Taking Time to Relax at Smith College: A Challenge for Smithies

There is a certain intensity that comes with being a student at Smith College. Heavy workloads, constant deadlines and to-do lists, plus endless meetings for extracurricular activities can all take a toll on the average student. There is, however, an extra layer of intensity added by the passionate and ambitious student body. While it is inspiring to be surrounded by such dedicated students, noted for their intellectual rigor and achievements, there can be a downside.

When everyone else is constantly racing on overload to do the most—to get the best grades, to apply to the best internship, to take on as many leadership positions as possible—slowing down and relaxing takes a backseat. Even the society we live in fosters the need to always be on the move, plugged in, working more, striving more, constantly on. What’s a Smithie to do? Continue reading

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A Moment of Peace and Understanding through Turmoil: A Buddist Meditation Experience

Kristin Meditating

How many of you have participated in meditation? How many of you have attempted to meditate and found yourself struggling to silence the thoughts in your mind, or sit still for so much time?

After participating in Monday’s 5:00-6:00 p.m. Buddhist Meditation in CC 102, led by Sensei Ryumon Baldoquin, I find myself saying yes to both of these questions.

I have tried to meditate in the past, but could never quiet down the thoughts that kept buzzing around in my head, especially when I was stressed out. This past week, or month rather, was no exception. With a new school year, feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork as we all find ourselves at one point or another and personal turmoil as a writer who lost her confidence and other issues, I was an emotional mess who couldn’t find a moment of peace even when she tried.

But, that all began to change once I sat down and took time for this meditation. Continue reading

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The Justice, Identity and Social Change Initiative: Spiritual Life Meets Social Justice


It feels like the World is burning. This is what Sensei Ryumon Baldoquin, Community Religious Adviser, said at our first “Peace Meal,” a gathering for dialogue and discussion of difficult problems. Certainly in the last few weeks, with the earthquake in Nepal and the rise in media coverage of racially motivated violence, it feels as if the world is burning.

The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL) must be a force for quenching fires; because religious and spiritual life on a college campus is most relevant to the extent that it confronts global and social Issues head-on. The Justice, Identity and Social Change Initiative are the center’s formulation of its strategy for bringing together the internal, contemplative life of the spirit; and addressing the urgent, immediate problems of injustice that plague our world.

Religion is used as a weapon in complex global antagonism over resources and power, with unique intensity, and its spoils have been historically tragic. However, most religions, whose root comes from “ligare” to bind or hold together, began as earnest efforts to make meaning in the midst of chaos and suffering. The role of a religious institution then is not primarily to uphold the norms of society but to question them and speak truth to power. The JISC initiative is a way of promoting this vision on the smith campus.

Spirituality, often marginalized in the intellectual discourse about social problems, is defined by Wikipedia as “the praxis and process of personal transformation, either in accordance with traditional religious ideals, or, increasingly, oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth independently of any specific religious context.” The Justice, Identity and Social Change initiative is the forward motion of the incorporation of a “heart centered” approach to social justice into our discourse on campus and beyond.

Social Justice is defined as the extension of the full rights of society, both human and civil, equally to all groups of people. For Smith, the institution is a parallel of society. Social justice must be the work of religious and spiritual life in so far as a life of the spirit involves deep listening, reflection on our experiences in relationship to those of others, and who we are in the world in relationship to those around us. At the same time, “Justice, Identity and Social Change”, takes the word justice by itself to highlight what it really means when taken by itself without the “social” in front of it. The “conventional” way we think of justice is retributive. Focusing most solely on punishments meted out for crimes, both on the personal and the institutional level.Restorative justice, on the other hand, focuses on healing from the inside out-the rebuilding of communities and the reversal of the kind of social and economic conditions that nourished the soil in which injustices take place. As Smith students and faculty and staff work to eradicate oppressive systems at the intellectual and political level, religious and spiritual life has a unique role to play offering, supporting, and engaging in the kind of deep introspection, dialogue, and interpersonal relationships that undergird authentic and successfull; social action. Righteous anger and outrage are necessary ingredients of social change work. However, practices of moral reflection are like the leaven-our work cannot reach a nourishing fruition unless we add them.

“Identity” relates to how it is through an understanding of our own experience of social location, and all its complexities, that approach social change. Social identity is such an important part of understanding privilege and oppression and where we are located in the world we want to change. The three concepts in this initiative fit together-creating fairness in our own communities: justice allows us a deeper understanding of our identity, both social and spiritual, which is the place from which we can move toward social change. All social change comes from the deep internal work of the individuals doing it, and this work must be supported by our contemplative lives. A simple way to put this might be this quote from Gandhi that is driving our mission: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The JISC Advisory Board
The CRSL Advisory Board for Justice, Identity, and Social Change began working in earnest this semester, after members spent the fall convening and getting to know one another. Their charge has been to advise and collaborate with our Center especially on our “Justice, Identity, and Social Change” initiative. This board has worked closely with our center this semester to help us develop our initiative, which both places social justice work at the center of the mission of spiritual and religious life and seeks to extend an ever widening reach into areas of importance in students lives, community engagement, ethical reflection, social action, and personal reflection; whether or not the way students relate to those realms is overtly religious.

The mission statement in its current form of the board is as follows:

Help to advise the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life staff on our “Justice, Identity and Social Change” initiative whose goal is to draw upon an interfaith vision as a resource for progressive social change in our community and the wider world. It will help the Center advance this mission through dialogue, creative input, and participation in program review and planning.

The Advisory Board prizes cooperative work and seeks to garner human resources by collaborating with other student groups, and has worked with Al Iman, Students for justice in Palestine, the Interfaith Alliance, the Eco Reps, and several others. The work of the board is a kind of community organizing- it seeks to create coalitions and find common ground in the very richly diverse environment that is the Smith campus. Indeed, the initiative is designed to create spaces where dialogue can occur across difference and varying perspectives are used to enrich approaches to problems. This work can be interpersonally and relationally challenging, and board members were asked in their applications to reflect on their goring edges and commitment to leaning into discomfort; and to identity the times when their moral and ethical convictions might override their commitment of dialogue-both are important. Board members were also chosen for their varied involvements in diverse social issues and academic arenas. In addition to identifying as Moslem, agnostic, and Christian, board members are involved in the Study of Women and gender, sustainability, climate activism, and animal advocacy.

This semester the Advisory Board reflected on campus events like the lecture by Angela Davis, pressing social issues such as the racial justice and #black lives matter. Through the semester, the board helped plane and cosponsored a vigil each week on Wednesdays at noon. These vigils are a time of coming together at the intersection of social change, contemplative practice, and a non-sectarian interfaith milieu. The students helped organize a speak out/vigil in response to the shootings of Muslim students in North Carolina, an earth week vigil, and a vigil in response to the massacre in Garissa. The Board meets weekly and some members will be helping with programming for the new student orientation program at the CRSL in the fall. We are looking for applicants who are interested in serving for the 2015-2016 academic years, and information about the Board can be found here.

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Our Inescapable Network of Mutuality…

IMG_4132r-Posted by Matilda Rose Cantwell, Interfaith Fellow

Amidst the cacophony of all that I am reading, hearing, and taking in response to the verdict in the Ferguson Grand Jury deliberation,–which I am, like many of us, just barely beginning to sort through–I have little, if anything, different or new to say.

I  do keep thinking about this quote form the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr, ” We’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…” I have been wondering, what does it mean to be affected “directly” verses indirectly,” and how do we call into question these very notions, surrendering to this “inescapable network of mutuality” which most of us don’t fully experience  ourselves as part of, most of the time?

Our  criminal justice system in the United States is broken, or perhaps better said; flawed at its core. That it protects some and not others is abundantly clear.If you are a black or brown person living in the United States, particularly if  you are African-American  you are likely to be affected directly by it; while if you are white or pass as white,  you are more likely to be affected  indirectly.

We need to reckon with, face that horrifying reality head on, in order to really see the truth. To live as a black or brown-skinned person in the United States is to experience life differently than to experience life as a white skinned person. It is the responsibility  of every person who understands and experience themselves as white to acknowledge, excavate, and deeply mine that reality.Things will not change until white people recognize  the unearned advantages of our everyday life which make things like sending our children outside to play in public spaces different experiences than they are for black or brown people.

Yet there is a paradox, for at the very same time, if we take seriously King’s articulation–

What happened to Micheal Brown’s family happened to all of us…At this moment in time we have to live in the terrifying, narrow but endlessly deep cavern of space in between these two realities. Some are effected ‘directly” and some are effected ‘indirectly.” Yet, at the same time  If we live in the United States, whether or not we are citizens, we are part of this single garment of destiny, what effects one, effects all.

So I think we have to find a way to live, work, and organize, find a way to inhabit that liminal space where both realities are true, as if our lives depended on it. Because actually, they do.

Amidst all I am hearing and reading, one of the many things that struck me today was the reading at the 12:00 Vigil today, Wednesday November 26th, on the Smith College campus by a Smith American Studies professor  Micheal Thurston. It galvanized me for a moment and brought me some small measure of hope and I am sharing it here with his permission:

You have heard, beginning around 9:30 last night, and you will hear in the coming days, that we need to be calm, that we must cultivate quiet and engage civilly in deliberation and debate. I am here to say that I respectfully disagree. I am here to say “cry out.” And I am here to cry out too. There will be time for calm and quiet, for deliberation and debate, but this, I think, is not that time. To move too quickly toward those is to skip over an important moment, the moment of reckoning with a wound, the moment of acknowledging our pain in this episode, in this woeful history, of wounding. There will be time to move past anger and anguish, but only once we have fully inhabited anger and anguish, and so I am here to raise my voice for the raising of our voices.

 We are in and of an educational community, an institution of learning, and the history we preserve, the practices we cultivate, make room not only for the eloquence of argument but also for the inarticulate howl of pain, of grief, of rage. There is, early in the history of western literature, the figure of Philoctetes, wounded in war and abandoned by his mates, left only to howl, as Sophocles writes it, “Ai, Ai, Ai!” That syllable is also the one cried out by Apollo when his beloved Hyacinthus dies, and it is written in the flower the god crafts in his lover’s memory. There is in these stories transformation of pain into civic virtue, into emblems of love and poetry, but there is, before the transformation, the full and open and vulnerable and human cry, and we are taught by our traditions that we must hear that cry, that we must take in and even, sometimes, join that cry, that there is value in this recognition of the wound, and that, for progress to occur, we must meet and cry together in the space of the wound. And so we cry out, raising our voices with the voices of families and friends who cry out “Why?” With the voices of those who cry out “No!” With the voices of all who cry out, simply, inarticulately, wounded and angry and grieving.

So I invite us now, to cry out, inarticulately. Be with me for a moment in this place of not much new to say. Perhaps the thread that weaves together that garment of destiny that King talks about emerges from here–between silence and words, between despair and hope, in a cavern between two simultaneously true realities that are constitutive of life in the United States.






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What Do We Serve? Interfaith Awareness at Smith College

We are what we pay attention to. Sadly, most of the time we are not attending to the world or ourselves. Psychologists estimate we have sixty thousand to seventy thousand thoughts a day, 99 percent of which are more or less what we thought yesterday… -Mary Piper, Ph.D. , in an excerpt from her book, Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World

I slept and dreamt that life was joy

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy.

Rabindranath Tadore

We are in the midst of Interfaith Awareness Week at Smith College, sponsored by the Student Group, Spirituality in Action.

Interfaith Awareness Week Flyer!

Interfaith Awareness Week Flyer!

“Awareness” programs at Smith and beyond are usually designed to bring an issue or social identity to the fore that has been underrepresented in the mainstream. Last week we had the rich and exciting Islamic awareness week put on by Al-Iman. They offered many exciting and informative events, including an amazing program about Halal food. I was able to sample some traditional Middle Eastern Sweets, including Baklava. It seems to me that “awareness” raising is a component and the responsibility of being part of a vibrant, global, prestigious diverse liberal arts community.



Spirituality in Action sponsored the Rev. Ally Szabos to come and speak at the Campus Center on Monday. As she explained, interfaith is “a movement not a thing.” It is religious pluralism, but it isn’t only religious pluralism, it is connection.

I love the definition of pluralism that Diana Eck gives in her work on the pluralism project. Pluralism means fruitful engagement and interaction between various faith groups. It implies a basic grounding in foundational truths of each religious orientation. Interfaith, in contrast, implies, to varying degrees, some areas of agreement, overlap, and even at times synchronicity. This is further complicated by the fact that in academic circles the term ‘pluralism’ can apply to a religious adherent who may not believe all religious traditions are equal and lead to the same place, but draw spiritual substance from more than one tradition. (This definition is somewhat contradictory to how pluralism is defined in the common lexicon, but since I consider myself a religious pluralist I will try to write about this in an upcoming post!)

By eating the Baklava made by Al Iman I could, in a very visceral way, experience something that is part of the tradition of some Muslim students. Nothing can compare to engaging the senses to achieve the end of understanding—especially here at Smith where so much of what we do is cerebral.

So, how can we represent something as diverse and inherently vast as “interfaith?” What would we serve?

One way to do this would be to have a “world religions awareness week,” and try to get every religious group on campus to present their perspective and experience on their religious tradition, as Al Iman did. We could smell incense from a Hindu Puja. We could taste more Halal food, sample Hamantashen, and learn the traditions around them. We could hear Buddhist chants and learn about the concept of sacred sound.

But, at the same time, religions are not monoliths; far from it.

Scholars of world religions here and everywhere will always emphasize that there areJudaisms, IslamsChristainities, and so on. Many of us who are affiliated with a religion are quick; for obvious reasons; to qualify our membership lest we be misunderstood and associated with another sect from whom we consider ourselves diametrically opposed.

So maybe that is why instead of having a “world religions week”, Spirituality In Action is sponsoring Interfaith Awareness Week, which includes a variety of interactive events looking at social identity, spiritual practices, and intra-religious dialogue, on the one hand and service projects, on the other.

The first way to raise interfaith awareness is through relationships.

Having a relationship with someone who associates with and/or belongs to a religion that is different from our own, (and this is not to ignore the reality that a great many of consider ourselves in a category outside religious altogether, not in a category, or half in and half out of various categories) is the greatest predictor of both understanding and appreciation. The Baklava was yummy, and gave me a very sensory experience of a certain tradition. But having the privilege of knowing some of the women who put it together and shared it offered incomparable nourishment.

That is where the interfaith comes in– it is about the “inter”—the connections between the places where the boundaries of religion are themselves permeable. It is about meeting each other and learning about our unique human experiences which are simultaneously both incomparably different and undeniably common…

We know that know one person can never speak for a whole group and we know the dangers of trying. But sometimes that leads us to not ask any questions at all, and then we don’t learn and remain behind a curtain of polite but deleterious ignorance. Not asking question is one thing, but what if we shy away from relationship with that which we don’t understand and are afraid to ask about?

Through meaningful interaction– is a second way that interfaith knowledge happens.

Interfaith awareness is best raised through service. Research shows that the most fruitful interfaith dialogue takes place when people are working together for the common good. In other words, college students performing service together for something that elicits mutual passion does more for interfaith harmony than conversation itself. Some would say service work must be performed in order for dialogue to take place…

So perhaps there is not food that can be served at interfaith awareness—there is only service that can be performed.

So maybe interfaith awareness  is most about connections—and all the seemingly secular but deeply spiritual, random ways that they happen– through relationships and the meaningful interactions that occur therein. It is about serving each other and the world.

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April 7, 2014 · 7:11 pm

SWANS: Beyond Atheism, Agnosticism, and Religion to Spiritual Intersectionality

The first week in February was the United Nation’s “Interfaith Harmony Week”. While Smith will be commemorating this week later on in the semester, this is a good time to begin to talk about the what and why of “Interfaith Harmony.” Three Smith students, board members of the  Smith Spirituality In Action  Group have just returned from Atlanta where they attended the leadership institute of the Interfaith Youth Corps. The IFYC’s mission is to build religious pluralism, which they define as as respect for  peoples’ religious and non-religious identities which elicits mutually inspiring relationships and common action for the common good.


Eboo Patel, the organization’s founder says:

We live at a time when people of different faith backgrounds are interacting with greater frequency than ever before. We hear the stories of people who seek to make faith a barrier of division or a bomb of destruction all too often. Instead, we view religious and philosophical traditions as bridges of cooperation. We believe that American college students, supported by their campuses, can be the interfaith leaders needed to make religion a bridge and not a barrier.

Patel talks about his own journey in college and how eye opening it was for him when, after considering his ethnic, cultural, and social location, as well as his gender identity and sexual orientation; he was made aware of the  often hidden importance of religious identity. He notes a time when his father said to him, “are you reading the papers? You talk about race, class, and gender diversity, but you don’t talk about the kind that’s blowing the world up, religious diversity.

This point  speaks to the urgency of bringing the subject of religion out of the shadows of taboo, in order to reach towards deeper understanding and in light of global ills  such as climate change, the necessity of working toward the common good across intra and inter-religious lives.

The work the Smith’s Interfaith Council has been doing inspires and supports the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL)’s expanding mission, which is to encourage all forms of spiritual query and expression, not just those located when the confines of organized religion. After  participating in the IFYC leadership institute, the student board members  have expanded vision and honed skills which will inform spring events at the CRSL.

One of the most important goals of the Group for this semester is to reach out to what we at the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life call SWANS, students wary and/or neutral on the subject of religion (a term coined by Áine Sweetnam, 2013).

Why do we use this term, rather than atheist, or agnostic, or just spiritual?

Two reasons: first, I think that designating a larger category, which includes many of us, much of the time, even those of us who locate ourselves inside the boundaries of an organized religion—makes room for more of the intersectionality which is the reality of religious identity . Second, to rely on a category of “spiritual but not religious” leaves out the fact that whether we like it or not, and whether we are affiliated in any way with a religious organization, we all have a relationship to religion.

Part of the mission of the center for religious and spiritual life is to “live and work in a world where religion matters.” Thus whether or not we are religious, we have a relationship with religion—even if the relationship is a sense of vague distaste, dramatic marginalization, or even personal hurt. Religion, like race, class, and gender, is part of the world we live in. It is multifaceted and contains profound divergences along lines of culture, belief, class, ethnicity, ideology and countless other categories of difference, which at times seem impenetrable. This sense of diversity is so great that even within distinct religious denominations multiplicity is an important descriptor – perhaps we should be thinking in terms of Judisaims, or Christianities, or Islams, for example. At the same time, it cannot be denied there are some unifying factors between religions.. There are openings  for comparison, dialogue and cross fertilization. Some say religion is like a language—which implies that there are some common human experiences that are articulated by all faiths.

The students who attended the Interfaith Youth Corps Leadership Institute talked with, partnered, planned with students convinced about the importance of interfaith work. The notion of ‘interfaith’ often claims the interest of those who have been strongly identified with religion or those who feel their own identities are “mixed faith.” However, the students attending the Interfaith Youth Institute were pushed to expand the idea of interfaith work to include communication not just across lines of religious affiliations, but outside of religious affiliation, as well.

I think that this is of profound importance, for if we look back in history we see that social movements only flourished when people with different  social identities and different levels of social-political power joined forces. Moreover, as Martin Luther King said “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  In the ongoing struggle for racial equality, to site an example, we do not move forward except when those in the dominant group, have a racial identity. By the same token, religion is deep in the heart of civilization, and whether or not we are religious, it is a pervasive phenomenon that has reverberations everywhere.

Interfaith work is for everyone. Even-or maybe especially-waterfowl with long necks and a reputation for beauty, mystery, and loyalty.

…Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still….

-WB Yeats, The Wild SWANS  at Coole

Magness Lake Swans 015


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30 Poems In November: My Black Friends Laugh When I Tell Them I’m Black

(Yolandi Cruz)
I’m black!
… your skin is light

but I’m black!
… well your hair is too curly

but I grew up around all black people
… yeah but you got mad Spanish cousins and y’alls accent gets too thick

when y’all talk fast
Anyways what chu know about being black? What chu know about slavery
Your people didn’t go through Jim Crow or the middle passage
Martin Luther King wasn’t your king. Rosa Parks did not sit for you.

So what chu know about being black?
You don’t even smoke weed!
Or perm your hair
When’s the last time you got a weave?
If you can still get tan in the summer then you ain’t realllllyyyyy black
You said you put  sofrito in your ramen… Man you ain’t black!

How many of your family members are currently locked up?
If you can’t name at least five off the top of your head
you ain’t really black.

How many pins have you pinned to your
North Face bag saying R.I.P Trayvon Martin?
Did you even buy the hoodie with his name on it?
Oh, you’re definitely not black.
And no, you can’t call me a nigga
cause even though we grew up together you ain’t realllllly black

I used to braid my hair just like you
I used to perm my hair just like you
All my uncles are locked up just like yours
Man, I stopped wearing pins on my bag because I ran out of space

We all used to go to Brothers’ Market,
buy a cheese slice with a 25 cent tinny after school

So when did I stop being black?
or least when did I stop being black to you?

I know black is not  twerk it’s not perm
it’s not whitening cream it’s not violent
it’s not ignorant it’s not give up
Black is strong you taught me that
My skin is too light to be black but too tinted be white
to white America I am black and with justification,

my ancestors exploited through Spanish colonization,
my ancestors brought in the tres cascabeles
La Pinta, La Nina, y La Santa Maria
We are blood sisters because my ancestors’ blood and your ancestors’ blood were both spilled in the boats

My Taino empresses dragged out of their thrones
Your African queens out of the Congo

Tell me again how I’m not black?
How is it that I can be your girl but not your sister?
I’m not asking to be black
I’m asking to be loved
My skin may not be as dark as yours
But I still be queen like you

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