Molly Babbin, a 20-year-old student at Middlebury College in Vermont, spent January in Peru on a college internship. When she returned to school, she was engaged in a variety of clubs around her passion topic: Climate activism.
“My life was very active and very social. I’m a college student,” she said. “I was joining new groups. It really felt like there was this kind of forward trajectory meeting more people, building relationships.”
In March, that changed drastically when she, like college students around the country, had to abruptly leave campus and go home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the pandemic continued, she felt a mounting sense of helplessness, fueled by being cooped up at home, the social unrest in the country and the toll the coronavirus was taking on people’s health and economic well-being.
So in July, when she read about an in-person meditation retreat specifically targeted at people ages 18 to 30, she was intrigued.
The three-day yoga and meditation retreat, held at the Garrison Institute in Putnam County by a group called “Dharma Gates,” was the reset she needed.
“We were able to connect with each other in a way that you really can’t do over a computer screen,” said Babbin, who lives in Connecticut. “It really restored some energy in me after all the months of quarantine. And I think the other thing is the importance of going to another place when you’ve been kind of isolated in one place for five or so months.”
In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alarming level of pandemic-related psychological and behavioral distress across all segments of the U.S. population. Most alarming: One-fourth of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 said they had considered suicide in the past 30 days, the study found.
Aaron Stryker, a 24-year-old who co-founded Dharma Gates, which primarily works with college students, said he believes meditation can offer tools to young adults navigating difficult emotions.
“Actually, having people around who are happy, just being able to show up and be loving in circumstances that are difficult often helps other people remember how to do that,” he said. “You learn how to sort of hold space for other people’s pain and to actually heal communities.”
Interest on the rise for retreats
Jonathan Wiesner, who took over as the CEO of the Garrison Institute in January, said in the early months of quarantine the institute began offering “virtual sanctuary” programs like online mindfulness meditation sessions.
“We were expecting about 100 participants and we had a really rather limited Zoom room capacity for them,” said Wiesner, who previously served for 25 years on the board of the International Rescue Committee, one of the world’s leading humanitarian relief organizations. “But a thousand people signed up. It gave us an indication of what the need was from our community.”
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