A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a new friend, a security officer at my school who works out at the gym a couple days a week. He’s an incredibly friendly guy, always smiling and often jokes about the “crazy” stretches I do on the mats. Today, as we were chatting, he stopped smiling for a second and asked me if I thought this year’s freshman class was “weaker” than previous classes. I asked him what he meant, and he went on to explain that this year alone, twelve members of the freshman class have attempted suicide. My jaw and my stomach dropped. Twelve freshman?? That is an unbelievably massive number, and it doesn’t even include cases where students have been taken to the hospital because of excessive drinking.
To answer his question: no, I don’t believe that the class of 2016 is any “weaker” than other classes. Since Kenyon is only getting more competitive and harder to get into, I imagine they average higher test scores and GPAs than previous classes, so by most standards they’d probably be considered “stronger.” So why the unbelievably high number of suicide attempts? What’s going on here? My guess is more pressure. More stress. More expectations. More anxiety. More desire to “succeed” and more fear of “failure.”
The reason I’m writing about this is because I feel that I have something to add to the dialogue that needs to happen about this issue. Throughout my freshman year (and most of my sophomore year as well) I went through stages of binge drinking, anorexia, anxiety, depression, and a whole lot of other darkness that I won’t go into the details of because its not necessary, but lemme tell ya, those years were dark. I would to go to bed every night dreading the next day, and say a four-letter word as my feet hit the floor in the morning (see my previous post if you struggle with this as well!) So to anyone struggling and feeling like there is no way out, let me tell ya: I get it.
I started practicing yoga to lose weight. I was used to fighting against my body on the elliptical and during meals, so I thought: why should this be any different? Deep down, though, I hoped that yoga could be a way to change, for real. My New Years Resolution that year was to practice every day, no matter what. I would wake up early, go down to the KAC and either listen to a podcast or play music and go through the poses I had learned from taking classes at home. In those days, there were only yoga classes at my school’s gym once or twice a week, so I mostly practiced on my own.
The yoga instructor Baxter Bell once said: “Yoga has a sly, clever way of short-circuiting the mental patterns that cause anxiety.” This is true to my experience. Yoga taught me to train my mind to think new thoughts. My ego brought me to the mat, but that is also where I learned to let it go. Yoga taught me to talk about my problems and to seek counseling. It taught me to be more authentic with my friends and in my relationships. It taught me to breathe deeply in moments of stress and anxiety. It taught me that I am the creator of my experience, and that I create everything in my life, both the good and the bad.
Yoga taught me to notice my thoughts, and as I started to notice my thoughts, I realized that I’d been primarily beating the drum of what I didn’t like, what went wrong, what sucked, etc. By doing so, I was drawing a whole lot more of that to me via the Law of Attraction. The key, for me, when something really sucks, has been learning to take responsibility for it and to ask, “What do I need to learn? What can I do differently?” When I’m able to do this, I always come out on this other side with more relief, more clarity, more joy, more love, more flow, and more happiness.
Now, several years later, I know that it is my purpose to be happy. And from a place of happiness, growth and expansion is inevitable. So its not, “If I do x and get y, then I will be happy,” but instead, “I am happy now and so therefore everything I want to be, do and have flows effortlessly to me.” My intention, day in and day out, is to use my mind to focus on what I do want and not the opposite. Taylor Wells of Prana Power Yoga says, “As we do so, we become the master of our minds (its all about the power and focus of the mind), and the contrast becomes less frequent. We live a lot more of what we do want. Start now by learning to find gratitude in this moment for something. Anything.” Maybe Pierce was really good tonight, or your bed is particularly warm and cozy. Whatever it is, focus on it and allow yourself to really feel that positive energy. The more you practice it, the easier it gets.
I believe that I chose to come to Kenyon for a reason. I believe that this is exactly where I needed to be so that I could see very clearly what I do not want, and therefore know more clearly what I do want. Is my life without upset? Grief? A little anxiety? Heartbreak? Absolutely not. Those things are a part of life because they provide us with contrast, which shows us what we do not want so that we can know more clearly what we do want.
So, how do you stay on a path of positive thinking when you often feel stressed out, competitive, negative, and overwhelmed? One thing you can do right now is to get on your mat. If you’re a Kenyon student, classes are offered at the KAC five days a week. Show up and we’ll help you breathe, move energy, and remember who you are. We need to come together and support one another so that no one feels that there is no way out.
Love and Namaste,