Keep Calm, Zen On

The news is enough to make you believe there is no God. Pundits spin poison, snow falls in March, and facts are “alternative.” The air of hope seems to have been let out of America's balloon with this great divide: those that still support Trump and those who don’t (and possibly never did). Post-election anxiety and depression is warranted. But the real question is: how do we cope? Spirituality may seem taboo for today’s youth, reminiscent of the exodus from Big Band Music to Rock n’ Roll in the 1950s and 1960s. The younger generations especially are agitated by traditionalism and antiquities (like those stricter religions that have no place for LGBTQA+ youth).

But whatever you believe in, finding a peaceful center can help reawaken hope, relaxation, and a clear mind. Harrison Blum, Emerson’s new Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and Campus Chaplain, is ready to revamp his department with a “both and approach,” meaning a less formal decision making process. In this way, his department is entirely receptive to what students want and are looking for. Generally, Blum wants to work on “deepening, reconnecting, re-inspiring students to their own faith-based traditions.”

But this isn’t forced attendance to CCD or its equivalents. Blum is not trying to convert anyone but, rather, has an honest intention of "making spirituality feel relevant to those that seek it, including fostering and supporting the spirituality of those that don't identify within a specific religious tradition."

Blum’s holistic lifestyle derives from humble beginnings. Growing up Jewish, Blum found interest in Buddhism from a World Religion course at his high school. From there, a “seed was planted,” as he puts it, leading to the study of religions in college and receiving a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity school. Previously, Blum was a preschool and kindergarten teacher, worked at Franciscan Children’s Hospital and Northeastern, and led “contemplative” and “ecstatic” dance experiences.

“I love people and I love engaging with people... chaplaincy is a beautiful way to do that,” Blum says. Chaplaincy is a non-denominational cleric that aids a secular institution, such as Emerson College. His forthcoming goals include completing a community art project synthesized from student responses to his survey. So far, there have been 400 responses to Blum’s spirituality survey, which will be transformed into a word cloud and brief video.

Based on the responses as a whole, Blum will evaluate other projects that will benefit the Emerson community. Some ideas floating around are: an interfaith retreat (most likely next Fall), an interfaith Spring hike, and an Earth Day meditation.

“Nature is nurturing,” Blum reflects, “Something that transcends labels.” If an interfaith retreat occurs this coming fall, it would involve renting a house with a big common space to share stories and faith. The objective would be, “interfaith connection ... not just ‘oh, that’s interesting,’ but learning about your faith experience actually deepens my reflection on my own.

Recently, Blum was commissioned to speak at a Harvard divinity panel called, “What is the Moral Responsibility of College Chaplains in the Age of a Trump Presidency?

It’s a complicated question, with a not-so-easy answer. Blum starts off by mentioning context, something we’re still struggling with even after the election results. Being from New England or living in a progressive city stunts perspective. Coal miners in the midwest have a different context than Emersonians do, and that’s survival. Jobs, unemployment, growth, and finances. Not to say one’s right and the other’s wrong. Context changes, but compassion remains. Politicians, Blum insists, should focus on going from “soundbites and slogans to stories, hopes, and fears.”

So, however you feel about spirituality, Blum’s office can be your place to find inner serenity. It’s located in L155, right next to the Cultural Center, with mindful meditations every Friday from 11:00-11:30 am. There’s also one-on-one spiritual counseling (by appointment) and a Reflection Room, with prayer rugs, ablution materials, and a Qibla sign for Muslim students (need to reserve on SpaceBook).This may not be everyone’s answer to coping. Bitterness and anger are easy reactions, but finding a sense of compassion and self will save us in the long run.

Photo Credit: Benjamin Froham