Pathways to Wellbeing Part 3 – Connecting Authentically

If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Dartmouth,

Numerous research studies across many fields, involving a number of different contexts and cultures, and occurring at different points in human history have agreed upon one conclusive finding. Humans are profoundly social in nature, and the quality of our relationships is one of the most significant contributors to our wellbeing.

This week we continue our exploration of our wellbeing pathways with our third component: Connecting Authentically. This is a pathway that is primarily concerned with your ability to form meaningful, mutually supportive relationships and to feel a sense of belonging. You may have noticed the power of relationships related to your own wellbeing. Feeling secure in your relationships can bolster your ability to face any other challenges you may be experiencing, but when relationships feel more tenuous, it can affect your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs even when things are otherwise going well.

The inclusion of authenticity in this pathway highlights the importance of allowing others to know and see you for who you really are. It is, of course, a vulnerable act to be seen and known, but in the context of a trustworthy relationship, it is also a way to experience true validation of your inherent value, and to offer that validation to others.

Forming and maintaining good relationships requires an investment of your time and attention, and the demands and busy-ness of a rigorous academic context can limit your availability. Making time in your life to enjoy your connections with others, even when you have too much on your plate, can give you a boost of energy for everything else that requires your attention. And being there for others and allowing others to be there for you is how we can collectively create a caring community at Dartmouth.

Connecting authentically can also involve more than relationships. It can refer to your ability to connect inwardly, with your own values and strengths, to guide your decisions and actions in the world. In this sense, it bridges the reflective nature of the first two pathways with the next pathway we’ll discuss: Acting Intentionally.

Ask Yourself (Reflective Questions)

  • Who have I connected with in an authentic manner? Who knows me, sees me for who I really am, and believes in my worth? What qualities have characterized these relationships, and what can I learn from them about the kind of relationships I want to have in the future?
  • Who am I closest to right now? Who would I like to have a closer relationship with, and where would I like a little more distance? What would it look like to take more ownership of my existing relationships?
  • How would I like to connect with others here at Dartmouth? How can I create opportunities to build these connections with others?

Try This (Wellbeing Practices)

Explore Further (Dartmouth Resources)

As you build more authentic connections in your life, we encourage you to reflect on the questions above – maybe by talking them through with someone you trust – and pick a practice to try over the next couple weeks. We’ll continue this exploration with our fourth pathway: Acting Intentionally in two weeks. Until next time…

Take care and be well,
Todd

Pathways to Wellbeing Part 2 – Engaging Mindfully

Life is available only in the present moment – Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Dartmouth,

Welcome to October! We are continuing our exploration of our wellbeing framework with our second pathway of Engaging Mindfully. This pathway involves two related but distinct concepts: engagement and mindfulness. The act of engaging with your life has to do with the way you show up, and can even get caught up in certain experiences. Research on this topic often uses the term flow to refer to the state of being engaged.

Flow experiences can happen in many domains of your life, and you’ve likely had more than one by now. It may have involved losing yourself in different play- or performance-based activities (e.g. sports, arts and crafts, writing, connecting with nature), interactions (e.g. deep conversations, guided meditations, listening to music, teaching or learning), or even in taking a more intentional approach to enhancing your wellbeing.

Flow experiences can help you become more aware of activities and outcomes that are deserving of your energy and time – those experiences that build you up and connect with who you are. It can also be an important element in steering you toward majors and careers that fit you well because of the inherent connection to your interests and values.

Mindfulness also has much to do with awareness and presence. It’s about paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, and non-judgmentally. Mindfulness is a skill that can be developed over time, and has been linked with a huge number of wellbeing outcomes. You have likely encountered mindfulness at some point in your life as well, and it is something that can continue to enrich your wellbeing as you grown in your ability to show up in this very particular way.

Cultivating your capacity to be fully present, here and now, for yourself and others can help you to be fully present in your academic, social, and professional areas of your life. Mindful engagement helps maximize every moment to its fullest potential, enables you become more accepting of yourself and others, and make choices consistent with the outcomes you most desire.

Ask Yourself (Reflective Questions)

  • What experiences have I engaged with so fully that I lost track of time and simply felt the flow of the present moment? What was it about these experiences that made this possible?
  • How often is my mind centered in the present moment, rather than being caught up in past events or focused on the future? What are the advantages or disadvantages of being past-, present-, or future-focused for me?
  • What situations cause me to react instinctively, rather then mindfully responding? How would things be different if I was able to be more intentional in these moments?

Try This (Wellbeing Practices)

Explore Further (Dartmouth Resources)

Whether you prefer journaling, talking with others, or just contemplating things on your own, we encourage you to make some time to reflect on the questions above and select one of the practices to try over the next couple weeks. In our next post, we’ll share more about our third pathway: Connecting Authentically. Until then…

Take care and be well,
Todd

Pathways to Wellbeing Part 1 – Cultivating Perspective

Because you are alive, everything is possible. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Dartmouth,

This week, we begin our exploration of our approach to wellbeing with the foundation of our framework: the pathway of cultivating perspective. The journey along this pathway involves developing your capacities for reflection and reframing. Reflection is a key tool for awareness that involves stepping back from your immediate experience and observing things non-judgmentally. It can help you to better understand your reactions, thoughts, and feelings related to different events.

Reframing is a refined reflective skill where you utilize that awareness to notice the story you are telling yourself about a particular event or situation. When that story is the not the most helpful for achieving your desired outcome, you can re-author the narrative that is shaping your experience.

Consider any challenge you may be facing (e.g. academics, relationships, adjusting to different transitions). Notice the story that accompanies that adversity. What do you tell yourself when things are not going as well as you had hoped? This pathway is often about moving from attributions about personal shortcomings (“I’m not ________ enough”) to explanations based on behaviors (“I could have done ________ differently”) in order to generate possibilities for realizing different outcomes in the future.

You can even cultivate a new perspective toward yourself. Rather than focusing on what you’re lacking, you can instead develop a greater appreciation for your strengths, and bring forth the best within yourself to tackle your challenges and drive your success.

Taking ownership of your perspective empowers you to become the primary author of your own story, and makes it possible for you claim agency over your own identities and how you make sense of the events and experiences that you encounter in life. Recognizing that you have a choice in how you respond to your circumstances and author the story of your life provides a strong foundation for wellbeing.

Ask Yourself (Reflective Questions)

  • How do I typically make sense of challenges or adversity that I encounter in life? Does this perspective limit me or empower me?
  • What would it look like to talk to myself in the same way I would talk to my best friend?
  • What is the story I’m currently telling myself about my life? Am I the hero of this story? Is it one I want to be living? Is there anything I’d like to change about it?

Try This (Wellbeing Practices)

Explore Further (Dartmouth Resources)

  • Use the many resources of the Academic Skills Center to become a better student and achieve your academic and professional goals.
  • Schedule a Wellness Check-In to discuss your strengths, share your story, and jump-start your journey toward creating the life you want to be living.

We encourage you to reflect on the questions above and select one of the practices to try over the next couple weeks. In our next post, we’ll explore our second pathway: Engaging Mindfully. Until then…

Take care and be well,
Todd

Pathways to Wellbeing – Overview

Dear Dartmouth,

WELCOME (BACK)!!!

Whether this is your first term of enrollment or you’re a seasoned Dartmouth student, our team at the Student Wellness Center (SWC) is grateful to have you as part of our ’20-’21 community. As everyone is acknowledging everywhere, this is a unique year in the life of the institution, and we want to understand and support you through the experiences that await you throughout this academic year.

This is a year marked by transitions and uncertainty. As you navigate the impact of those factors on your life, it can be easy to fall into some less-than-helpful beliefs about yourself. You might feel like an imposter, encounter new questions about your academic abilities or relationships, or feel that you need to prove yourself in some way in order to fit in. We can assure you that you are not alone. Many students are feeling the same thing. But know this:

You are here because you deserve to be here.

You belong at Dartmouth, and you can be successful here.

And you’re an important member of this community. You matter here.

Your time at Dartmouth may involve experiences that are challenging or even humbling, but those same moments can also be opportunities to discover who you want to be and what you’re capable of accomplishing. And because you are part of Dartmouth, you can leverage the tremendous resources of this institution to start creating the life you want to be living right now.

Whoever you are and wherever you may be, please know that in addition to the transitions and uncertainty, this is also a year of opportunity for you. In all the turmoil of 2020, we are reminded that change is a constant in the world. It’s a reminder that you’re not stuck, and that literally anything can (and sometimes does) happen. The capacities you cultivate to respond to the ever-changing contexts around you will help you develop awareness and strengths that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

Over the next term, we will be using this blog to share a framework of capacities that we believe can contribute to your wellbeing. We refer to this framework as the Pathways to Wellbeing. There are five components that make up our approach: Cultivating Perspective, Engaging Mindfully, Connecting Authentically, Acting Intentionally, and Living Meaningfully. Every other week (or so) we will dive in to one of the pathways, offer some questions to help you reflect on where you’re at along this pathway, invite you to try some practices that can help you further develop this capacity for yourself, and highlight some of the resources on campus that connect well with each area.

We look forward to introducing you to a deeper understanding of our wellbeing work, and learning more with you about the different dimensions of the human experience that connect with each of these pathways. We encourage you to place equal importance on both doing well and BEING well during your time as a student here, and look forward to meeting or deepening our relationship with you over the course of this year.

Take care and be well,
Todd

 

Strengths Spotlight: Joy & Playfulness

Dear Dartmouth,

At the Student Wellness Center, we are guided by a strengths-based perspective, framing all of our work from a positive, inclusive, and empowering stance. Explicitly focusing on strengths themselves as resources for supporting the wellbeing of individuals, organizations, and communities can be an empowering way for us to thrive. Therefore, we’ll be incorporating Strengths Spotlight posts as a regular feature on this blog.

In this first strengths-based post, we’ll introduce the concept of strengths and share ways that you can learn more about your particular strengths constellation. From there, we’ll talk about how you can use your strengths to enhance your wellbeing, and explore ways that they connect to our monthly theme of Joy and Playfulness. Let’s dive in!

Take a moment to reflect on the way that you typically think about yourself. Are your thoughts primarily oriented toward the things you have going for you, or the things that seem lacking – that you wish were somehow different.

This distinction can start to illuminate whether your tendency is to view yourself from more of a strengths-based or deficit-based perspective. The deficit perspective suggests that there are things about you that should be different – that need to be fixed or hidden from view. By contrast, a strengths-based perspective is grounded in a fundamental belief that you are enough, right now, just as you are. It can help you to be more aware of the capacities and values that you carry with you through life.

The most common argument I’ve heard in support of the deficit lens is that focusing on the parts of yourself that are not to your satisfaction or liking is a way to promote positive change. However, in practice, it seems like the opposite tends to be far more likely. People who beat themselves up over their own perceived shortcomings can find it much harder to notice and build upon what they’ve accomplished thus far. This often results in a challenging process that at best produces incremental change, and at worst can leave people feeling stuck.

Generally speaking, the adoption of a growth-oriented approach to the cultivation of human potential is a much more effective springboard to realizing desired outcomes. Employing your strengths is one way to catalyze this approach. The first step is to become aware of your particular strengths and explore how these strengths play out in our life. You can then begin to apply your strengths more strategically to help you accomplish your goals and otherwise produce good things for your life.

One useful tool for identifying your strengths is a free, online instrument called the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. The 24 strengths that make up this framework are considered universal, positive human capacities. In other words, they represent qualities that are valued in every culture (e.g. honesty, kindness, judgment) and exist in every person. The VIA is only designed to illustrate your strengths – NOT your weaknesses. In other words, you have all 24 strengths, so your results are more about the degree to which you connect with or value each of the strengths rather than a measure of whether you possess these strengths in the first place.

As a result of this approach, your results from the VIA Survey are presented as a subjective ranking of your strengths from 1-24 relative to your scores for each strength. In other words, your results compare your scores with one another (i.e. within yourself), they do NOT represent an objective ranking that compares your results to others who have taken the survey. If you’d like to try the VIA, you can use this link to take you to their site, where you’ll be asked to register so that you can continue to access your results at any point in time.

Once you have your results, it can be very helpful to reflect on your ranking. Typically, the strengths at the top of your list tend to be qualities that you embody without even thinking about it. They frequently feel natural or effortless to engage and require little intention. By contrast, strengths that are lower on the list might feel like they take a bit more effort and willpower to enact, but they are still very much strengths that you possess.

Some questions that might help you consider your ranking:

  • When you look at the top strengths on your list, does it seem like this section is a good representation of who you are in the world?
  • How do each of these strengths tend to show up in your life?
  • How would you describe each of your top strengths in one sentence?
  • Which strengths are most energizing to you? Which seem like they might be more draining than energizing?

There is much more to say about and do with strengths, but we’ll save those explorations for future blog posts. For now, let’s enhance your awareness of how to work with your strengths by making some connections between your results and our monthly theme of Joy and Playfulness!

To do this, we’re going to use a technique called a mindful pause. This is a simple practice that you can engage at any time which can help you develop greater awareness of your strengths.

In brief, the practice consists checking in with yourself by stopping whatever you’re doing, paying attention to your breath for 10-15 seconds, observing whatever may be happening for you in the moment, and then asking yourself the question:

“What strength(s) do I want or need to call forth right now?”

While this is a useful practice to engage at any point in time (much like the STOP Practice that my colleague LB frequently teaches), it is also something that can be targeted toward a particular desired experience. In this case, with joy and playfulness as our focus, it only takes a brief modification of the guiding question to something like:

“What strength(s) would help me be more open to joy and playfulness right now?”

If you’re new to strengths, you may want to try this while scanning the results of your strengths survey. Perhaps some of the strengths where there are obvious connections like humor or zest will stand out, but allowing yourself to be open to any of the strengths could result in some interesting surprises.

Maybe a strength like humility could contribute by helping you to let go of a desire to do something well, and free you up to enjoy an activity in the moment regardless of your “performance.” Perhaps you’ll find joy or playfulness in providing a random act of kindness for another person. Allowing yourself to feel a sense of wonder through the strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence can provide experiences of joy by helping you observe things that might otherwise pass you by. And perhaps the joy will come in the form of gratitude as you look back over your day and notice the small things that others did for you to make things slightly better.

Every strength has the capacity to support your wellbeing by bringing good things to your life. I hope that you give this approach a try and discover new opportunities for joy and playfulness through the cultivation of a strengths-based perspective.

Take care and be well,
Todd

Awakening to Joy

Liverpool FC PL Trophy Lift

Dear Dartmouth,

My father calls me his “melancholy one.” Looking back through family photos, it’s easy to see why. Even as a child, pictures of me reading or lost in thought look natural – almost as if they’re a true expression of my inner world. By contrast, pictures where I’m smiling look more forced and uncertain, as if I’m not quite sure how to show others I’m happy. This discrepancy is even more obvious in photos with my younger brother, the “happy one.” My RMF (resting melancholy face, or resting “meh” face for short) is all the more apparent next to his effortless smile that can light up any room.

So it’s been interesting (to say the least) for me to engage with the Student Wellness Center (SWC) theme of “Joy and Playfulness” over the past couple weeks. While my role at the SWC is focused on helping students cultivate positive human capacities for wellbeing, challenging myself to make space for direct experiences of joy and moments of play in my own life is altogether different. It has had a lot to do with “practicing what I preach.”

At the SWC, we teach a process of reflection, connection, intention, and action as a way to enhance wellbeing. After several weeks of placing my attention on joy and playfulness, I have found myself reflecting on where and how these elements are present in my life and looking for clues as to their source. As I’ve become more aware of how I experience joy, it has encouraged me to connect more fully with the things that produce that feeling. And as I have realized that these experiences bring good things to my life and the lives of those around me, it has made it more compelling to be intentional about making space for joy and time for playful action.

Here are a couple examples of where joy has been showing up in my life so far:

  1. There is no sport I enjoy watching more than soccer. There is no league or cup I follow more avidly than the English Premier League. And there’s no club, team, or side I am more passionate about than Liverpool Football Club (LFC). I became a fan in 2015 and have been astounded at how my commitment to supporting this team has grown over the past 5 years. And this year, LFC had a season to remember, culminating with them lifting the championship trophy for the first time in 30 years.This year, the Premier League season was extended due to a break caused by the global pandemic. During the early challenges of navigating the pandemic, one consistent ray of sunshine and hope in my life came from a series of team training sessions that LFC recorded on Zoom and shared on their  social media. While these interactions between players and coaches would  never have been visible to the public under normal circumstances, this year the LFC global community were treated to recordings of team rituals and routines. I learned that when players have a birthday, the other team members take turns singing “Happy Birthday” in their primary languages as a way to bond and build respect for the diverse cultures that make up the team. They were also very skilled at making jokes about changing hairstyles in the absence of access to barbershops. And I was moved to read about Jordan Henderson, the team captain, leading a league-wide effort to funnel financial support from players and teams to their local communities. In other words, I connected, in ways I never had before, with the players and managers as PEOPLE.When the league competition resumed (in empty stadiums for the sake of safety), I rediscovered the joy of watching this team do what they do best: playing soccer. I realized I was less interested in the outcome of the matches, and more grateful to see the simple, yet extraordinary skills on display. So when they lifted the cup to celebrate their accomplishments, my happiness was more FOR each of the players and the fact that they had been able to achieve this together, in their own inimitable style.
  1. If you’ve never heard the laughter of a 2 year old, I highly recommend you check it out. My daughter, Josie has a laugh that lights up everything that is good in me, and I’ve noticed that as I’ve set my sights on joy and playfulness, it has freed me up to simply be with her and enjoy her for who she is, right now. One recent morning, I had the thought that we should try hiking together. I spent time packing snacks, lathering sunscreen on every exposed patch of her skin, choosing shoes and filling water bottles, and wondering whether any of this was worth the effort.The second we made it to the trailhead, she took off like a shot, smiling and laughing as she ran through the woods. Fortunately, she has short legs, so it’s not too tough to keep up, But even so, I felt an ever-growing sense of wonder as she went further and further on the trail on her own power. Finally, after about a mile of walking (with one very important stop to “touch the water” in the nearby river) she finally said, “Papa carry you” so I tossed her up on my shoulders, where she then amused herself by drumming complex percussion meters on my head and trying to pull out my hair in clumps.

    Time outdoors has also reconnected me with my love of nature and my ability to find beauty in the natural order of things. We have been exploring the lakes of Vermont and New Hampshire as a family this summer, and this has reminded me that there is a wholly different world that only opens up to you when you make the choice to relax and let go. Lakes have been called the ‘eyes of the world’ and when swim out and float on your back, you can see things from the perspective of those eyes. In the stillness of the water, I have watched osprey and dragonflies moving through the trees and the grasses along the lakeshore. And even though there have been other people around, during these quiet moments it has felt as though I was on my own, at peace in a world without troubles. Even if this feeling is only for a moment, it offers a perspective that bring a feeling of contentment that is otherwise challenging to find these days.

While these experiences do not represent the sum total of the joy and playfulness that has made up my past month, they each represent a moments of clarity that have helped me to reflect on and better understand what brings me joy.

For starters, I think that joy is closely connected to wonder for me. Joy involves giving my attention to something, in the present moment. It has elements of curiosity and mindfulness, but also something like awe. Joy comes when I’m able to let go of a need to understand something and simply be with it, allowing what I don’t understand to make the experience transcendent rather than frustrating. It also comes through relationship. Joy can be as present for me through the joy of others as it can through my own experience, and sometimes it’s not an either/or – it’s a shared bliss that enriches everyone involved.

I’m learning that joy is more accessible when I am intentional about noticing it. Joy can get bulldozed by busy-ness or marginalized out by the story we tell ourselves about our lives. Making space in the narrative of my life for joy made a difference in my ability to be aware of the moments when it showed up and offered itself to me. And while it can be helpful for me to take some initiative, I’m not sure joy can ultimately be planned for or executed successfully. Instead, I’ve come to believe that we can create opportunities for joy, and from there, our work is simply to be present, noticing when it appears and following where it leads.

These take-aways are my own. I do not think of them as a prescriptive checklist. Instead, I’ve come to think of joy as something that is distinctive for each of us. You may not care about soccer, kids, or nature, but there may be other experiences that engage your appreciation for beauty and excellence in a way that awakens your own sense of wonder and joy. Whether this feels intuitive for you or not, I challenge you to keep being reflective, connecting with sources of joy, and finding ways to take intentional action toward making more space for those sources in your life.

Joy may not be the end-all, be-all reason for existence. But it’s a wonderful reminder of what makes life worth living.

Wishing you abundant joy, wherever and however it appears in your life,
Todd

The SWC Wellbeing Theme for July and August: Joy & Playfulness

Puzzle spelling "Joy"

Dear Dartmouth,

The rhythm of our work as a wellbeing team is shaped by a progression through a series of monthly themes that we have developed to connect with different times of the year. As we roll into the heart of the summer, the thematic lens for our work is shifting to focus on a new theme:

Joy and Playfulness

I’m curious about your reaction to those words. What thoughts and feelings do they stir in you at this moment in time?

Take a moment to check in with yourself and see what is happening for you right now.

I can say that for our team, our initial discussion of whether to stick with this topic was one of marked uncertainty. Given the shared experiences of biological (COVID-19) and social (racism) disease that continue to impact each of our lives, we found ourselves acknowledging a number of different questions:

  • Is joy an accessible emotion for all members of our community right now?
  • Is it appropriate to encourage joy and playfulness in the face of such serious threats to our wellbeing?
  • How can these capacities enhance the wellbeing of the people who make up our community at this particular moment in time?

Perhaps these questions will inspire some reflection and dialogue for you as well during the months of July and August. Our hope is that in exploring ways to integrate joy and playfulness across various dimensions of our lives, each of us might be lifted up in a way that can help to sustain us in all of the challenges we face – both individually and collectively. My colleague LB, who first envisioned our thematic framework, adapted our initial description of these topics for 2020:

“As a theme, ‘joy and playfulness’ is all about opening to the possibility of light-heartedness and delight, even if only for a moment or two.  For many, the very thought of feeling anything like joy right now might seem near impossible, but we invite you to observe where there may be cracks in your day to let the light in: to bask in a favorite activity, to savor a moment ordinarily taken for granted, to allow yourself to be silly, and to recognize that it’s both okay and even helpful to feel joy – perhaps especially amidst hard times.”

Over the next several months, we’ll delve into these topics in a variety of ways. We’ll consider ways to access joy in the face of competing emotions and discuss the connections between joy, meaning, playfulness, and flow. We’ll look at strengths and values, and how they inform and are informed by experiences of joy. We’ll look at examples of leaders who have drawn upon both joy and playfulness to help them shoulder the heavy burdens of confronting the challenges of their times. We’ll share ideas and resources, skills and practices that can help you to access these states and emotions. And with your help, perhaps we can collectively lift one another’s spirits as we struggle together for a better world.

As we embark on this journey, here is some food for thought from Ingrid Fetell Lee:

“Joy replenishes our energy so that we can be more effective in our defense of what really matters. But more than that, joy also reminds us what we’re fighting for. It gives us glimpses of what makes life worth living. If we only have anger, then the risk is that we’re defending the boundaries of a hollow country, and even if we win, we may return from battle to a place irreparably scarred by perpetual war. But if we make space for joy alongside our fury, then we are cultivating a deep well of power.”

Take a moment right now to reconnect with experiences of joy from your past and your present. What were these experiences like? Who has been present in those moments of joy? What elements of those moments do you carry with you? How have they empowered you? And how do they remind you, even now, of what makes life worth living?

Wishing you joy, today and always,
Todd

Remaking Life

https://woofandwild.com/collections/fundraising-products

Dear Dartmouth,

On March 17, we all received an email from the Provost announcing that Spring Term classes would be conducted remotely for the full term. Three months later, this term – so unanticipated and singular in nature – has come to a close. Wherever you are, it is likely that by now your papers and projects have been submitted, your tests have been taken, and your grades are in the books.

You may find yourself in a liminal space now – transitioning yet again. It is natural, in moments of change, to alternate between perspectives of looking back and looking ahead. In looking back, we try to make sense of what has happened. In looking ahead, we scan the horizon for new opportunities to apply what we’ve learned about ourselves and the world around us, so that we can begin to author the next chapter of our story.

However, this transition between terms might feel different than many others. The past three months have been marked by profound loss on many levels: individually, institutionally, nationally, and globally. And wherever you are, it is likely that your life has been altered by loss in some way. For some of you, perhaps, in many ways. With loss comes grieving.

The writer Anne Roiphe says,
“There are two parts to grief. The first is loss. The second is remaking life.”

Grief, too, is a liminal space. We envision the future a particular way, and when we experience loss, it demands a re-envisioning of what life will look like in the absence of what is no longer there. We look back at what was and what we thought would be. We look ahead and consider what might be. We try to make sense and meaning of what can often feel quite senseless and meaningless. And ultimately, we begin a process of remaking life.

Remaking life can be a difficult concept to embrace, particularly given that we’re still in the midst of so much turmoil, ongoing loss, and, well, grieving. But that’s how grief works. It is neither linear nor sequential. Even as we endure loss and respond with different forms of action, we are contributing to the process of remaking the world as we know it.

Remaking life is never about going back to what was. Instead, grief is a midwife to whatever life will look like on the other side of this transition. So the choices we make and the actions we take right now have a direct bearing on both what our own lives will look like in the future as well as the lives of others, and the world we share together.

It may be helpful to know that we are not alone in this experience. In fact, the universality of loss and grief can serve as a point of connection. In a 1963 article addressing racial justice and trauma in the United States, James Baldwin wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive.”

As you navigate your own grief, I hope that you can find opportunities for connection. Whoever you are, and wherever you are, there are people who care about you and a support system at Dartmouth that is here for you. Our team at the SWC is part of this caring community. If you would like our support, we’d be honored to come alongside you in facing whatever transitions you may be navigating, and helping you determine how you want to remake life as you move forward into what will be.

As a final thought, these times of deep suffering have the ability to shape us into the person and people we are going to be. For all of us, remaking life is likely to involve both individual and societal dimensions. If there is hope in this moment, it may be found in the idea that real change – both individually and collectively – has perhaps never been more possible. It would be a missed opportunity to not consider how we will remake ourselves, our organizations, and our institutions in a way that will create a world that is better for all.

One of the reflections we incorporated into our monthly theme of Renewal and Growth was taken from a recent ‘episode’ of Some Good News, during which Oprah Winfrey responds to a request to “think about a time in your life that felt like a low point in the moment but actually changed everything for you.” She tells a story about how an early career promotion to local news anchor was undermined by her co-workers:

I get demoted. I am humiliated. I am embarrassed. Instead of firing me, they put me on the local talk show. And the day I did my first talk show, I felt like I had come home to myself.”

One of the things that strikes me most about Oprah’s response is how terrible it must have been for her to endure the experience she describes. In that moment, she must have thought about how all of the work she had invested in creating this opportunity for herself may have been for nothing. And now, recounting this story, she instead perceives this experience as the pivotal moment that created the possibility for her to become the person she is today.

We cannot yet see how the story we are living in this present moment will end. What we can do is look for the experiences that create a feeling of “coming home to ourselves.” And we can author our stories as we move forward, relying on our strengths to adapt to circumstances that may be beyond our control. To return to James Baldwin one more time, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

As we face these challenges and transitions, we are, in fact, remaking life as we know it for ourselves and our world.

Wellbeing in Times of Crisis

George Floyd mural

Dear Dartmouth,

For the past eight years, I have worked in the field of college student health and wellness promotion. During that time, wellness and wellbeing have become a significant part of my professional identity. I now work in the Dartmouth SWC, where our mission is empowering our community to thrive. Over my time in this field, these themes have come to permeate everything I do. Even my email signature has evolved to the phrase: “Take care and be well.” This past week, however, has me wondering…

I know you’re likely aware of the circumstances that make up our current context, so I’ll keep this brief. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic that is causing immense destruction to the economy and health of our communities and our national climate is one of profound division, mistrust, opposition and hatred. While a select few continue to prosper, a vast number of people are suffering as the long-standing, insidious influence of institutionalized racism has become more prominent and visible in the impact of these circumstances on BIPOC members of our community.

Rates of infection from coronavirus have disproportionately impacted historically disadvantaged groups. If Native American Tribal Nations were to be counted as equivalent to US states, the five territories with the highest rates of coronavirus infection per capita would all be tribal nations, with New York dropping from 1st to 6th. And while Black Americans represent only about 13% of the population in states that have reported racial and ethnic demographic information, they account for about 34% of total Covid-19 deaths in those states.

On top of the numerous factors that have created these disparities in the impact of the pandemic, acts of overt aggression toward members of different racial and ethnic groups have been steadily on the rise. 32 percent of Americans have witnessed acts of blame toward people of Asian descent for the coronavirus epidemic. And we are collectively bearing witness to racist acts of violence toward Black Americans that have resulted in the tragic loss of lives.

Breonna Taylor.

Ahmaud Arbery.

George Floyd.

David McAtee.

As a nation, we are now literally and figuratively aflame. And we undoubtedly face further struggles ahead.

As a wellness center, the pain and fear of these struggles calls to us, demanding a response. How do we empower our community to thrive in times of such loss, grief, and anger? How can we help you, our student body, “be well” right now?

I think the most honest response I have to offer is this: maybe now is not a time to be well.

People are, quite literally, dying. Under the best of circumstances, the global pandemic would be more than enough for anyone to bear. Instead, it is now only the backdrop for the outrage and heartbreak that are sweeping our nation. The ability to thrive in the face of such suffering is likely a better measure of privilege than it is any marker of wellbeing.

Perhaps we need a better question. Instead of wondering how to be well at this time, we can instead ask how we can help create a world where wellbeing becomes a viable reality for everyone. What can we, as a Dartmouth community, do with our collective power and influence, our voice, our creative and critical thinking, and our desire to provide leadership for the world? And how will we demonstrate that we are a caring community – one in which we take care of ourselves and look out for the needs of others – especially those among us whose lives have been most profoundly impacted?

The practices and skills that foster wellbeing can be of value in any context or circumstance. They may even be particularly relevant right now, as we face seemingly insurmountable challenges. In these moments, we can strive to cultivate a perspective grounded in a persistent hope for positive change and a determination to work toward that outcome. We can engage mindfully and connect authentically with others, especially those whose experience differs from our own. And ultimately, we can learn to act in accordance with the intentions that guide our lives. This may involve leaning into deep pain and discomfort, but this too is consistent with the practices of wellbeing and can ultimately yield greater clarity, resiliency, and purpose.

Our monthly theme for June is Renewal and Growth. Prior to all the events of the past weeks, our staff member, Laura Beth (LB) White wrote the following description for this theme: Renewal and Growth is all about reflecting on past and current challenges and observing how what may have felt or feels like a setback or a time of deep suffering actually has the potential to shape and evolve us into the person we are going to be. It is an opportunity to recognize that we have the power to choose what story we want to be part of and what story we want to be telling.

In this time of deep suffering, we encourage you to take time to reflect. It may be helpful to connect with others who can give you space to talk out your concerns, feelings, and experiences in a way that inspires meaningful action. We can seek ways to support the wellbeing of all individuals, particularly those for whom it has been deprived for so long, and we can work together collectively to change our community and our world in positive ways. What matters most right now is that we collectively take a stand, and stand together in solidarity.

To all BIPOC students, we see you and we honor you. Black lives matter. You matter. We commit to continually educating ourselves on ways that we can better support the wellbeing of every student, particularly those who identify as BIPOC in our community. We stand with you and offer our support to the best of our ability.

To students engaging in activism – participating in and even leading change – we see you too. Please take care of yourselves and allow yourself to be cared for as well, even as you advocate for the needs of others. We are here for you as well.

To students who are feeling uncertainty about how to make sense of the challenges, struggles and events of our world, we see you too. If there are ways that we can help you ground yourself in your values in a way that inspires action, we are here.

We are currently compiling lists of resources for students that we will post and share as soon as possible. Our own virtual resources are available for you, and include wellbeing tips, as well as a variety of different meditation and yoga recordings that you can stream. If it would be helpful to talk out your thoughts, feelings and experiences with a non-judgmental trained listener our staff is available for wellness check-ins via phone or Zoom as well. Please reach out if you’d like support!

Take care, and wherever possible, be well.

Welcome to our SWC Blog!

Dear Dartmouth,

Welcome to our blog of reflections on wellbeing from the Student Wellness Center. Every week or two, we’ll be bringing you our thoughts on different topics connected to your wellbeing. Over time, we hope to feature a variety of voices and perspectives, as we know that there is no, one, student experience at Dartmouth. In addition, we hope to be as responsive as possible to the events and issues that intersect with your interests, questions and concerns. Learn more about us on our main website, and follow us on Instagram at @dartmouthswc

If you have questions or topics that are on your mind or in your heart that you’d like us to address, shoot us an email at Student.Wellness.Center@Dartmouth.edu. We’ll respond to you directly and use your ideas for future posts!