University of Maryland community members gathered at the Memorial Chapel on Thursday for Soil & Soul — an interfaith gardening and meditation event hosted by the chapel’s Interfaith UMD and SKY at UMD. 

A sprinkle of rain didn’t hinder the two-hour event from bringing together students, faculty and staff for a calming afternoon in the chapel’s Garden of Reflection and Remembrance. The event was split into stations, each with the purpose of bridging togetherness and mindfulness among the university community. 

“We want to give folks an opportunity to connect with nature in sort of a spiritual way, and also to have an opportunity to experience meditation outdoors and have a little bit of lunch too,” said Denise McHugh, the chapel’s manager. 

Soil & Soul is part of the chapel’s larger initiative to focus on interfaith activities and events, McHugh said. Chaplains collaborate with student groups each season, on top of those interfaith events that are hosted solely by the chapel.

“[Soil & Soul is] one of the first events that the chapel is doing this semester relating to interfaith, so we’re excited about that as well to get the season kicked off,” McHugh said.

The meditation segment of the event was sponsored by SKY at UMD — a club focused on improving the wellbeing of university students, staff and faculty through practical meditation techniques. Nealofar Madani, a public health graduate student, represented the club at the chapel.

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The meditation sessions were intended to take place in the Garden of Reflection and Remembrance, but unexpected rainfall caused a change of plans. Meditations were first hosted inside the chapel, with later sessions held outside.

Madani said being outdoors is crucial for her meditation, especially at an event like Soil & Soul, where nature-based activities are so deeply intertwined with the meditative aspects of the afternoon.

“It’s a way to connect with the Earth and other people and yourself, which I think is really important in today’s world,” Madami said. “We’re all so busy, we’re all pulled in so many different directions … having the meditation aspect with gardening is a great way to become more grounded.”

Attendees also had the opportunity to learn how to plant their own flowers and herbs, picking from a selection that included lavender, basil, thyme and dill. Logan Martin, a junior agricultural science and technology major who manages the chapel’s gardens for the campus arboretum, oversaw the planting station. Martin hoped the event would counteract the chilly February air.

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The event provided seeds, soil and potting material for guests to grow their gardening skills and their home gardens. Martin said that having something material to take home with allows attendees to have a reminder of their meditation experience long after their session has concluded.

The meditation focused on controlled breathing, beginning with introductory patterns and building up to more advanced techniques. The guided session focused on increasing attendees’ awareness of the surroundings and bodies, and bringing their mind into a calm, present moment.

For Madani, the interfaith aspect of the event is one of the Soil & Soul’s most important draws. 

“Meditation, I think, is a tool to bring together faiths and religions from all around the world because it brings you to a space where you are in touch with your humanity,” said Madani. “In that space, there’s only one.”