Notes from a Firesoul | Student healing during a time of crisis

Our Firesouls see first-hand the power nature can bring to help us heal, strengthen and unite — and we so relish these stories. Today, Firesoul Denise McHugh shares with us a quick snapshot of how a large state university uses nature to help students cope, process and learn (as in, via actual coursework) in and through nature — specifically, their Sacred Place — more specifically, during this pandemic. Enjoy!

The Garden of Reflection and Remembrance will be in place for ten years this October.  

The Garden, part of the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel, is within the Division of Student Affairs. The three wooden benches with journals tucked underneath are favorite places on campus for students to have deep conversation or quiet reflective time.

The labyrinth, the Garden’s centerpiece, is visited by many freshmen as part of their University 100 introductory class, by on-campus students during residence hall programs, by families during Maryland Day, and by students and staff taking part in meditation or interfaith offerings.

It has also been used as a setting for reflection during the Jewish High Holidays, as a unique spot for campus wedding engagements, and as the focal point for the annual Labyrinth Lights program in December.

Students, staff, faculty members, alumni, and College Park community members enjoy and take refuge in the Garden in every season. Thousands of entries penned in the waterproof journals over the years share candid stories of healing — individuals working to combat the anxieties, stresses and even suicidal thoughts so prevalent on college campuses today.

These stories were so striking, in fact, that we were moved to analyze them a few years ago. We wanted to understand more deeply what visitors were experiencing and sharing — and to better interpret how nature can help. If you’re curious to see what we found, explore The Gardened Heart, a journal project we completed in partnership with Nature Sacred. 

During today’s pandemic, visitors are finding much-needed solace in our Sacred Place at the Garden. A few recent entries underscore the ways students and others are finding renewal and footing in this time of uncertainty:

“Grateful for this day and for all those who visited before me.  The energy and spirit in this place is refreshing.  Peace and love to all those who arrive after me.” July 3, 2020

“If we have learned anything from graduating in this strange year, it is to cherish every moment you have. You never know when things could change.” July 15, 2020:

“I really miss my friends. I really miss being able to hug them.” August 2020 (specific date not given)

 As students return to campus this fall, we expect the Garden will continue to be a cherished spot for studying and processing.

Our next offering featuring the labyrinth itself is Tuesday, September 15 from 8-9 pm. “Late Night at the Labyrinth” will offer students an opportunity to walk a virtual labyrinth, meditate, and reflect. The program is being offered virtually, since programs are online the first weeks of the semester, given the pandemic. The offering is part of the student affairs series, “Terps after Dark”, campus programs that give students recreational and educational opportunities during the first six weeks of campus life!