Light

Around ten o’clock every morning the sun shines through my room perfectly, allowing it’s warmth to soak my skin despite the freezing cold just beyond the walls. If I don’t have class or work or any other responsibilities, I’ll lay in bed and allow the warmth to fill me up. And, just like plants in the same way sun gives them life, I feel life flowing into me as well. I’ve learned this year about the importance of soaking up life. About letting light in every form it may come, be it the company of a friend or serenity of solitude, pour into you and fill the parts of you that so desperately needed it. Because sometimes you don’t know. You don’t know that that impromptu conversation with a stranger is going to turn into a sharing of stories that will leave you feeling giddy and nostalgic. You don’t know how that random drive will lead you to a beautiful place, filling you with a serendipitous memory you can call your own. You don’t know about the things that seem like a burden at the time, either. You don’t know how that person leaving your life was really making room for someone better, even if it was just yourself. You don’t know how that horrible moment was paving the way for a beautiful mind.

But even among all this unknowing, it’s hard to deny that life isn’t always working for you. We’re always going to outgrow a part of ourselves. And if you remember being younger and struggling to sleep as your legs kicked back and forth along the bed and the growing pains kept you up then you know that growth is not comfortable. In the same way that your body changed so will your life as a whole. You’re going to outgrow the person that you were; you’re going to outgrow the person that you are. In the midst of all that, you’re going to outgrow other things too: dreams, people, circumstances. The only reason it’s uncomfortable – the only reason it hurts – is because you don’t know what’s next. But if you can trust your body to grow into exactly who it’s meant to be, you can trust life to allow you to grow into who you’re meant to be.

You don’t have to know what’s going to happen to know it’ll be okay. Life is always working for you, not against you. It’s just a matter of sitting in the sun every chance you can get even if you know there’s nothing but cold around you.

A Lesson from a Mountain


In Krabi, Thailand, there is a place called Tiger Cave Temple, a Buddhist
temple that sits on a mountain nearly 1,000 feet high (278 meters to be exact.) The cave got its name from a monk who, when meditating, claims to have seen tigers walking through the cave. Ever since, the site has been a popular tourist attraction that only the strong-willed can enjoy… after all, not everyone is willing to climb 1,237 steps to see a temple.

When I visited this place two summers ago with my brother and a friend we were staying with in Thailand, I was feeling disheartened about my journey. I had spent two years working and saving to fly my brother and I out to Thailand, but after being there for some time, I realized how difficult it was being in such a new place. Nobody spoke English. The food was not my favorite. I was always hot and always tired. It was all so new and overwhelming that I began to think I may not have been cut out for this adventure. I remember lying in bed after the first few nights and debating booking an early flight home – my doubts about the trip were far outweighing the adventure of it all and I didn’t know how to handle it.

But I kept on. I had worked too hard to get there and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t tough it out and give myself time to adjust.

At the end of the first week, we all flew to Krabi to spend a weekend at a resort owned by a friend of the friend we were staying with. The resort was surrounded with mountains that were lightly painted with trees and had soft edges that made the view gentler. The first night there, we made a short walk to the beach and watched the sunset before cruising the market for some street food. The next day, however, is when the real adventure kicked in and we headed to Tiger Cave Temple.

We all stood at the base looking at a sign that says “1,237 steps to top mountain” and watched as monkeys danced along the side. Our gazes shuffled between the sign and the top of the mountain and back to the sign again as we took everything in.

My Thai friends are all laughing and making comments about climbing to the top – some have done it before, some haven’t. They go back and forth between speaking Thai and English, so my brother and I stand to the side and take in our surroundings. Eventually we all come together (everyone speaking English, thankfully) and huddle around the bottom discussing how bad 1,000+ steps can really be and judge the expressions of others coming down as some sort of guide to decide if we should go up. After some discussion, we decide to make the trek, my brother and I being the first to start and one person staying behind with our stuff.

When the sign says 1,237 steps, it fails to mention that these are not normal steps. Some are small and could barely be considered a step, others are six inches or more and require a heap to get up. It wasn’t long before my legs were physically shaking, and I was drenched (and I mean absolutely soaked) in my own sweat. The 100+ degree heat, 90% humidity and physical exertion made it impossible to do this climb elegantly and I fully expected to look like a troll when I finished.

Thinking about all those steps doesn’t sound like something too terrible and it was easy to convince ourselves that we could do it. But in the actual doing, it became very evident how easily the mind had played us. There were multiple times when my brother would stop in fear that he was going to throw up and swear he couldn’t keep going. Occasionally, I would sit on a step trying to rest because my head was spinning so much from dehydration that I could barely see straight (did I mention I didn’t bring a water bottle?). I encouraged him to keep climbing, keep breathing, and he can do it – words I told myself the whole way up as well.

Ten steps. After a certain point, that’s all I could do before I had to stop and rest. I would would take ten steps then sit on the blue railing that lined the path to the top and look around. The trees were so thick that there was no way of telling how high you were and the only way of telling how far you had come were the signs that scattered their way to the top to let you know how many steps were left. People coming down from the top would give words of encouragement, telling us how worth it it is to get to the top and to keep going. I would smile at them and sigh with exhaustion because speaking was not something that I could do easily at that moment. But once I could breathe again, I would climb another ten steps.

You’d be surprised how much thinking you can get done when climbing a mountain. For a while I thought about my time running track (partially how I regretted quitting because I was very much out of shape – something this climb made very apparent.) But more specifically, I thought about my first time running in high school. I remember sitting in the car with my older brother as we headed to my first high school track practice. I was training with the long-distance team, which my older brother also ran for, and I was pretty nervous. My only previous track experience was field events so running six-eight miles a day was going to be a challenge and I knew it. My brother was telling me about what to expect; what the coaches were like, who the runners were, who to stay away from, etc. Then, as encouragement, he said to me, “your mind is stronger than your body, remember that.” This was nearly six years ago, and I still think about that quote every day.

As I climbed ten steps at a time, I kept my brother’s words close. “My mind is stronger,” I would mutter silently to myself. With each step, I would push anything physical I was feeling to a place deeper down and bring this thought further out. My mind is stronger than my body.

100 steps to go.

90 steps.

80.

I had never felt fatigue like I did when I was pushing through the last few steps, but my mind is stronger. If I believe I can do it, nothing else can stop me. It’s like Louis Zamperini once said, “If I can take it, I can make it.”

20 steps.

10 steps.

Final step.

I made it.

Without hesitation I made my way to a water fountain that had a small cup tied to the faucet with a string. I drank diligently until I felt even the slightest bit refreshed and my mind was a little clearer. I became strangely aware of the fact that all my clothes had soaked through with sweat and I didn’t even want to know what my face looked like. I was disgusting and I knew it. But when I made my way over to the edge and looked at where I was, nothing else mattered.

1,000 feet up and I could see everything. The tops of the trees felt small below. I could see the sections of land that were busy with people and the sections that were devoid of people but dedicated to agriculture or forests. I could see other temples peeking from the green scenery, their tops of gold or white standing out as the sun caused them to glow among their surroundings. I could see the dirt roads that cut sharply through the land and disappeared into the green. I could see everything.

I sat down as others made their way up the final steps and took in the view. My mind was running wild with thoughts. I thought about the past week and how I had debated leaving and how now I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I thought about the past two years and how hard I had worked to get where I am. I thought about my older brother and his encouraging words. I thought about the steps. All the steps and how all 1,237 of them brought me to where I was at that moment.

As far as I can remember, my thoughts stopped there. They didn’t go any deeper and I didn’t push for them to, I just brought myself back to the moment and found peace in the present. But as I reflect on my life now and I look back at my journey then, I realize the importance of everything I went through. I didn’t know it then, but I learned that sometimes in life, whether you can see your progress or not, whether you’re tired or not, whether you think you can make it or not, you just have to keep climbing.

Your mind is stronger than your body, and this mountain you’re climbing has nothing on your mind. Let its steep steps and willingness not to be climbed strengthen you. Let the ache in your body drive you. Let the doubts in your mind feul you. When the time comes, you will be humbled by the view from above. 

Getting Past the Fear

I have never had a fear that I haven’t done my best to face. When I was afraid of heights, I jumped from a cliff into waters that engulfed me and washed me from the tremble I felt before the leap. I climbed a mountain and veered over the edge, looking from a thousand feet at the ground below. I soared in planes above the clouds and watched out the window for hours until the sun set and there was noting left to see.

When I was afraid of speaking in public, I voluntarily took part in speech competitions and public speaking classes. I went out of my way to present first in classrooms and introduce myself to new crowds of people, forgetting to the best of my ability the lump in my throat that urged me not to speak.

When I was afraid to love, I loved deeper and harder than I had thought possible. I opened my heart and let the love pour out because I knew no good would come from holding it back and a life without experiencing love was not one I wanted to live, despite my fear.

And while I understood the sense of fear that came with each fall, stutter, and heartache, I also experienced the liberation that came with facing the very things I had never before thought to endure. There was freedom with each word I spoke. Freedom with each jump I made. Freedom with each beat of my heart.

I wonder, then, what I am so scared of now. If I am a repeated champion of facing what I fear most, what is there left to fear? If I know that in the moment my legs may shake and my heart may beat a little faster but I will ultimately stand tall and firm, what is there to worry about?

I believe life revolves around the conquering of the very things that try to hold us back. We must live with a trust that there is something just beyond our fears; our worries; our doubts. We trust that the water will break our fall and that the view will be worth the climb. Our attitude in day-to-day life should be the same. Even when the rain is pouring down and you can’t see a break in the clouds lasting long enough for your bones to dry, you trust that the storm will end eventually and the warmth from the sun is only so far away.

I’m starting to learn how the only way to combat fear of even the most natural of things like uncertainty is to simply trust.

Facing fear isn’t about bravery or strength, it’s about trust.

There is freedom and peace in the fall, but first you must get past the fear of the jump and trust in the landing.

My Own Battle

A few weeks ago, in the midst of a very emotional conversation, I opened up to someone about something I had been holding back for what feels like my entire life. Overcome with tears, I told them about my own personal mental health struggles and how, for a long time, I haven’t felt okay.

I’ve never been the type of person to get too emotional. For years, some of my closest friends had never even seen me cry. It wasn’t until senior year that that started to change (granted, it was a pretty emotional year for everyone). Yet, I was still the one others would turn to for advice, encouraging everyone around me to enjoy life even in the middle of chaos. I was always the “overly optimistic” one, the “positive” one, the “happy” one.

I’m not saying I didn’t always feel that way, because sometimes I did – I meant every “it’s a good day for a good day” that I said. I just believed so strongly in this “attitude is half the battle” mindset that I used every ounce of strength I had to ensure I had the right attitude because that was the only way I could win the battle. I even thought that if I could make everyone around me happy, then I would be happy too. Didn’t Gandhi say something about a candle never losing its light by lighting others? In reality, though, what ended up happening was I was giving so much of myself away that, rather than being filled in return, I was being drained. My light may not have faded, but I was running out of candle to burn.

I had done what I thought to be such a great job at shoving down my doubts and insecurities that I truly thought I was okay. The panick attacks or sudden mood swings or days where I would dissasociate myself were just “off days” and nothing to worry about. My relationships with others were even suffering but, to me, that had to be for another reason: fate, God, I don’t know, but it wasn’t because of me. But, as life got harder and things got to be more than I could handle, it quickly became evident to me that maybe the way I felt wasn’t just from one or two bad days, but from a mind that had been drowning and a heart that had been breaking for far too long.

In the initial conversation where I confessed these parts of my heart, I was still torn between feeling trapped and feeling free – now I had admitted to these feelings, so I needed to do something. Luckily for me, I was talking to someone who I felt confident I could lean on, so I wasn’t diminished or looked down upon in any way; I was encouraged and met with an equal understanding – something that I will forever be grateful for.

It’s only been a few weeks since that conversation that helped me shed some light on the darkest parts of my heart. I still don’t know exactly what to do; maybe I’ll go to therapy, maybe I’ll start yoga or mediatation, or maybe I’ll just practice being more self-aware, but I know I have seen healing in many ways since then. I’ve only opened up to a few people about the way I have felt, but the support I received has been beyond encouraging. It’s reminded me that, no matter how I feel, there will always be someone with a shoulder for me to lean on. It’s amazing what healing can come from simply acknowledging that healing is needed.

Now, I don’t mean for this post to be sad and my hope is that nobody reads it with a heavy heart. I hope that it serves as encouragement to open up and reach out. I talk so often about vulnerability and feeling without suppressing, but I neglected to acknowledge the deepest parts of me that needed to hear those lessons. It wasn’t until I opened my heart up more and more to another person that I began to notice that there was something deeper that needed attention from me. My hope is that someone reads this and something in their heart shifts in a way that lets them know it needs some extra attention as well.

The more I talk about it, the more healing I see. I’ve realized that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to not be happy all the time and it was always unrealistic of me to think I had to act that way. I hope that as time goes on, I can continue to accept that lesson. I know there is so much beauty to the life around me. Hopefully, as I continue to open my heart up, I can let the darkness work its way out as light works its way in and I can start to truly see that beauty again.

Jump.

A few years ago, when I was a senior in high school, some friends and I were sitting around the living room of my friend’s house on a hot July day trying to figure out what to do. We bounced ideas off each other, but everything was either too far, too expensive, or not exciting enough. Then one of my friends had an idea. In a heartbeat, we all agreed, packed our things, and hopped in the car.

45 minutes later we showed up to Clifty Falls, a site known best by the local teenagers for, you guessed it, cliff jumping.

We all stood around at the top of the falls for a minute looking at the drop and talking to some other kids who were there.

“How high do you think it is?” asked one of my friends.

“30 feet or so,” agreed another friend and I. It had to have been at least 2-3 stories. It may not sound like much, but would you ever jump out of the third floor of a building? Probably not.

Without thinking, one of my friends walked back, took his shirt off, got a running start, and jumped, all within a few seconds. We were shocked. 

Next thing I know my other friends and I are all hyping each other up, preparing for the jump. 

One friend goes.

Then another.

Then there’s me.

“I can’t do it. I’ll just watch you guys, it’s fine,” I insisted. There was no way I was doing that. What if I land wrong and end up like the guy in A Walk to Remember? What if I don’t jump out far enough? What if I trip and fall off instead and end up breaking my neck or something? Nope. Not going to happen. 

At this point other kids started noticing my apprehension to the jump. One person came up to me and started trying to calm my nerves.

“The thing about the jump,” he said, “is that you can’t think about it. If you think, you’ll end up panicking like you are now. Just clear your head.”

Okay, I thought, don’t think.

BUT I’M ABOUT TO JUMP OFF A CLIFF – HOW DO I NOT THINK ABOUT THAT????!!!????

I was, to say the least, terrified.

Should I mention that up until this point, I’ve always been afraid of heights? Yeah, this wasn’t my brightest idea. But I love a good thrill, so somehow it balanced out.

I had made up my mind – I wasn’t going to jump.

“Maybe next time,” I said. But for today, I was okay with just hanging back and spending time with my friends that didn’t involve falling to my death.

I started to walk away from the ledge, ready to sit down and accept the fact that I wasn’t going to do it. Then, all of a sudden, I turned around and started running. And when the time came, I jumped.

Without thinking. 

I don’t remember what I thought during the fall. If anything, I felt peace. I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t worried, I was just falling. In seconds I hit the water but I kept falling until I wasn’t. I made my way to the top, took a huge breath, and I just screamed. I threw my hands up and screamed an exhilarating, toe curling scream that can only be sparked by the rush of adrenaline and absolute bliss. I looked up and my friends were up top cheering for me, and even some of the kids who were encouraging me to jump were looking down at me. I have never felt a feeling like that before, and I have never felt that way since. 

Were my parents beyond angry at me for going cliff jumping? They sure were. Would I do it again? Definitely not. Do I regret it? Not in the slightest.

I learned an important lesson that day; I learned about the power of not thinking.

The thing about decisions is that they’re rarely hard to make, but they’re almost always hard to do. More often than not we know exactly what needs to be done. Maybe it’s something we know is right, but it’s hard. Maybe it’s a decision that seems the least likely to work, but it’s the only one that feels right. Maybe it’s something that seems incredibly stupid and the odds are probably stacked against you (like jumping off a cliff), but it will lead to the greatest outcomes.

Nobody likes making decisions, whether they’re minor like choosing where to eat or major and can lead to large life changes. But I think the reason a lot of decisions can be so hard and take so much time to make is because we spend an incredible amount of time thinking about them, when it’s possible that the thing we need to do most is just not think.

Take a few steps back.

Run.

And jump.

You’ll find peace in the fall and bliss in the landing.