Students seek aid for burnout

Chapel Spiritual Life can provide a safe space for internal conflicts

This semester, Trinity University held spring break from March 5 – 13, the earliest spring break that has been held in several years. Although it had already been set on an earlier date, it came sooner than expected for students because of the extended winter break due to the Omicron surge. Many professors scheduled midterms to take place after the break, leaving stress to await students upon their return. To help them manage their stress, students can look for on-campus resources, including Parker Chapel.

“I think one of the things that we’ll often talk about is, we’re really good here at Trinity about doing. We’re really good at production. We’re really good at going,” said Alex Serna-Wallender, Trinity’s Chaplain and Everett H. Jones Chair for Spiritual Life. “We struggle, at times, at finding space for calmness. We struggle at times to find spaces to really come back to the fullness of ourselves, and spiritual practices are opportunities and invitations into doing that.”

Chapel Spiritual Life (CSL) consists of 10 student fellows that work together to make up the branches of CSL, including Multi-Faith, Spiritual Life and Christian Life. The fellows program events encourage an open conversation about difficulties and triumphs people face with their personal faith.

“We understand ourselves as both mind and body but also spirit, like there is sort of this deeper part of ourselves that longs for connection to others and to the divine,” Serna-Wallender said. “There’s a book called ‘Cultivating the Spirit,’ a longitudinal study that looks at the ways in which engaging in spiritual practices can deepen equanimity, which is sort of finding peace in the midst of turmoil.”

One recurring event that provides an opportunity to stop in the midst of work is Midweek Meditation, a collaboration with TUFit led by Richard Reed, a professor of sociology and anthropology. Reed went to Nepal during his undergraduate career, where he got the opportunity to learn about meditation from many different meditative traditions, including those from Tibet and Thailand. When the student that previously led the midweek meditation graduated, Serna-Wallender asked Reed to lead the meditation.

The 45-minute meditation is held every Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Meditation Chapel. Reed is not a certified instructor, so he follows a routine that he would typically do on his own as an avid meditator. Mindfulness meditation, Reed said, is not only meant to help the body relax but also to bring awareness to the thoughts that enter the mind. He said that when trying to find stillness while meditating, students can slow down enough to sit with and recognize these thoughts.

“You have all these thoughts and they just kind of move through,” Reed said. “And if you sit for a little bit you become more aware of those thoughts, and you see what kind of power those thoughts have over you. It allows you to essentially not be controlled by them.”

Although it is important to take a break from one’s thoughts, CSL also recognizes that it is important to reflect on one’s doubts and struggles. Christian Life allows students to do this through their biweekly Dinner and Dialogue.

Victoria Lee is a senior communication major and communication management minor who is a fellow for Christian Life. Lee said that the dinner is a space to talk about hard topics, such as doubts about one’s faith. She also sees it as a space for others to learn from each other’s experiences as well as to see that others relate to them.

“CSL does provide an outlet of peace for others, but our main goal isn’t to solve mental health if you know what I mean,” Lee said. “We’re an additional outlet for [students]. I think it’s important to also focus on physical and mental health, as in go see a counselor if need be.”

Rachel Poovathoor, a senior international studies major, is another Spiritual Life fellow. Poovathoor suggested that if a student does not feel comfortable going to Counseling Services when overwhelmed, they should talk to Serna-Wallender since he is a certified Chaplain. However, if a student is feeling like they want to meet new people in a small and intimate setting, then she said CSL events are good alternatives to larger campus social events.

“In Worthy Questions [an event offered by CSL] we provide space for people to ask the ‘big’ life questions,” Poovathoor said. “It’s nice to also share a meal with people to discuss these questions and get to know other people in your community.”

The Multi-Faith branch of CSL gives students the opportunity to learn about different religions and beliefs. Every other Tuesday, they host events such as Interfaith Tea to explore the similarities and differences between spiritual traditions. Multi-Faith fellow Gabriella Stein, a sophomore theater and ancient Mediterranean studies major, says CSL has helped her learn about the world around her while simultaneously helping her learn to stop and enjoy the present moment. With the hard work of the fellows and Serna-Wallender as well as other Chapel staff, CSL provides weekly opportunities to get in touch with a side of one’s self that can often be forgotten: the soul. More information on their events can be found on the Programs and Initiatives page on the Trinity website.

“Last year was just such a heavy year. I think it [CSL] definitely was a space for like, ‘OK, I can take a breath now.’ It’s one of those things that allows you to just be in the present moment,” Stein said. “It allows you to kind of chill and talk about your problems a little bit [ . . .] It’s great because I know this is a space where I can take a breath and know that it’s okay to just be.”

Logan Crews, Trinitonian Editor-in-Chief, is a Chapel | Spiritual Life fellow.