Boone Life: The Balance of Being
This was a semester- long project where I learned about how Dr. Jan Wheeler uses her mental consciousness to live a more balanced external life.
I got the idea for the story from an article by environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and author of, among a number of books, an article called “The Mental Environment” and decided it was an important story to tell, but I had to find someone who emulated a conscious mentality and manifested his or her beliefs through his or her daily life. I knew it was going to be a hard story to tell visually, but I found Jan who was more than willing to work with me, and decided to try it anyway.
The mental environment refers to the sum of societal influences upon the mind. It is focused on industrial societies which are said to produce physical and mental toxins which, in turn, affect mental health.
Jan works against this chaos in a peaceful way, being proactive in society so that she and others may find their own inner peace.
The article published in the Missourian is below the multimedia piece. Enjoy. I welcome comments and suggestions as I’ll continue to work with Jan on the project.
COLUMBIA — For Jan Wheeler, it’s a balance — a balance of silence and speech, solitude and interaction, subconscious thought and conscious action.
Wheeler sits on her bed on a cold December morning, her breathing purposefully stinted, her hand positions changing every few breaths, allowing her breathing to channel different parts of the body. Then she sends healing energy to friends, family and clients with her hands and her mind through a Japanese healing practice called Reiki.
After her reverie, she is ready for the day.
Meditation, Pranayama, a breathing exercise that focuses on different parts of the body, and Reiki have been a part of Wheeler’s morning routine for five years. She believes these practices have made her healthier. Wheeler feels that without meditating throughout the day, she would be a little more off-center juggling her many activities.
“It wakes me up and clears things out, physically and mentally,” she said. “After (the breathing exercise) there’s kind of a tingly quiet that I sit with for a few minutes before I do Reiki.”
Wheeler is not only a full-time psychologist but also a yoga instructor at AlleyCat Yoga. She is involved in multiple books clubs, art therapy classes and her friends and family.
“I guess I’m an extrovert, so I’m fed by talking to people and interacting with people,” she said. “… If I get lonely, I just call up a friend or go and see my parents.”
Wheeler discovered yoga on her own in the 1970s when she found a used book and started practicing the postures at home. While at Emporia State University in Kansas to get her doctoral degree, Wheeler started taking yoga classes. It was then she decided she would train to be a yoga teacher.
She spent a month in an ashram near Boulder, Colo., to become certified to teach yoga. She woke at 5 a.m. and spent the whole day doing yoga, studying anatomy, hiking and doing intensive training on the practices of yoga. It was, she said, an “other-worldly experience.”
Wheeler, who grew up in Columbia, returned to her hometown with her Ph.D. and yoga certification in hand and began to fully incorporate what she had learned in both disciplines into all areas of her daily life. Through art, reading, discussion and meditation, Wheeler is able to sort through the chaos of the day and focus on the calm.
“Consciously allowing yourself to open up detaches you from whatever is being triggered by the chaos,” she said. “Fear, anxiety, stress, whatever it is, if you can step back and open up, it expands your space.”
Wheeler also has to strike a balance between the science of psychology and the spirituality of yoga, which she believes have overlapping principles.
“In psychology, I’m always bringing in mindfulness and awareness of the body that I use in yoga,” she said. “The body is much more likely to tell us the truth than the mind.”
Her goal to help others learn the balance between chaos and control is one she also keeps for herself as she is perpetually on a path toward inner peace.