Meditations for Lent: Week 1 Know Thy Self

Meditations for Lent: Week 1 Know Thy Self

This week, we are getting in the rhythm of routine. How you do this is up to you. Use this time to reflect on yourself, your needs, what you need to work on in your life. Or practice just sitting still, clearing your mind, relaxing. Think about what type of activities and meditations help you center yourself. What is your center?

Knowing yourself is not something that you can just sit down for a few moments and decide. Your being, your perspective, is constantly shifting as you experience new things in life. That is why it is good practice to meditate and self-reflect. Recenter your beliefs, goals, and ambitions so that you can move ahead on a clearer path.

Views on Meditation as an American and a Christian

The Concept of Rest

In American culture, there is an emphasis on productivity and efficiency. Rates of depression, obesity, anxiety, and other afflictions are on the rise because people no longer take the time to rest and take care of themselves personally or within community.

Christianity supports rest on the Sabbath, traditionally Sundays where one does not work and spends the day going to church, praying, and spending time with family. Genesis 2:2-3 “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Even God needs to rest. And He calls this rest “holy” or “sacred.” Americans often perceive rest as laziness or weakness, but in moderation, rest is a sacred practice—a thing of beauty.

There have been increasing shifts in American culture to the generalized “self care” which could be anything from regular exercise to binge-watching TV shows. While it is important to take time to do things you enjoy, doing any random activity isn’t always meditation. For meditation, you must be actively engaged with your mind and your surroundings. It is a practice in stillness, focus, and repetition. Is watching an hour of TV before bed each night going to help reduce your stress? Probably not. It might actually increase stress because of the effects of screen lighting or because of the type of program you’re watching. Meditation goes one step further than self care. It is not just for health; it is a training of the mind and cleansing of the soul.

Meditation vs Christianity

The term “meditation” is often affiliated with Buddhism as a way to reach enlightenment or nirvana. Therefore, some conservative Christians are skeptical of meditation, sometimes equating it to a pagan ritual and sin. However, there are many forms of meditation. The practice in general is a way of recentering and grounding oneself. Christianity, itself, commonly practices meditations such as a variety of prayers, lectio divina, devotional readings, praise songs, and others.

Whether or not your meditation could be considered “sinful” depends on where your mind is focusing. There are a few Buddhist and pagan meditations that I would not recommend for Christians simply because they center at places where a Christian would not center and thus are likely to make a Christian feel out-of-balance. 

Pagan Meditation

Some earth-based pagan rituals talk through imagining yourself as a tree or wave, which is fine in a general sense especially if you are considering that as a Christian you are God’s creation and therefore connected to all of God’s creation—the trees, ocean, air, and animals. But if the meditation leads you into believing that you’re going to reincarnate into something else or that if you focus enough you could actually become stone or wood, then you’re centering at a place that is not Christian.

Mantra

Mantra is a practice of simplifying a text to a single word or syllable and focusing on that word to encapsulate the whole passage. I think this is something Christians can adapt and use to dive deeper into the Bible, but don’t go off saying “Om” repeatedly because first of all—you don’t know what it means. Buddhists believe that a word such as Om can be passed onto students and that by knowing that word, they will come to understand the whole text that the word represents. In the case of Om, it represents the Veda, the three main deities of Hinduism. The repetition of the word is meant to invoke the deities like a Christian prayer. As such, it could be considered idol-worship for a Christian to chant Om because it would be like praying to a false god. However, if you are unaware of the meaning and are focusing your mind elsewhere, I doubt God will smote you.

Shalom as Mantra

You would get more out of a Mantra if you use a word that has more meaning to you and your beliefs. Try something like “shalom.” That’s right–Christianity has neat, powerful words like karma and zen, too! “Shalom” is a Hebrew word in the Bible which has mostly been translated to “peace,” but the Hebrew term encapsulates much more. It was a way of referring to times of peace between nations, but in a sense of wholeness or completeness. It is a completeness not only of body, soul, and mind, but also completeness in fellowship with community, creation, and God. It also refers to inner tranquility and health, and can be used as a greeting to mean, “May peace be with you” or “May you be full of health and prosperity.”

And before some of you start going, “Wait…Hebrew? That’s a Jewish term!” The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, and while Christians have adopted the New Testament in addition to the Old Testament, it does not deny that the things in the Old Testament are true. There are many parallels within the scriptures that link the Old and New Testaments with intimate truth. Shalom is one of those truths that exists throughout all of scripture, appearing over 400 times. Shalom is not just a present condition, it speaks to the Christian idea of New Jerusalem and eternal peace in a perfect, complete world—a world of shalom.

Transcendental Meditation

Another meditation that is widely practiced is transcendental meditation. The basis is that you let go of everything and experience an absolute nothingness or nirvana. This nothingness is a distancing of yourself from your mind and feelings, a separation of yourself from others and the world. Clearing your mind of distracting and stressful thoughts is one thing, but if you’re going so far into transcendental meditations that you end up in a mindless trance or levitate, that’s a different matter. As Christians we believe in a living community after death in the New Jerusalem. There is never nothingness because there is always God. He was in the beginning before time began. He is eternal, endless, timeless. As Christians, we want to delve deep into ourselves, into the Bible, and into the world around us; not separate ourselves from it.

Good Form

Most other forms of meditation I have found are based more on self-reflection and observation of the body and surroundings. These sorts of practices help us see ourselves and our place in the world around us. Practices like the Buddhist Vipassana meditation simply allow you to clear your mind, order your thoughts, and see once again the core of your existence. These are good practices.

There are many Biblical characters that spent hours or days fasting and praying in meditative states. It was through this process that they were able to commune with God, sometimes with words, other times with visions. So don’t be afraid if you experience something that seems supernatural, be open to it, but don’t meditate with the ambition to get a mystical vision.

The Purpose of Meditation

The purpose of meditation is to clear away the stress and clutter of your daily life so that you can realign yourself with your beliefs and calm yourself when faced with stress or danger in order to respond rationally.

Read Meditations for Lent: Introduction

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Meditations for Lent

Meditations for Lent

“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.” Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent: a period of reflection in preparation for Easter meant to mimic Jesus’s 40-day trial of temptation in the desert.

Some people see Lent as a period of purification for the heart, mind, soul, and body, but as a Christian, I believe that Christ atoned for all of our sins. We are made pure by our acceptance of his sacrifice, not by our actions or thoughts. Lent should be a time to meditate and grow closer to Christ, to fully appreciate his sacrifice. In order to do this, we must delve deep into our own person, reflecting on who we are, what we believe, and how we live. We must meditate on the world around us, it’s complexities, and our place and purpose within it. Once we grasp understanding, then we must act it out and share it with others.

Our society today is full of stress and evil, and if we cannot center ourselves firmly in our beliefs and identity, we will be lost to the chaos and smothered by darkness. There are many forms of meditation and prayer. It can be a meditative activity as simple as cleaning, cooking, gardening, exercising, writing, listening to music, or creating art. Or it can be as intentional as lectio divina or a guided meditation style. But these types of practices only work when you make them a daily part of your lifestyle. Different types of meditation are better at for different situations, so it’s good to practice a diversity of meditations regularly.  Maybe you’re saying, “I’m too busy for that!” If you’re too busy to take a couple minutes, a half-hour, or an hour out of each day to recenter yourself and reflect on your beliefs, that’s probably why you have so much stress, anxiety, and feel out-of-balance or lost.

Personally, I’ve never been very devoted to prayer, and I’ve been skeptical or frustrated with many meditation practices. Therefore, I have created an agenda for lent that focuses on a specific meditation style I would like to try for each of the six weeks of Lent. The practices move from inward reflection to observation of the world and active connection with others. I have chosen meditation practices that are less main stream, like an experimental trial or taster session. I will be writing a post for each of these practices, so I invite you to follow the posts or to join me in one or more of these practices. If you’ve already committed to something for Lent, this is an easy addition that can help deepen your reflection on whatever action you have decided to take for Lent.

The following weeks will be seven days committed to the specified practice with each new week starting on the Monday of each week (I will post Sunday afternoons with the new practice).

Week 1: Know thy self by getting in the habit of doing a meditative routine. You likely do something meditative already when you feel stressed, so practice doing that every day, even when you’re not stressed, and you may find it helps prevent you from getting to that desperate, break-down phase. I will simply be sitting still in a position for a designated amount of time each day listening to music (the practice of Zazen and Vipassana meditation). This will prepare my mind and daily schedule for the following weeks.

Week 2: Learn to focus and clear your mind when faced with stress or danger with the practice of “grounding.”

Week 3: Learn to observe your surroundings without bias or judgement with sensation walks.

Week 4: Learn to absorb your surroundings and reflect on larger concepts without bias or judgement through “deep listening.”

Week 5: Connect yourself to the wider world by creating a mandala/mantra focused on a specific topic/concept throughout the week.

Week 6: Participate actively in the world and connect with others through active friendliness and volunteering.

*Note that I am using some broad terms, but I will be specific with how I mean to practice them in each post.

If you decide to follow me or join me in these meditations for Lent, let me know. I would love to support you and be in community during this time.

~Shalom

Choose: People, Place, or Occupation

Choose: People, Place, or Occupation

People. Place. Occupation.

That’s what makes up a life. It’s what molds our decisions. As a single, recent college graduate, people say I’m lucky to be able to go wherever I want. But a lot of people that have the same freedom as me usually end up choosing a job close to home or where they went to school. They put people highest on their priorities. They want to be close to friends and family. Or, with a career-first train of thought, they buy a one-way ticket in whatever direction that may be, but more often than not, it’s close to where they studied, where they had a work-study or an internship, where they are already known and recommended. And then there are the few gypsies, like me.

I’ve always loved to travel. Staying in one spot for more than three years gives me angst. I love learning about new places and seeing what others have taken pictures of with my own eyes. There’s something about feeling the aura of a place and being present in it that feels like being a part of something much bigger than me. That’s probably why I’m a geography major and why I chose place as my priority after graduating. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else except in a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains so that’s where I went.

I had enjoyed doing volunteer trail work there in the past, and what better thing to do to get yourself out and intimate with a place than to live in the dirt and breathe the rain? But when I got there, I quickly learned that I was not prepared for the work. It was hard admitting that I was weak and inexperienced and would have to try a lot harder to get better. I’m not a quitter, though, so I pushed onward, imagining how much I’d grow if I didn’t end up dying from the treacherous conditions.

But when I had accepted the job, I hadn’t thought much about the people. They were hard to forget once I got there. There was rarely peace and quiet in the cabin with music blasting out the windows, stomp dancing shaking the floor, and beer cans spraying around the room. During the week, you worked side-by-side all day, then slept nearly on top of each other in a hot, damp tent all night. And while they were nice people in general, we never really became friends.

When I had told people I was going to do trail work for the summer, they’d say, “Going to be with your people!” But, these were not my people. I was quite different from them—not into drink or partying or smoking, preferring card games to yard sports, and, to my dismay—nearly hating our work and living in the woods which they thrived on.

The mountains were beautiful and full of life, but I couldn’t take my time to enjoy it because we had to power through miles of trails. I’ve always hated being wet, and it rained almost every day. And even though I’d hear an occasional bird call or wander upon a bright orange newt, the giant boulders of granite that we moved and the miles of hovel bush vines we pulled out were the things I became most intimate with. I thought I had chosen the Appalachians because of place, but I kept getting caught up with my dissatisfaction of the people and the occupation. I couldn’t say that I was happy except for in fleeting moments of standing alone on a mountain peak under a cloudless sky with a view that took my breath away.

I’d always felt drawn to the mountains, and I still do. But the back country, I learned, is not for me.

I enjoyed the volunteer work I had done before because I had been with my people, people who enjoyed and cared about nature but who may or may not pursue it in such a direct, full-time occupation. Maybe what I was seeking wasn’t so much the place as it was my memory of the community and connections I had made with the people there. The volunteers had been a diverse group of people that may not have even met otherwise, and who didn’t bond enough to stay connected after our one, close week.

The people I long to be with are scattered. Sparks from the same campfire dancing off into the night.

My people have always been small lights shining among different friend groups, with different ambitions and passions, staying by my side for just a short few steps before we went separate ways. I don’t feel like there’s a place where all of my people are, so I’ll keep traveling and hoping that I run into another drifting ember. If we dance together for even just a moment, it will be enough to rekindle my flame and keep me going, knowing that I’m not alone.

Water Walk – walk alongside your water

Water Walk – walk alongside your water

You can learn all about hydrology and ecosystems, you can weed out invasive plants and establish anti-erosion structures along banks, but the most important thing is to know your water, know your stream, your river, your lake, and what better way to bond with your water than to walk along side it and listen to it. The idea of a water walk is more about meditation and observation than action.

The following is a photo journal of my solo bike ride along Plaster Creek to the Grand River in Grand Rapids, MI. Some of the way was paved trail, some dirt, some roads.

Plaster Creek is considered one of the most polluted streams in Michigan, and I have been involved in many trash clean ups and invasive plant removals and rain garden projects in service to the health of the stream. But I had never taken the time to meditate in the sound of its brooks or walk beside it through tangles of invasive oriental bittersweet or admire the array of wild flowers and bird calls or lament of the concrete restraining walls and massive erosion or rejoice in the beauty of the parks it runs through or see it as a whole system not on a map or diagram. Today, I became the creek and the river. I cut through over-grown terrain and navigated through concrete cityscapes. I listened to the sounds of industry and cars blending with bird calls and the soft melody of the creek. Instead of working at one location or enjoying a specific park, I journeyed with the creek. I let it lead me through good and bad. I let it show me how it lives.

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Is Media making us Loose Touch with Reality?

Is Media making us Loose Touch with Reality?

After a busy day and the pressure of a lot of work still to be done, I often find myself taking a short bike ride at dusk. There’s a place where I often end up stopping to watch the sunset. It’s at the top of a slight hill where the view opens up, clear of trees and buildings, and I can watch the panorama of clouds and sky changing as the sun descends.

Yesterday, I found myself in that spot again. My bike parked on the sidewalk, I sat in the grass and let everything slip away except for an immense awareness of the present: the tension in my lungs from the ride, the slight chill to the air, the songs of robins, the pulsing heat of the sun’s light. The sky was all clouds except for a few inches just above the treeline where the sunlight emerged in an intense orange. It seemed to take forever for the sun to descend those few inches, but I waited and watched it with my full attention.

I heard the skid of wheels coming up the path behind me and then a voice called my name. “I thought that was you. I love that you’re just sitting here watching the sunset,” the girl said as she stepped cautiously into the grass with her inline skates.

It struck me that there was a certain nostalgia implied by her comment. To take the time to watch the sunset, one is assumed to be in a state of Zen and total awareness. It’s very Buddhist. It’s very hipster. But for me, I wasn’t conscious of all that; my initial reaction to her comment was Of course, I am. What else would I be doing? I could not even consider that I could be somewhere else doing any multitude of other things because this was where I felt I was supposed to be at that moment.

As we chatted, she made some comment about how unsuspecting that a view of the sunset and such peace could be found squished between a giant parking lot and a busy road. I knew that I was looking over the parking lot at the sun and that there was a road filled with the traffic of the evening commute behind me, but I hadn’t even thought about it. I had been focusing on the colors dancing in the clouds to the accompaniment of a robin’s chorus.

I realized that I wasn’t being fully aware of the present but rather creating a mindset to match that of a different location. The peace and nostalgia I felt watching that sunset was how I feel when I’m in the Appalachian Mountains. In an attempt to escape the city, I had found a connection to another place through the sunset. The sun and moon and stars have the power to teleport your soul to anywhere in the world if you’re open to it because they rise and set and shine everywhere around the world.

I didn’t watch the sunset in order to “feel at peace,” but I think that’s what such experiences have been diluted to in our times. In the psychiatrist’s office, you’ll find framed landscapes of remote lakes and mountains and brilliant sunsets with the clouds placed just right. The patients look at the images and find a sense of peace because that’s what the image was meant to portray. The lens doesn’t capture the days where it’s so cloudy you can’t see the sunset or let you feel the brisk wind or the chill of rain or hear the buzz of gnats, but these are all part of the place of these images.

With our world progressively moving to the internet and other forms of media, we’re presented daily with images. Images of people, images of places, images of items—all depicted in a way to frame the way you see them and induce a reaction. The picture of a perfectly symmetrical plant in the therapist’s office aims to calm you. The homeless children and abused animals look up at the camera as emotional music turns not just your ear but your heart. Images do not represent reality in its entirety. They are created with intentional blinders to create a tone and therefore invoke a specific reaction.

However, with some images becoming so iconic, the media has conditioned us to think we must feel at peace when watching a sunset, to feel moved to help when we see a homeless person, to take in that stray dog. But for most people in the real situation, that’s not how they feel or are moved to act. When you’re stuck in traffic and late for dinner, you don’t even see that stray dog on the side of the road. When you’re a young girl alone in the city, that homeless guy can seem more of a threat than a person in need. When we’re in the present, we put on our own blinders. We pay attention to certain things and ignore others and that process is what creates our mindset and determines how we feel and act.

When I’m in the city, I must consciously shift my focus to see the beauty in the buildings and people because my initial focus is on things that build my anxiety rather than create a sense of awe. Likewise, people in the mountains watching a sunset may be too caught up shivering and swatting mosquitoes to really feel a sense of peace.

Images have made molding our mindsets too easy. Images tell us what to see. Because of that, I wonder if people are just looking at things right in front of them expecting that what they are seeing is what they need to see. I wonder if they’re looking at reality at all.

Smartphones have made it easier than ever to capture a moment, a place, a feeling. But there are times when I’m so moved by what I’m experiencing that I know that I can never capture it in any form of art because the reality is too complex, so I don’t even try. I leave my camera lens shut and leave my heart and soul open. When we take a picture, we’re reframing the experience and often diminishing it because it’s difficult to capture so much in an image. Even film that can capture visual and audio senses still has a limited, focused view and lacks the complete feeling of a real experience.

Though images represent parts of reality, they can never fully capture the experience of being in the moment. But even when a person is in the moment, they will frame the experience by focusing on certain elements over others. The ability to be conscious and choose how to frame your view and therefore choose your experience is something that images and other media don’t as easily allow.

I chose to watch the sky and listen to the birds, thereby transporting myself into my former experiences in the mountains and my dreams of being there in the future. When the girl sat down beside me, she also chose to watch the sunset, but she saw it differently than me. She was still conscious of the parking lot and the traffic noise, so she saw a glimpse of natural beauty in the mundane routine of the city.

When the girl decided to leave and continue skating, she thanked me for making her stop and look at the sunset. But it wasn’t me who stopped her or made her see. It’s ultimately up to the individual to decide what they will focus on and therefore how they will react to what is around them.

Are People Apathetic About Sustainability?

Are People Apathetic About Sustainability?

A fellow student contacted me with an interesting question. We go to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and while our campus advertises being environmentally sustainable in many ways, the more you get into the issues you realize that we could be doing much more. My fellow student was working on a class project related to social and sustainability issues on our campus. She noted that many students are not living in a sustainable manner (even just as simply leaving lights on), and she asked if this may be because students simply don’t care about environmental sustainability.

While I can’t speak for each individual, in general I would say that Calvin College students are not apathetic to sustainability specifically.

I think that a lack of information and understanding is the main problem that ends up looking like apathy, but really people just aren’t aware of the issues. To combat this it is important to inform students and Calvin has a lot of programs in place to attempt to do this–such as Kill-a-Watt and Mad Farmer Food Fest and the Faith and International Development Conference and student leadership Sustainability Coordinator positions in the dorms and apartments. A lot of courses also have a sustainability focus. (Specifically in the Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department and Biology Department. I also know of some economics and engineering courses with a sustainability focus. There’s even an environmental writers English course offered some January terms. There’s usually a handful of January courses having an environmental or sustainable focus, including at least one or more options for the required freshman course: “DCM”.). And there are also several student organizations with sustainability aims from food to political issues. My club, the Environmental Stewardship Coalition, addresses a wide range of environmental issues depending on what our participants are interested in.

However, these programs often have the dilemma of attracting people who are already interested in the issues, and while it may enlighten a few “new-comers” to the sustainability world, it is difficult to attract new people because there are so many other opportunities vying for each individual’s time, and they’re most likely to choose to do something they already have an interest in.

I think the most successful way to inform people is not just through programs that preach sustainability but also by personal conversations and individuals living in a sustainable way sharing their knowledge with people they interact with. I don’t think that there is a lack of these people on campus, almost everyone I know is concerned about the environment and interested in sustainability issues. But, I think that we often stay in our own circles, so sustainability-minded people don’t interact much with people that don’t know much about it.

There’s also a bit of a hesitancy when newly introduced to sustainability issues because it goes against our current systems so much. The very basis of our American (and possibly world) economy is market-driven with the only aim to grow profits without any enforced conditions or concern to protect people or the environment. While there have been laws put into place to try to protect people and the environment, there’s still a lot of cutting corners and illegal action because the media and economy promotes money above all else. And there’s a lot of skepticism encouraged by the media and businesses because they want people to buy more and being sustainable means buying less. There’s so much skepticism in the public eye on Climate Change, not because they haven’t heard the scientific facts, but because the oil industry and many other would be threatened if action against climate change was enforced and they have convinced the public that it is a hoax. The public doesn’t believe science, they believe media. But more than media, they believe family and friends, and that’s where we can get in and start changing people’s perspectives.

These profit-driven narratives are so present in people’s lives and worldviews that when introduced to sustainability that pursues balance rather than continuous growth, it is a dramatic shift of perspective that they must undergo to understand sustainability issues and practices. And since sustainability is so different than our current systems, it’s a challenge to live in a sustainable way. I honestly believe that it is impossible to live in a completely sustainable way today because there are so many issues (many hidden by the media and market) and all things are intertwined so tightly. Going vegan or vegetarian may protect a few animals that you may have eaten otherwise, but all of the substitutes and high-protein foods you need to consume instead are still surrounded by unsustainable practices.

I think the second biggest problem is a lack of convenience. Especially when people are used to the current systems, they’re unlikely to put in much effort to change. It’s a rare person that would carry an empty can around until they find a recycling bin if there are no recycling bins and a plethora of easy-access trash cans. Even in my apartment, my roommates stopped using the compost when we moved it to the porch, but when it was right beside the trash in the kitchen they would use it all the time (unless it was already full, because they would not walk all the way out to the compost site to empty it–too much effort, apparently). If sustainability was easier to do, more people would do it, no doubt. And especially if there was a reward (especially an economic reward) more people would do it. That’s why sustainable low-energy appliances have grown popular and common, because it saves money.

I would say that Calvin is on the right track to make students more sustainable, but the college has to stick with it and continue pushing the informative programs (especially in all courses and fields to reach all students) and making sustainable systems more efficient and convenient to get students into sustainable habits.

But I think the issue is beyond Calvin–it’s our economy, it’s our whole world. Until we change the basic systems underlying our lives to be sustainability-driven rather than profit-driven, sustainability is always going to be a challenge and a struggle.

Layers of a Breakdown

Layers of a Breakdown

Breaking down, whether that means crying or simply not keeping up with the busy world, is seen as something to be ashamed of (at least in the USA). Breakdowns are seen as showing your weakness, and in American culture, everything is about confidence and pride. You’ll hear whispers now a days about embracing emotions. Support systems for counseling, therapy, and suicide hotlines are not judged as harshly, but those constructs about weakness still permeate the minds of many people, including my own.

When you feel your world starting to crumble, when stress is overwhelming your strength, and your endurance is failing, do you ignore it, run away, give up? Or do you let yourself break down? If we allow ourselves the time necessary to go through a break down, we are likely to come out changed for the better. It is only through being torn apart that we can be put back together stronger (look up the Samurai sword analogy). When we stop ourselves from breaking down and delving into ourselves, we stunt the opportunity for self-awareness which helps us grow in self-understanding and love. When we recognize the issues at our core, our life struggles beginning to make more sense. When we see our true selves, then we’ll be able to start seeing others for their true selves and relate to them.

Through my own breakdown, I labeled these layers. (I purposely use the term layer instead of “steps” because this is not an instruction manual. It is up to each individual to find their own way to reach each of these layers.)

Layers of a Breakdown

  1. Build Up: stress builds up in your subconscious over time
  2. Trigger: an event, or slowing down to think, brings that built up stress to the surface of your conscious
  3. Breakdown: a physical and psychological reaction to that stress (different for different people)
  4. Denial/Social Constructs: society has conditioned our responses to breakdowns and to specific types of stress/issues. This is where many people try to pull themselves out of the breakdown. They hear society’s whispers of weakness and try to run away and hide. Society says it’s embarrassing and rude to cry in public so we try to get away and take care of ourselves. Some people heed a social construct to explain or fix their stress. If you’re so stressed, suicidal thoughts creep into your mind, you may heed society’s advise that you need help (aka counseling, therapy, hotlines). But there’s still that contradictory construct that if you can’t take care of yourself, then you’re weak–which will make some people bulk up and stunt the breakdown or make them feel even more helpless and weak (poor self-image).
  5. Dig Deeper: If you can identify the social construct that is blocking or feeding your breakdown and get past it, you can identify the true source of your stress/fear. Sometimes, the stress was just a social construct that had its talons in you. Other times, it’s a bigger issue. Sometimes, we need help with this step by talking with friends or counselors or praying. Others may have another outlet that allows them to express themselves and look deeper, such as art, walking in nature, or writing. And usually, there’s a combination of methods to really uncover all that’s been buried in you.
  6. Self Awareness: When you’ve identified the issue that’s really bothering you, you can ask yourself why it bothers you and learn more about yourself. This may bring an awareness so that you can recognize the issue faster next time, or just know that this is something that bothers or moves you. Possibly, this revelation may bring a change in the way you act or see the world.

To give an example of how this process played out for me:

I had been struggling with self-doubt and friendships for a while, but today the stress of all the assignments I had due and the anxiety of not being able to complete them built up (Build Up). I was sitting in a cafe trying to read my assignment before class and couldn’t focus because I found the reading and the class pointless in the larger scheme (Trigger). I felt the tears coming and quickly left the cafe and marched back toward my apartment trying to stay composed and imagined avoiding friends if they should pop up. And of course, a friend did pop up in passing to say hi. And as I tried to answer her simple question of where I was going, I snapped. “I’m skipping class,” I said and growled at the tears rolling down my cheeks (Breakdown). She hugged me, and I knew that’s what I needed. She talked to me for a bit, which made her late for class, and made me feel guilty. But I would do the same for her. I went back to my apartment and sobbed in intervals as I fought against it, trying to stop (Denial). I had too much to do to pay attention to my needs. But finally, when I found that the tears wouldn’t stop, I took up a pen and started writing how I felt and what was bothering me. I filled four pages and came to realize that a lot of what was bothering me at the surface was actually something else at the base. The most pressing concern was that I couldn’t take care of myself, couldn’t control my emotions, couldn’t succeed in things that others did. And my initial response was trained, “It’s okay to cry. Don’t compare yourself to others. Try your best. Don’t give up” (Social Construct). But I found no comfort in these lessons. They’re mottoes we hear as kids but they don’t really fix anything. And then there’s the social construct that you have to take care of yourself or you’ll fail or die. And if I was breaking down, I saw that as not taking care of myself. Conditioned response: “You’ve committed to too much. You’re just stressed. Take time for yourself” (Social Construct). I wrestled with that and tore it apart and threw it aside to reveal the true reason I didn’t want to breakdown, why I didn’t want others to see.  I always feel others’ pain, and I didn’t want anyone to comfort me because I didn’t want to burden them (Dig Deeper). To recognize that was the reason and not because breakdowns are seen as weakness (which was also a minor issue), was revealing and comforting. I had been pushing others away because I thought I was selfish to desire their attention, but it turned out that I was being selfless because I didn’t want to hurt them no matter how much I was hurting. But it’s their choice if they want to care about me, and I shouldn’t deny them that (Self Awareness).

This full process can take a lot of time. Digging Deeper may take hours to days to years. But when you feel yourself starting to breakdown, your first thought shouldn’t be to stop it or ignore it or run from it. Allow yourself time at that moment  to do what you need to do to Dig Deeper and grow in Self Awareness. No matter your other obligations, taking time to care for yourself is the only way you’ll be able to grow and become a better you.