Students Meditate on Connection Between Spirituality and Health

By Aurélie Nishimwe ’26
Thoughout a recent three-day retreat for students in Jefferson, Maine, the fire in the large stone hearth was often burning, keeping away the March chill and drawing students by its side to curl up with cups of tea and chat.
The group at a fireside chat
The group having a fireside chat.

From March 9 to March 11, the first weekend of spring vacation, ten students participated in Bowdoin's inaugural Awakened Mind, Awakened Self workshop at Camp Wavus, a 100-year-old summer camp on Damariscotta Lake. They meditated, practiced Qigong, journaled, and had many fireside chats, often about the focus of the retreat—the relationship between spirituality and wellness.

For the first activity, on Saturday morning, students took turns tending to the fire while sharing a bit about themselves and why they were drawn to the opportunity, said Kate Nicholson, one of the retreat organizers. 

"Everyone took a turn describing an object they brought with them that carries significance for their spiritual journey thus far," she said. "Maybe it was the lull of the fireplace or the absence of phones, but the half-hour drive from campus quickly felt a world away."

Nicholson, who leads student wellness for Bowdoin, collaborated with Oliver Goodrich, director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, to offer Bowdoin's first workshop on spirituality and self-care.

The retreat was open to all and designed for students on different spiritual paths. Participants explored the potential health benefits of spiritual practice without focusing on particular religions or belief systems.

Inspired by Lisa Miller’s book The Awakened Brain: The New Quest for Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life, the retreat was funded by a seed grant from the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University. The institute offers funds to organizations interested in working on the intersection of mental health and spiritual well-being.

Goodrich said that Miller’s research brings a scientific lens to spirituality in a way that validates the potential benefits of spiritual practice. “I am grateful that her research opens up another entry point for students who are curious to explore spirituality and find greater well-being,” he said.

Reflecting on the collaboration with Nicholson, Goodrich underscored the expansive and inclusive nature of the retreat. “It's really exciting for the Rachel Lord Center to partner with Student Wellness with an offering like this that is so interdisciplinary in nature,” he said.

“I have a deep appreciation for the way that Bowdoin prioritizes holistic student well-being. I am even more impressed that our students are open to exploring these topics. I was truly amazed by the candor, curiosity, and courage our students showed over the course of the retreat as they explored concepts and practices like mindfulness, vulnerability, interconnectedness, altruism, and guided visualizations.”

After the program, participant Colleen Doucette ’24 mused, “I feel like it’s been three days that have felt like two years, and that’s because every moment has been immersive and full of the present and love. I feel like this is a good reminder that if I want to feel well all the time, I just have to make space to do nothing, be meditative, and retreat from every day stressors.”

Although the workshop’s focus was exploring the intersection of spirituality and wellness, it also provided an opportunity for student participants to gain insights from one another, which Nicholson said was an intentional part of the design.

“The beauty of a mini retreat is in the slowing down, the opportunity to tune inward, as well as in the discovery of community among other students who also care about these things," she said.

For Juliana Covey ’24, these were among her favorite times over the course of the three days. “I liked the moments when we were all just sitting around the dining table and chatting about life and having random conversations,” which she said weren’t specifically about related topics but nonetheless reflected what they were learning and trying to bring into their day-to-day lives.

After the success of the initiative, Goodrich and Nicholson hope to reapply for the Innovating Forward grant through Columbia Teachers’ College and offer the Awakened Mind, Awakened Self retreat again next year.