Smiles and Serenity
By Surya Mehta
Sandra Seidel, a University of Virginia assistant dean for undergraduate students as well as a professor of biology and mindfulness, has touched many with her kind heart and open spirit. She can be seen around Grounds sharing smiles and advice with students. In constant practice of mindfulness, active gratitude, and kindness, Seidel prioritizes a positive mindset in all her endeavors.
Seidel’s “Mindfulness: Awareness and Habit” and “Mindfulness Practices” courses are not the only places that students can witness her spiritual teachings. Her “Human Biology and Disease” lectures involve mindfulness practices as well. It is not uncommon for Seidel to begin a class with three deep breaths or other calming activities of this nature. She encourages her students to train their minds to live presently, let go of outside stress, and recognize gratitude. Seidel explains that with practice, “we can train our minds to see positivity, kindness, and love.” Recognizing the constant pressure felt by students, she does her best to promote gratitude and kindness in her work around the University. Seidel comments, “I want to be the person that helps make college students have a good experience”.
Not only does Dean Seidel fill her lectures with mindfulness, but she also strives to learn more about kindness outside of the classroom. Her office is decorated with artwork from students, spiritual reminders, and even a gratitude medallion, a small trinket given to her to remind her to give thanks. Her practices started when she was coping with grief in her own life. As she struggled through these issues, she discovered the practice of mindfulness. She worked with both friends and experts to develop her practice and escape her grief. Looking back on her difficult journey, she says, “I never want my students to have to go through the same suffering that I did.” In response to grief, discomfort, and pain, Seidel learned to dedicate her mindset to believing in a positive outcome. “What we think, we become”, she remarks. “I have to believe that kindness begets kindness, and that we’ll always come out on the other side”.
Although Dean Seidel successfully expresses positivity and kindness every day, it is not without challenges. She has faced many obstacles throughout her journey, but believes that her mindset is stronger than the hardships that threaten her. “The biggest challenge is forgiveness.”, she states. “If we don’t forgive, then those emotions develop into hate. That’s not what I’m about.” Seidel sees the best in people, believing that individuals who commit hateful acts must be suffering themselves. She works to find a balance between empathizing with those people and protecting herself because, as she remarked, “forgiveness is where the healing begins”.
When asked about her role models, Seidel quickly replied with her fellow teachers and mindfulness instructors. Throughout her journey, she has met many like-minded individuals that became close friends as they shared common interests. She credits these role models as being the friends who have given her the courage to start teaching mindfulness courses. Particularly, she mentions Sam Green, another professor at UVA who teaches “Mindfulness Practices”, as the peer who inspired her to share her learnings with students. Now, Dean Seidel is ecstatic about her job as a mindfulness instructor. She exclaims, “How crazy is that? I get to do this for a living!” Seidel’s classes allow her to explore mindfulness and share her findings with others.
Dean Seidel has become an admired professor, dean, and friend to many students throughout her years at UVA. Her decorated office is always open, whether students need help with academics, personal struggles, or a difficult yoga pose. Her constant optimism is contagious, and she has taught her students to recognize the positive parts of every day. An inspiration for students and faculty alike, her practice of mindfulness and kindness continues to spread smiles at the university and beyond.