What the meditative art of the Wellness Center taught me about self-care

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Looking at the Wellness Center’s calendar of mindfulness moments, I admit I was skeptical.

I am not, in any sense of the word, a person of art. My artistic career ended with my mastery of stick figures somewhere around third grade – I never learned to hold a pen properly, and so anything I try to draw usually ends up covered in thick. ink stains.

I was never the kind to take care of myself either. Even my coolest acquaintances, who regularly spend their free time doing things like meditation, bullet journals, and cathartic crochet, didn’t seem to have mindfulness moments on their radar. Most of the people I had spoken to were skeptical: Are Drum Circles and Tea Tastings Really a Panacea for Your Mental Health? (Okay, none of these people had actually been in a Moment of Mindfulness, but I just assumed they knew what they were talking about.)

Another thing about me, however: I am a self-confessed procrastinator. And meditative art, at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, was the perfect excuse to keep not preparing for my mid-sessions. So I roped up two friends who were also opposed to the study to come with me as moral support, and off we went.

Although I knew the Wellness Center existed in theory, I had never seen it in person until that evening. Room 144, hidden at the end of a quiet hallway, seemed like a strange place to hold an art class; its vinyl dance floor and walls lined with musical instruments implied a space designed for other purposes.

Other than the three of us, there were only a handful of people seated at the folding tables scattered throughout the studio, none of whom appeared to be undergraduates. It was as if we were trespassing into a space that was not ours, but it was too late to abandon ship. We sat down and picked up our crayons.

The instructor, reading aloud from a pre-printed instruction card, led our group through a guided meditation. Then she explained what we were supposed to do: the mandala, a concentric circle of shapes that has been used for millennia as a spiritual symbol (and, nowadays, it is found on a wall hanging in one in every three student dormitories. ).

We drew for the next hour in silence, except for the soothing music playing above our heads. At the end of the session, my mandala… didn’t exactly look like a mandala. Its half-finished designs were staggered by several inches, more like an IKEA plate that had fallen to the floor and glued haphazardly than an emblem of hope and healing. But it was mine. And I was strangely proud of it.

As the three of us walked back, mandalas in tow, through West Campus in the evening rain, we joked about the stress we had been through the past few days and the things we dreaded for the week ahead. Papers, problems, tests: the first week of the fall semester was in full swing, and we all had so much on our respective plates.

But as we said goodbye later, I realized: I was definitely feeling Well, for the first time in a long time. How long had it been since I had taken an active part of my guilt-free time to do nothing but relax and de-stress? Days? Weeks? I returned to my dorm, fueled by my work as if I was born to do it, passed out, slept nine wonderful hours, and passed my exam the next day.

There is one term that I think describes life at all the top universities, but especially life at Duke, in a depressing way: “duck syndrome”. If you embrace both halves of the work-hard-play hard lifestyle, as many Duke students do, you probably have a lot in common with the average duck: calm and effortless on the outside, but paddling furiously under the water. surface to keep your head above water. Between classes, jobs, and extracurricular commitments, work just keeps coming and going. Still, we hang out with our friends on Friday nights, smiling, pretending not to run on the fumes of the white Thursday night.

It’s a systemic, deep-rooted problem – of course, sitting down at a chart table once a week and doing art isn’t the solution to everyone, or even most problems. But it’s not really about art. It’s about the shared experience: getting together as students of Duke and declaring that we’re all stressed out, that it’s okay, and that making time to breathe every now and then isn’t. not a crime.

The point is, I have come out of converted meditative art. Come doodle with me at the wellness center next week – I promise your drawing skills will be less squeaky than mine.


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