“Love for the planet begins with the love in my own heart.”
“Love for the planet begins with the love in my own heart.” We repeated this mantra silently to ourselves as we looked out at the lush patch of forest before us. The leaves were a vibrant green and their cover dense, allowing only hints of sunlight to peek through their canopy. We stood on the bridge by Olin Hall, where it was peaceful in the shade and in the cover of the trees. The sounds, the bustle, and the stress of campus faded with the songs of the birds, the beauty of the scenery, and the focus on our thoughts and breath.
We gathered there, a group of nine, as participants on a campus Mindful Walk led by Romina Rojas, undergraduate senior and Engagement Intern with the Office of Sustainability, and Molly Hutchison, Health Education Specialist with JHU Health Promotion and Well-Being.
The Mindful Walk program began in the spring of 2022 and has continued on a Friday of each month since, emerging as part of a larger effort to integrate “environmental well-being” into the eight elements of well-being, as developed by the Student Health and Well-Being Division. This recognition served as a significant milestone for campus sustainability and introduced an opportunity to explore the intersection of these two elements.
For Rojas, this convergence provided an opportunity to explore two passions: sustainability and healthcare. When starting this project, Rojas had recently completed an internship at the Joy Wellness Center in Baltimore, a non-profit healthcare facility focused on integrative and alternative medicine, including meditation. Influenced by the experience, Rojas felt that meditation could be used as a tool to benefit student well-being, and she saw no better setting to introduce it than the natural areas of campus.
“A huge motivation for hosting Mindful Walks outside was to get students out and enjoying our beautiful campus. Sometimes we don’t set time to do that because we are so busy.”
“Nature in itself is very powerful for well-being,” says Rojas. “A huge motivation for hosting Mindful Walks outside was to get students out and enjoying our beautiful campus. Sometimes we don’t set time to do that because we are so busy.”
Each Mindful Walk has a different theme: in the fall semester, they were based on the shifting of the seasons and transition into the academic year including“resetting” and “letting go”. Around Thanksgiving, it focused on gratitude, and this spring, prior to Earth Day, they celebrated the Earth and all that it provides.
The first stop— the gazebo in the sculpture garden— brought the first meditation, a belly breathing exercise. “The breath is fundamental to meditation and mindfulness, so we usually start off with belly breathing, which is a deeper and grounding form of breath,” says Rojas.
Rojas guided the group, allowing participants to plant their feet on the ground, rest their hands on their bellies, and focus on their breath. Following the stop at the gazebo, the group continued down San Martin Drive to the bridge by Olin Hall. Here, Hutchison led us in a sensory-focused meditation centered around gratitude for the natural setting and the Earth at large. The final meditation took place in the President’s Garden, under the shade of a tree. Hutchinson led the group in an exercise focused on labeling thoughts, reminding participants that thoughts cannot be controlled— rather observed, recognized, and labeled based on their meanings.
“In my personal experience, the connection to nature and Earth is very powerful. That plays a big role in mindfulness and can help to ground you.”
“The point of the Mindful Walk and the experience that people can expect is an introduction to mindfulness practice, education on mindfulness, and a connection with nature,” says Rojas. “In my personal experience, the connection to nature and Earth is very powerful. That plays a big role in mindfulness and can help to ground you.”
For Rojas, the Mindful Walk program has provided an avenue not only to pursue several passions, but it has provided an outlet for creativity, an opportunity to learn, and a meaningful way to engage with others. “I’m really proud of Mindful Walks,” says Rojas. “One of my favorite parts has been getting to share something that I’m passionate about with other students. Building a little form of community, and seeing those human interactions that took place because of this program, has been a special experience for me.”
Rojas will graduate this spring, but her impactful work, intention, and legacy will carry on.