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We’re all well aware this has been a difficult year. As we approach the winter months, many of us may be feeling that the prospect of six more months of stress and uncertainty is too overwhelming to even think about. There are many different ways we can learn to recognise and safeguard our mental wellbeing over the next few months.

Our Chaplaincy team have built a new programme to help our community manage and protect their mental health and wellbeing. The Abundant Academy courses will run across two semesters and are open to all staff and students. While a small donation is needed for the core programme, there are alternative payment options available.

Here Revd Dr Harriet Harris, University Chaplain and Head of the Chaplaincy Service, explains a bit more about the programme.

We are living not only through a Covid-19 pandemic but also a cultural epidemic of overwhelm. Socially, we are learning how to protect ourselves against coronavirus, 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.

The University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy is launching the Abundant Academy because we want our students and staff to thrive rather than deplete; to find vitality and belonging instead of trying to push-on-through and do it all alone. We believe that our University community can create cultures of flourishing rather than of burnout, and can have the vitality and prescience to respond ingeniously to challenges. Abundant Academy courses and resources are designed to help us keep a topped-up well of intellectual, emotional and spiritual strength, and to grow a community of support, reflection and collaboration, out of which so much becomes possible.

Reports from the past two years show that one in four students experience mental health issues at university, and that university staff are also suffering an ‘epidemic of poor mental health’. The Covid-19 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 of old ways of doing things.

As international, interdisciplinary leaders in teaching and research, universities are ideally placed for responding to these challenges with insight, creativity and energy, so long as their people are not overcome. In order to respond effectively to our societal and global challenges, and to thrive at the same time, we need an informed and supportive framework for maintaining our mental wellbeing and all-round vitality, and to replenish continually our intellectual, emotional and spiritual strength.

The Abundant Academy ethos, resources and courses are created specifically to move us from depletion to replenishment, from frenzy to reflection, and from over-thinking to realisation. They reflect an understanding shared across ancient religious and philosophical traditions, and taken up in contemporary leadership research, that we can experience abundance in our lives, and therefore also in our studies and our work.

Why ‘Abundance’?

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.

Community and Belonging

The University seeks “to foster a welcoming community”, to which staff, students, alumni and friends feel proud to belong, and to be “a place of transformation and of self-improvement, driven to achieve benefit for individuals, communities, societies and our world.”

Abundant Academy courses and resources will create welcoming spaces, and communal support, for self-improvement, and personal and cultural transformation. They are designed to enhance our perspective, and train us in habits of replenishment, reflection and collaboration, so that we can move from overwhelm, freneticism, and feeling stuck, to refreshed and thoughtful momentum and fruitfulness.

Find out more information and sign up to the programme on the Chaplaincy website. Alternatively you can email h.harris@ed.ac.uk.

Illustrations: Geoffrey Baines, Thin|Silence