked around internally or externally.”
According to Fleming, he has benefited from the practice of mindfulness greatly. However, he warns against the idea that mindfulness is a cure-all for unpleasant feelings or bad habits.
Mindfulness has aided Fleming in various aspects of his life, including in his relationships and his sense of being. He describes this as understanding his senses and using mindfulness to connect to others on an interpersonal level.
Fleming also utilizes mindfulness to shut off parts of the brain, especially those parts related to self-identity. Rather than having to stay present as himself, mindfulness has improved Fleming’s ability to let go of himself to achieve a state of freedom from self and move into an open feeling of experience.
“It’s hard to be us all of the time,” Fleming said. “There are parts of the brain that begin to turn off [during mindfulness]. So, the special power of deep meditation is not new areas of the brain, but rather it’s being able to shut off areas of the brain.”