11/02/2011 05:36 pm ET | Updated Jan 02, 2012

Smiling in the Present

After studying the practice of mindfulness in my spirituality and mysticism class, I put down the article I was reading on the top 10 industries hiring recent graduates; I asked myself, am I happy right now? Am I taking advantage of my education, the relationships I have fostered over the past four years and the freedom of being an adult without all the "real" responsibilities? According to Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, we are not really living until we are mindful of our bodies in the present moment. In my studies of religion and philosophy, I have been challenged to live more deeply and appreciate the impermanence of life. Most importantly, I have learned not to take myself, or others, too seriously. I have made an effort to smile more, even when it may seem impossible; every time I see someone else smile, I know that he or she is also in tune with the present moment and recognizes the miracle of life.

As I prepare for my life after graduation, contacting previous employers and attending career fairs, I become swept up by my plans for the future and take the present for granted. I have set major goals for myself, mistakenly delaying my happiness until I achieve them. I tell myself that I have it easy right now as a student and only deserve to be happy once I land my dream job and start proving myself as a bill-paying adult. Through the study of mindfulness, however, I have learned not to put off happiness for another day because, as much as I want to deny it, the future is uncertain.

I am ashamed to admit that I have let many beautiful mornings in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania pass me by because I was too busy "not living." By the time I get to class, I don't even realize that I was walking because I was so caught up in reading emails on my phone. I have the mindset that I need to spend every second of the day as efficiently as possible or it is time wasted. I have recently replaced these distractions with conscious breathing, paying attention to the sound of the leaves blowing on the quad and the click-clack of my boots as they hit the pavement. Just through these simple changes to my daily routine, I have begun to feel more alive and aware of my body in the present.

By resisting the temptation of distractions, I have started to feel more comfortable being alone with myself and embracing nothingness. Thich Nhat Hanh's theories about mindfulness have helped me keep my life in perspective and understand my values. By tuning in to the present, I can exert more control over my life and slow down time. With a clearer mind, I am more equipped to make decisions and carve a better path for my future. After having just registered for my final semester of classes as a student, it's nearly impossible not to think of the next step. It wasn't until senior year that I started to become career-oriented and take what I considered practical classes in the Business Management School. I spent my first few years exploring my passions and thinking creatively without the pressure of settling on a vocation. How valuable is an English degree anyway? How are my skills going to help me in the workforce? Did my liberal arts education prepare me for the business world? I would be kidding myself if I said I wasn't struggling to put these concerns on the back burner. However, I keep reminding myself that I have something to offer potential employers: the critical and analytical skills I have developed through my English degree are valuable for any job.

As I approach my last semester of college, my entrance into the adult world is inevitable. I am ambivalent about saying goodbye to my financial freedom and obtaining adult responsibilities; at the same time, I don't want to be coddled anymore and I am ready to test myself. For now, though, I am focused on smiling, listening and absorbing my surroundings -- after all, the present is the only thing that is real.