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Jess Deutsch: Quiet Wisdom for the Fall

Whether you are just establishing yourself on a new campus, or returning to a familiar one, fall brings new routines, new people, new expectations. The busy, anticipatory buzz can feel everything from invigorating to overwhelming.


This year, instead of witnessing fall rituals as a campus administrator, I was immersed in a silent retreat at a yoga center in the Berkshires. No big bins, no presidential promises, no swag overload for me. Just. Quiet.


Unplugging in the woods might seem so far removed as to be irrelevant for your college life. But, there is wisdom in silence. I know you won’t feel like you have enough time or space for a days-long silent retreat anytime soon. But small doses might prove supportive or sustaining this fall. Here are a few takeaways:


  1. Ask yourself a “vision question” once in a while. Maybe “what is your hope?”, “what inspires you?” or “what is the purpose of what you are doing today?.” Even if you can’t take a lot of time to elaborate on your answer when you have an early lift and back-to-back classes, even a momentary check-in can be grounding, and offer you the perspective that will help you make it through hard moments.

  2. Breathe, relax, and choose. Each of these words seems so simple. But really leaning in to being aware can make these tiny actions fully restorative. During long stretches of meditation, I was reminded to “stay close to yourself” and notice the voice in my head. What might shift if you speak more kindly to yourself in those quiet moments? Don’t ask yourself to move mountains—instead, try just a little more gentleness, and a little less judgment.

  3. Turn toward your feelings. The leader of my retreat told us about a sign she hangs on her mirror that says, “Right now, it’s like this.” I love the honesty, and even the hope that it implies, that whatever is in this moment, it isn’t forever, it might change, and you are capable of being with it. We don’t have to distract ourselves from what we feel, if we can just acknowledge the experiences and allow them to just be there. There is some peace in this way of seeing things.

  4. Choose love. I kept hearing the word “heartspace” and at first, I didn’t know what to make of it. But as we proceeded, when I put my hand on my heart and listened to my breath, some sort of circuit got completed (at least intermittently) and I felt the warmth of love. Seeing the people I love in my mind’s eye, being curious, I felt less alone.

  5. Allow trust and wisdom. Especially as young people and college students, you spend so much energy working so hard, trying so intensely to learn, grow, achieve… All of these words that were summed up by a concept I had never named, “efforting.” Of course, you need to put in work to do hard things, yes. But, can you also explore what happens, even for a few moments, when you soften a bit around the efforting? Can you allow yourself to just be? Just to remind yourself of this possibility?


I’ve been around college students and elite student-athletes enough to have a clear knowledge of all you are taking on. I know you cannot bliss your way through college.


You can, however, bundle up your private moments of retreat and use them to nourish your soul so that you are pouring from a full cup when asked and expected to pour into academic, athletic and social experiences.


This fall, I hope you can breathe, feel your feelings, choose love, and allow trust. I hope you can find moments to cultivate your own practice being still, being quiet. Eat food that feels good. Take a walk. Sit with a friend. Go to bed early.


I wish you a beautiful, meaningful journey. As members of campus communities, you will often be reminded of the resources that surround you, with explicit and implicit reminders of endless opportunities to do amazing things. Just remember, in the midst of all of it, sometimes it is necessary, and enough to just be. Right now, it’s like this…


Jess Deutsch, EdM, LSW is an advisor/consultant to students, student-athletes, and nonprofit organizations that focus on wellbeing and inclusion. She was until recently associate director, student-athlete services at Princeton University. Contact: jessica.d.deutsch@gmail.com

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