From overwhelmed to over-flowing: why we are looking for more
This week's blog post is written by University Chaplain, Revd Dr Harriet Harris.
We are living not only through a Covid19 pandemic but also a cultural epidemic of overwhelm. Socially, we are learning how to protect ourselves against the CV19, but we remain wholly exposed to the overwhelm! Our society admires busyness: we feel bad if we are not productive, we treat perfectionism as though it is a virtue, we feel like ‘imposters’ in our own territory, and we wear exhaustion almost as a badge of honour.
These behaviours are almost (and sometimes actually) killing us, and the irony is that more than ever we need energy and vision, not fatigue and stress, to respond to immense global challenges.
‘every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important!...You need to worry about this! And this!...” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important”’, Iain Thomas
So at the Chaplaincy we are launching a new programme, called ‘Abundant Academy’, to help us to thrive rather than deplete, and to find vitality and belonging instead of trying to ‘push-on-through’ and ‘do it all alone’.
Reports from the past two years show that 1 in 4 students experience mental health issues at university, and that university staff are also suffering an ‘epidemic of poor mental health’. Covid19 pandemic and lockdown have further affected the mental health of adults and young people, and responders are training for higher-than-usual levels of mental strain, trauma, uncertainty and loss.
The world is also waking up to racial injustice in deeper ways than before, the climate crisis goes unabated, and we are questioning old ways of doing things.
Why the Academy?
Universities are international, interdisciplinary leaders in teaching and research. They are therefore ideally placed for responding to immense challenges with insight, creativity and energy, so long as its people do not feel overcome. In order to respond effectively to our societal and global challenges, and to flourish at the same time, we need a topped-up well of intellectual, emotional and spiritual strength, and a community of support, reflection and collaboration.
In the Abundant Academy, we are drawing on an understanding shared across ancient religious and philosophical traditions, and taken up in contemporary research into flourishing organisations, that we can experience abundance in our lives – and therefore also in our studies and our work.
‘We have been going too fast for too long; we are waiting for our souls to catch up’, African story
‘I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly’, Jesus
‘too many people come to the fountain of life with a sieve instead of a tank car…a teaspoon instead of a steam shovel’, Ben Sweetland
Abundance is an organic image of growth, fruitfulness and harvesting. As organic beings, we may find ‘abundance’ a more resonant, communal, and uplifting concept than the industrial language of efficiency, productivity and output, which belong to mechanisation.
Even the notion of ‘work-life balance’ feels a little boxy, mechanic and shaky, and to be honest, like another thing we are told to achieve! Rather than pitching life and work opposite one another in precarious equilibrium, wouldn’t it feel better to move with genuine and deep-rooted ease and flow between all areas of our lives?
‘Abundance’ connotes a richness and vitality that goes beyond ‘sustainability’ or even ‘resilience’. We have abundance already within us, so the Abundant Academy is doing what all good education does: drawing out that which is within; that which waits to be discovered and developed. Living with the experience and anticipation of abundance helps us to find the spiritual and mental spaciousness that affords a sense of plenitude, generosity and possibility.
‘Living an abundant life…starts with a raise in consciousness and spreads from there’, Regina Brett
‘If you want to awaken all of humanity, awaken all of yourself’, Lao Tzu
‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive’, Irenaeus
‘Abundant Academy’ resources are designed to help us to move from depletion to replenishment, from frenzy to reflection, and from ‘over-thinking’ to realisation. Think of them not as ‘yet more stuff to do’, but as keys for opening up more time, energy and spaciousness in our lives. The core programme is offered separately in three different formats: to staff, to postgraduate and mature students, and to undergraduates.
To find out more, visit: https://www.ed.ac.uk/chaplaincy/abundant-academy
Or email Harriet at firstname.lastname@example.org