Social activism is not usually the first thing to come to mind when discussing spirituality, but to Reverend Laura C. Engelken, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life at Mills, the two are mutually supportive; caring for the self empowers the self, enabling people to support others.
Every week on Tuesdays at 5:15 p.m., members of the Mills community meet in Engelken’s office in the Mills Chapel for Wellspring, a weekly event centered around providing a safe and inclusive space for members of the Mills community to reflect on their beliefs, callings, actions and lives.
“My intent was to create a space for folks to connect with one another and their truth,” said Engelken. “I’ve always been interested in how people have or create meaning. I really try to create a space where people can be whatever they want.”
Engelken said she hopes that Wellspring provides a space to reflect and gain some equanimity.
“Wellspring is a place where I can give myself some time to stop and just be instead of constantly rushing from a class to a meeting,” said one Mills student attending Wellspring.
Though practiced in many forms and for many reasons, meditation is an art of living in which focusing on breath and body position, enables an individual to quiet their mind and be present in the immediate world to really reflect on themselves.
“Everyone needs that moment of clarity. You notice when people who don’t meditate actually need it and how different their attitude would be if they did,” said Mills first-year Morgan, who did want her last name published. “Meditation is a tool or a resource to find peace in whatever hectic reality you’re in. Meditation allows me to be above the situation and think things through.”
The Wellspring meetings are not affiliated with any one faith or spiritual practice, and instead include works by poets, artists, and writers from diverse cultural and spiritual backgrounds.
“I think we can gain knowledge from others views, other faiths, other religions,” Engelken said. “It’s important to reflect and think about how the ethical impacts of our personal philosophy can be sources of liberation or oppression.”
Because, as Engelken sees it, oppression does not necessarily have to mean systematic or social oppression. Oppression can be internalized, with people inhibiting themselves.
“Since I feel that God created us all to live with worth and dignity,” Engelken said. “Then it is part of our life’s journey to figure out how to live with self-worth and dignity ourselves, to discover that person, and support one another.”
Members of the Mills College community participate in these gatherings for different reasons. Some wish to practice meditation more regularly, some need advice, others need sanctuary.
“Meditation feels calming, like you actually have control of your life, and like anything in that exact moment you have the ability to change it, however you want , good or bad,” Morgan said. “Once I figured out how to actually relax and center myself, [meditation] became a much more natural thing to do.”
At 12:15 p.m. on Thursdays in the Staff Lounge, adjacent to the Tea Shop, the Mills community has a second opportunity for reflective, proactive spiritual practice, known as passage meditation. Engelken is present and involved, but representatives from the Blue Mountain Center for Meditation lead the exercises as part of their community work.
Passage meditation helps train the mind to relax and focus on one thing, with external forces having less of an impact on a person’s concentration the more they ponder the impact of the text. Passage meditation could be thought of as the mental equivalent to the handling of prayer beads during prayer or a mantra, a way to occupy the mind and cultivate the ability to focus and be present.
Mills students may find meditation and the spiritual resources on campus beneficial in periods of feeling stressed and overworked, and are encouraged to develop and sustain their personal spiritual practices. Tuesdays and Thursdays, there is space to collect and be calm, and Engelken’s door is always open.