This fall break, seven students decided to take a different approach to rest and relaxation. Joined by University Chaplain Craig Kocher and Katybeth Lee, assistant director of the Career Development Center, the group set out to learn how to quietly meditate and listen to the internal voice that gives direction and purpose in life.

The Office of the Chaplaincy’s one-day Fall Retreat opened with a session on meditation skills and how to make time for spirituality when a busy schedule often gets in the way. The tranquil gardens of Richmond Hill, an urban retreat center at a historic monastery, proved to be the perfect setting for learning how to rest.

“Our time is so in battle with all of the things surrounding us,” says Whitney Cavin, ’12. “We need to be reminded to just put it all away and go back to the fundamentals.”

But meditation didn’t come easily for the participants. While the concept of rest seems obvious, many found it difficult to tune out the noise of their world and focus on their internal voice. “The hardest thing was to quiet my thoughts,” says Kate Workman, ’14. “The stillness and sense of quietness within your mind and soul is such a challenge because our society is constantly screaming the opposite. I feel like I’m on, mentally and physically, all the time.”

“The idea of sitting down and telling yourself to be inspired was really funny to me,” says Shirisha Mudunuri, ’13. “For the first time in a long time, I was alone with my thoughts and didn’t have to worry about judgment — I could just be. I was surprised that as I sat there, I did start to feel inspired.”

Kocher agreed that learning to rest takes practice. “When we learn to be silent, we learn that there’s an interior conversation going on and you can learn a great deal about yourself by listening to your own interior life, rather than only listening to other voices outside of you. It’s not being lazy — it’s learning to rest in order to be renewed with more energy, more vibrancy and a greater sense of purpose.”

Finding purpose was exactly the next step in their spiritual renewal process. Lee posed thought-provoking questions to the students about how to define success, what are their natural talents, and where they see their future path. “The key task in college is defining a worthy dream,” she says. “Having that space and time to be quiet, to be alone, and to be reflective meant [the students] came in with a different mental state. It allowed them to ask much bigger questions.”

“As a freshman and a sophomore, the future doesn’t feel so close,” Mudunuri says. “By your junior year, you’re expected to know what you want. It was comforting to know that these students are just like me … we all wish we had the answers, but we don’t. But we can all move through it one step at a time together, instead of taking large leaps alone.”

After a day of answering questions, Kocher had just one left for the group in his closing workshop. “One way to develop a vibrant spiritual life is to ask a simple question at the end of every day: Over the course of this day, where did I experience the greatest joy, and the greatest emptiness?” he says. “Then over the course of time, we try to create more and more places where we experience joy and diminish those places where we feel empty.”

As the seven students made the short journey from Richmond Hill back to the Richmond campus, they felt a renewed sense of self and prepared to jump back into the hustle and bustle of college life. “I walked away feeling at peace about my future,” Cavin says. “There’s not really a right or a wrong — you just have to trust where your heart is leading you and stop long enough to listen.”