Volunteering has always been an integral part of Zoe Letwin’s life. As far back as she can remember she has been involved with different organizations. It took some time before finding a cause she could call her own. It was a personal experience with anxiety that inspired her to channel her time and energy into mental health awareness and support.
The challenge of balancing full-time work as a curriculum support administrator for the undergraduate medical education program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, with full-time studies in the Master of Professional Education program hasn’t slowed her commitment to bringing awareness to mental health and providing individuals with the skills needed to alleviate their stress and anxiety.
Her passion for mental health and an empathetic understanding of what it’s like to manage anxiety inspired Letwin to start the initiative known as Mandala Mondays in July 2015 at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “I’ve been colouring mandalas for a couple of years now,” she explained. “It helped relieve my stress and anxiety while I was dealing with an illness, so I thought that if it worked for me it could help other people as well.”
Mandalas are intricate patterns that are used often in Eastern religions as a form of meditation. The circular pattern is said to represent the wholeness of the universe, as well as the interconnectedness of one’s self. In fact, famed psychologist Carl Jung often turned to drawing mandalas when he was facing difficult times in his life.
Mandala Mondays were created in conjunction with the School’s Staff Wellness Committee, specifically the mental health subcommittee, with the express purpose of providing a method for people to relieve their stress.
The event takes place at least one Monday each month and is offered to anyone from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry who would like to participate. Prints are provided as well as colouring instruments, but anyone can bring their own if they so desire. It’s a quiet, relaxing exercise that also serves as a social event where people from different programs can get together and network. It’s also a great opportunity for people to mingle on a more personal level.
And no, being an art major is not a prerequisite. “Some people worry about choosing the wrong colours, or not being symmetrical. But if you don’t like what you’ve done it’s fine to throw it away and start again,” Letwin clarified - “that’s the great part, there is no commitment or right or wrong. It’s just a quick, easy way to blow off some steam and forget about your problems for an hour.”
Letwin feels privileged to be associated with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and is grateful for being given this platform to spread her message. “I just want to continue doing this forever. I enjoy being a part of what we do at the School. It’s become my work family and community,” she said.