On Saturday, March 1st, students gathered in the Common Worship Room of Bond Hall to share their experiences of mental health and spirituality. Mind and Spirit Stories, organized by Abby Holtzman ‘16, featured stories by eight students.
At the event, Amie Chou ’15 described her own spiritual experience. The summer after her freshman year at Swarthmore, Chou went to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan to get back in touch with her Taiwanese heritage. Although Chou wasn’t expecting to have a spiritual revelation, she found it to be a deeply moving experience and subsequently took time off from Swarthmore to travel.
“I liked the theme that Abby picked [and the] focus on the intersections of spirituality and religion with mental health,” Chou said. “When she put it that way, I was able to frame my story around that theme.”
She also discussed how her spiritual experience improved her state of mind. Spending time in the monastery provided her with the opportunity for personal reflection, helping her become more self-aware.
“It made me a kinder person,” Chou said.
Previous to Mind and Spirit Stories, Chou said that she hasn’t discussed her spiritual experiences in much depth at Swarthmore.
“I don’t usually put myself out there,” Chou said. “But if somebody asks me […] I tell them. But that doesn’t happen very often at all. It just doesn’t come up in conversation.”
“I think there’s a lot of people with stories here, but I don’t get to hear them as often as I’d like to,” she continued. “I feel like people get caught up in their work, and the academics here […] and things that are not a part of Swarthmore don’t get talked about as much.”
Sam Mori ’16 told a story about a friend’s recent attempt to convert him to Christianity. Mori, himself Buddhist, found his friend’s efforts disrespectful, describing the experience as frustrating and difficult. Ultimately, however, he was able to convince his friend of the importance of understanding his point of view.
Mori was initially concerned about telling his story – although he was hesitant to share such a personal story, his attitudes changed as he heard the other storytellers speak.
“Hearing […] my fellow storytellers be so vulnerable and so open and so honest about the intersections of their spirituality and their emotional health, […] by the time it got to me, I felt very comfortable.”
In the end, Mori was glad to have the opportunity to share his story at Swarthmore in a larger storytelling environment. To Mori, this interfaith setting provided a space for open discussion that he hadn’t experienced before. In the past, when describing his story to his Christian friends, he found them struggling to understand his frustration as a member of a minority religious group. In an interfaith environment, Mori found the audience more receptive of the religious tensions in his story.
“It was one of those things I was keeping to myself, and I had mostly resolved it through my own, mostly resolved it through talking to people back home, but I’m really glad Abby asked me to bring it back to the Swarthmore community,” Mori said.
Nathan Scalise ’16 discussed his experience growing up as an American Baptist. He described his experience of living between a church and a library as a metaphor for his relationships to learning and faith. Scalise enjoyed finding resonances between his story and other storytellers’ stories.
“We’re not all undergoing the same difficulties, but they’re not unrelated,” Scalise said. “It was interesting to see the mix of experiences and mix of ideologies.”
Both Scalise and Chou expressed the concern that Swarthmore’s environment is sometimes unreceptive to discussions of religion and spirituality.
“I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say it’s an environment that is fairly hostile to taking a religion seriously,” Scalise said.
“I think, for me, it’s easier to talk about my spirituality because I don’t talk about God,” Chou said. “But I think some of my friends who are religious, who believe in God […] say that they feel like they get judged.”
“There’s an academic vibe here that is not accepting of those discourses,” she added.
Scalise believes that interfaith events, such as Mind and Spirit Stories, are a useful tool in bringing religious communities together, despite what many consider an apathetic or unfavorable campus attitude towards religion.
“If we’re going to have more support from the school for religious life, that’s only going to come from everyone together, because that’s the only way we’re big enough to influence,” Scalise said. “To me, that’s part of why interfaith events are important at Swarthmore.”
Mori, too, appreciated the interfaith nature of the event.
“I was very encouraged by the interfaith nature of the dialogue, especially since there’s definitely a differential in the power of different religious groups and differentials in representation,” Mori said. He believed that it resulted in a “more healthy discussion on what it is to be religious.”
All of the storytellers interviewed were moved by their fellow storytellers’ stories and were glad to have gotten to know the other storytellers in that context.
“Some of the stories were really pretty incredible,” Chou said. “And I felt like I got to know my fellow Swatties more through their stories.”
“There are little snippets of other people’s stories that I will definitely end up remembering,” Scalise said. “I think it helped start conversation, and that’s a good thing.”
Featured image taken by Annie Tvetenstrand ’16.
Note: Abby Holtzman ’16 is Co-Editor in Chief of The Daily Gazette and had no part in the production or editing of this article.