The highlights below are listed neither chronologically, nor in order of importance to me. There are other moments, feelings, and things that I would have loved to have put on this list as well; I chose, however, to keep the list somewhat succinct in order to not diminish the significance of each component of the list.
This post is about remembering and affirming that which is memorable. It’s an act of cherishing, and is based in the recognition that taking the time to remember, to reflect, and to ground, is essential to sifting through the clutter of life so as to pull out the things that are most important.
I hope you can appreciate and even enjoy my effort at sifting 🙂
SELECT HIGHLIGHTS FROM MY 2018:
fundamentally: the experience of returning to a place that flipped my worldview upside down and shook out all preconceived notions about what “privilege” means
#2: New Jersey Scholars Program.
fundamentally: intellectual freedom; a new plane on which to explore; beautiful friendships
fundamentally: the barreling, wild, intense desire for some enlightenment amidst the ever-flowing undercurrent of routine upon which my high school life rides
#3: a PR.
fundamentally: the experience of crossing the metaphorical threshold into a new knowledge of the capacities of the self; sharing in the joys of track with friends
#4: a road trip.
fundamentally: remembering to laugh; yearning to cherish; exploring new places and new possible futures (cough, college visits) with loved ones. The deep satisfaction that comes in affirming for yourself that family is lovely, whether longtime (parents) or recently joined (Nadya, my Bulgarian host sister during junior year of high school! miss her!! <333).
#5: a Breadbox.
fundamentally: engaging in the new and unfamiliar challenge of being an artist; a reinterpretation of a childhood memory; a symbol of gratitude towards my grandmother
#5: a goodbye. (to Nadya)
fundamentally: the sweet joy of celebrating a year of blossoming sisterhood, and the bitter sorrow of recognizing its coming to an end ; a poem; a tear-filled, taxicab departure
#7: a summer adventure.
fundamentally: conquering the hay bales; the warm, loving hug of the sun on your back; the “dog days” smile stretched across Dierks’s (the corgi’s) face
#8: a *trail* half-marathon.
fundamentally: an unanticipated challenge (trail runs are *hard*, people!); 2 hours of technical trails and inclines; a bonding experience with Aunt Jennie; sore leggies and a happy heart 🙂
#9: an Oklahoma Thanksgiving.
fundamentally: an opportunity to reframe — socially, culturally, and geographically — one’s perspective; meeting new babies; unifying life in all its different stages under the all-encompassing umbrella of “family”
#10: a cross country season.
fundamentally: those dreamy dream days where I get to race a 5K, ride a horse, run some more, and get made fun of for having a water bottle 😉
I love my team.
#11: an acceptance.
fundamentally: an immense, sparkling, affirming, precious flip of the light switch, illuminating a bewilderingly empowered future
Here is what I wrote in my journal, in a section that I titled “On getting accepted to Brown”:
“If my emotions in that moment were like molecules within the atmosphere, then the primary makeup of the air in that moment was shock in its purest sense — the kind that isn’t really attached to emotions in any way. Then came the tears.
I think the tears came mostly from the unprepared attempt to reconcile the significance of this opportunity. And the tears were also in honor of all that occurred before this; all that led up to the moment of seeing that acceptance.
It was such a delicate and profound cry — at least, the emotions that drove it. And it wasn’t a sense of vindication or righteousness at all. … No. Rather, this cry was a sort of weeping in the wake of the messy, cluttered extremity of it all. The fact that … as I sat on the metaphorical threshold, looking out into the “Brown” room next door — the glittering prospect of my future — I realize that my many feelings and negativities and UNCERTAINTIES have been, in many ways, left unresolved. The reality is that I will carry many of these convictions with me when I move to Providence — or, at least, the scaffolding of them. … It’s just so much. I was crying for the world a little bit, in that moment there.”
#12: Peer Leadership.
fundamentally: the challenge of leadership; confronting the unsteadiness of my self-confidence; trying really hard for others and sometimes failing; reminding myself “why”; joyful service
FINAL REFLECTIONS // LOOKING AHEAD:
To frame my discussion of my transition into the outlook I am to assume for the year ahead, I’d like to first share this post from the Instagram of life coach and health expert Ali Washington (@aliyah_pt):
The post reads:
“I used to be a self improvement addict. Constantly looking to where I was messing up my life, where I could fix myself so as to become more likable/successful/kinder/smarter/less needy or whatever I deemed to be a trait a ‘good person’ would have at the time.
I drove myself incessantly. Feeling that I had to be continually ‘on top of’ myself – lest I slip back into old behaviours and ways of being.
It was fucking exhausting. Progress was slow, painful and generally always undone much faster than it had been made. It felt like holding a bar of soap – the tighter my grip on myself the more who I wanted to be slipped out of my fingers, causing me to want to clampdown tighter.
Once I got on to the fact that the game was futile, I realized I needed a new outlook. It wasn’t about ‘giving up on’ ever changing the aspects of myself that were in pain/needed to grow. It wasn’t about forced growth or going after my ‘goals’ either.
I found that the less I tried to force the aspects of myself that I felt were immature/In pain to grow, simply making room for them to be how they were with gentle curiosity, magic started to happen.
The more I got curious about knowing myself, why I was how I was, why I acted how I did, why I was in pain, why I thought I needed to improve, the more I questioned what being a ‘good person’ meant, what I thought I was going to get from being a good person and the more I made room for new definitions of everything – the more I have naturally stepped into being a person who causes less harm, and is more joyful.
I let go of self improvement for truth and self discovery. For finding what is real vs. Trying to fit into and box society handed me about what ‘good’ looks like. I realized all the self improvement was a result of wanting to feel unconditional love, and I started to pursue that rather than self improvement – which was just a middle man.
This whole new perspective, seeing what I really wanted and going towards that set me free. As truth always does. So, what do you really want out of your self improvement?
For me, 2018 was about learning to loosen the grip on the “bar of soap” (as described above by @aliyah_pt) that is myself. All of high school has, for me, been largely about learning to stop squeezing so hard. This 2018 year in particular was about recognizing certain aspects of my life in which I was in fact engaging in this flawed “squeezing” effort without even realizing it. I saw the tendency within myself as a friend, as a Peer Leader, as a granddaughter, as a community service leader, as a global citizen.
I am someone who genuinely wants to do and be her best. But I am also someone who knows deep within her heart that in order to blossom into that “best person” that she so intently strives toward, she fundamentally and unavoidably needs to first set straight her reasons why she wants to be this exceptional version of the self.
In order to strive to one’s maximum potential, the individual must first pause and ask: WHY strive?
For me, I realize that the answer to this question, at its purest and most essential level, comes down to a sense of love and fascination towards the world both external and internal to the self. It means to be driven — as Ali puts it in the excerpt above — by a “gentle curiosity”. I love that term — especially the “gentle” part, as it denotes a kind of peacefulness that flows within and without the daily experiences and sensations of a truly fulfilled individual.
Last year was about learning to stop squeezing.
For the year ahead — which is to include a final semester of high school, a summer of adventures (hopefully abroad!), and a first semester of college — I aspire to *gently* nestle myself into this lifestyle of gentle curiosity, and thereby nudge myself away from a focus on the cessation of this “squeezing” tendency.
In 2019, rather than focusing on recognizing the places where I am “squeezing” too hard, my focus will be on exploring all the places where I can further expand my “gentle curiousness.”
Granted, these two components that I intend to transition between are inherently interdependent — that is, the less one “squeezes,” the more they can be “curious.” I recognize — as I vaguely mention in the excerpt from my journal following my college acceptance — that the desire to “squeeze” (and the myriad, complex emotions/convictions which drive such a desire) will exist within me, to some degree and in some form, throughout my life. It comes with the territory of who I am. But the actual tendency to cave to that desire — that is something within my control. It’s something that, with time and reflection and intentional practice, one may be able to gain power over.**
- **A NOTE: When I use the term “cave” in referring to one’s tendency to “squeeze,” I mean “caving” not only to the worrying and stressing and self-deprecating that the term “squeeze” implies, but also the fundamental choice to acknowledge the opportunities available for one to engage in such a “squeezing” tendency.
This is a real challenge, of course. One may wonder: how can I possibly hold on to the bar of soap that is the self in any way other than by closing the fingers around the slippery, elusive object more tightly? How can we hold on to ourselves by in fact letting go?
In all honesty: I’m still working on figuring out the answer to this one. Over the course of this past year, however, I have a fairly clear sense that it has something to do with trust — in oneself and in the external world. It’s a pristine, nuanced type of trust — not blind in any sense, but rather, one that is fortified by reasons profoundly rooted within one’s heart. As I see it so far, the reasons to trust the outside world seem very conditional. I’m not sure that I can quite yet provide an explanation for how to trust that which is external. For me at this point in my life, and for most of the people I know, trust in the external (i.e. nature, physical objects, and other people) seems to come down to two the use of two key factors: 1.) internal feelings/convictions, and 2.) “evidence” from previous experiences.
And in order to fully and truly make sense of those two factors, one must first be able to trust the self, as it is the self which is fundamentally responsible for processing and interpreting such factors. Thus, for now (and for 2019), I will focus on
Trusting the self depends not on the external evidence of awards, accomplishments, or recognition from others; instead, self-trust comes from a deep examination of the internal workings of the soul, and a recognition and acceptance of one’s imperfections, mistakes, and differences. It involves peering into one’s essential tribulations, examining the various artifacts which constitute them, choosing to empathize and bring love to those emotional artifacts, and practicing gratitude for the self-fortification which such a process enables.
Generally, it is a journey of venturing ever-closer to a positively-rooted grounding of the self.
Hold on by letting go. Let go through trust. Trust by fortifying self-trust. And through this process, nudge slowly into a state of liberation from the tendency (not the desire, as discussed) to “squeeze”, and enter into a state of freedom to navigate the world through a lifelong lens of “gentle curiosity.”
May we all find this pure form of curiosity within us; may we allow it to ground us, and may we find strength and enlightenment as we use it as a mechanism for fulfillment within this vast world.
In 2019, I am going to gently, curiously explore like never before. And I hope you will join me.