Staying Sane: Attend a Quaker Meeting - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Staying Sane: Attend a Quaker Meeting

Staying Sane: Attend a Quaker Meeting

By Libby Coleman


Because Earth Day is coming up!

By Libby Coleman

We all have our coping mechanisms, those hard-won ways of dealing with daily stress. In this series, we at OZY share our secrets to staying sane.

Sundays in college are made in one mold, all across the country. It is the day of rest. The day to recharge after Saturday night’s killing off brain cells and making bad choices.

But then, in my sophomore year of college, a couple of friends introduced me to a new routine on Sunday mornings, and it kept me far saner. Sundays, when we managed to wake up to our alarms (which wasn’t always), we hauled ourselves to Quaker meeting at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m., in a small New England town hall built for 100 people. In the winter, a fire crackled; in the spring, the grassy lawn offered the most perfect bench for two.

Read more in the Staying Sane series: Passage MeditationSteamy Soul Searching and Force Yourself to Move

For an hour, there were no phones, no test stress, no summer job applications. Instead, there was silence until one person was moved to speak. The only rule: After someone had spoken, you had to sit and think for a spell before standing up to add your two cents. You could think about nothing, or anything. After the Newtown mass shooting, the conversation turned to mental health and how to expand our concept of family; after the Boston Marathon bombing, it turned to mercy. And then there were the conscientious cooks: “Don’t forget,” one 60-year-old would always remind us, “Earth Day’s coming up in a few months! Be prepared!” Or the long-haired former hippie who would list what he’d bought at the grocery store that week.

I wasn’t really there for the religion, which I knew had something to do with having an inner light.

Even the ending of meetings was ceremonious, though always in a low-key way. One older member of the community would check his or her watch, realize the hour was up and stand. Then people my grandparents’, parents’ and cousins’ ages would turn in their chairs, making noise for the first time in an hour to say a hearty “Good morning” and shake hands with everyone in pews nearby. 

When I was growing up, my family never worshipped anything except my brother. My closest connection to Quakerism was an uncle who taught at a Quaker school and the oats that my mom bought. So I wasn’t really there for the religion, which I knew had something to do with having an inner light (I don’t know what size batteries are powering said light). I went to see community members whom I never got to see on campus. And I liked having a quiet moment to start my week, rather than following the typical college Sunday schedule: Wake up at 10:30 a.m., realize you fell asleep naked next to now-coagulated cheese pizza, snooze until 11:30 and then throw on a hoodie and eat the hangover cure that best suits your freshman-15 bod’s needs.

I would join my friends as they took part in their hangover cures, since meetings got out just in time. And then I would remind them that Earth Day was coming up in five months.


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