When it comes to the start of a new year, people tend to focus on new goals for the upcoming year. They’ll decide to start exercising more, quit smoking, spend less money to get out of debt… The list goes on. What people tend not to do is appreciate what they’ve accomplished through the previous year. While it is good to plan for the future, one should not forget about their accomplishments of the past. For the start of a new year, I prefer the method of embracing past accomplishments while planning for a productive future. Reflecting back on the previous year, one may often times see that they’ve accomplished much, even if at a quick glance they feel they haven’t.
For those suffering from a mental illness of some sort, this may be a daunting task, but I have found that it may ease suffering from looking back and reflecting. When I was at my worst, I would remember perceived past failures and dwell upon them, looking only at the negative parts of what happened. Being an anxious person, when I was in this particular state, I felt that what I was dwelling upon would directly impact my future. I felt that experiences and relationships that had failed were a waste of time and that they would continue to be a waste of time. This lead me to believe that future experiences or relationships would be a fruitless endeavor. What I didn’t focus on however was how much I enjoyed the time in each of those experiences and relationships, even though they have since passed.
We tend to focus largely on the negative aspects of experiences while glancing at the positives without fully appreciating what they’ve done for us as individuals – specifically how they made us feel and how they encouraged personal growth. These experiences and relationships, whether they’ve ended in a positive or negative manner, shape who we are as individuals. I feel that reflection upon these allow us to better ourselves as individuals. I encourage everyone to reflect upon their past accomplishments, past experiences, past relationships, whether they are negative or positive, and appreciate them for what assisting you in becoming the individual you are today. Don’t focus upon being a “new” person this year – focus on building upon what you’ve accomplished.
In closing, I would like to share with you some advice I’d been given awhile back. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the source, but it went something like this: Forgive but remember the past, live and enjoy the present while planning for a fruitful future. This advice has helped me when I could only focus on the negative aspects of life and I hope it provides the same assistance to you all.
While speaking with a friend earlier this week, we came upon a topic that I found very interesting – perhaps a topic that not many have heard before, called “ego death”. When ego death occurs, it is considered the loss of subjective ego, a person’s sense of self-esteem, self-importance and self-identity. In Psychology, ego death may be called a psychic death, a term coined by Carl Jung, the man behind Jungian psychology.
Ego death is often referred to as an enlightening, yet potentially terrifying experience which may be brought forward in many different ways. More often than not, it is considered a spiritual experience, one where you experience the cessation of sense and feeling of control living your life. The feeling of being in control is replaced by feelings of being helpless or powerless as you go about the motions of life, with a sense that the thoughts you’re experiencing are somehow being inserted into your mind. While it sounds like a terrifying experience, many individuals who experience it often regard it as a very humbling transition into the next stage of their life, allowing them to harmonize with things they were unable to harmonize with before.
In Jungian psychology, ego death is often referred to as the death of consciousness, which may be accompanied by panic. Jungian psychology refers to ego death as psychic death, and goes on to explain it as a “shift back to the existential position of the natural self”. It is thought that after one experiences the death of consciousness, the consciousness is then resurrected. Carl Jung called this process the “the transcendent function”, which he believed led to a more “inclusive and synthetic consciousness”. It is believed that this process is a fundamental transformation of the psyche as it allows individuals to develop further understanding and peace of mind with the world and its inhabitants.
While ego death may be experienced through spirituality or rigorous introspection, it may also be experienced through the use of psychedelic drugs, such as LSD. Individuals who experience ego death through this method often are looking to experience what lies in the recesses of the human mind or to experience spiritual liberation. The early stages of ego death induced by a psychedelic may be terrifying, but those who experience it say that it is a liberating feeling, one that gives them a feeling of unity with other individuals, nature, the universe and God.
While the experience itself seems quite foreign and terrifying, it is something that I, coming from a mindful perspective, whole-heartedly believe is beneficial for personal development. Putting aside one’s subjective views is an important skill – one that allows individuals to view the themselves and the world around them objectively. We are all characters in this world we inhabit, and as such, we should try and make the world and our characters better each and every day.
If you would like to read more about ego death, I suggest checking out this page for more information.
This week on Exploring Mindfulness, we are privileged to share this guest post titled ” What Makes Me, Me?” by Max.
Max is a consultant for Point Above, a mindfulness and leadership consultant agency that aims at helping people and businesses with development into a more focused and productive entity. Through various courses and seminars, any person or company can be a more mindful leader. For more information, please check out www.pointabove.com!
What Makes Me, Me?
“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” – Dr. Seuss
Is it my nature, or is it my nurture?
Is it when I am the happiest, or is it when I am most sad? When and where does true learning take place? What makes me, me?
From my experience, being in close relationships with different people helps teach you about yourself. Spending a lot of time with someone can help you figure out for yourself what you are alright, great, and amazing at. They may even flat out tell you how and what they accept of you. I am talking about both sexual and platonic relationships. Friends, families, lovers, all of them can help you on your quest to be the best you.
Before I get into the meat of what makes you you, I must say this. I have no answers.
There is no quick fix to figuring out who you are. It is a lifelong journey; just try not to judge yourself along the way, because if you want, you can grow.
Who you are, is how you change, and more importantly, why you change. If you want to change for someone else, or to please other people, your “why” is not aligned properly with what you actually want in the end. You must want to change, for the sake of growing more knowledgeable about yourself. As Dr. Seuss said, it is not about what it is, it is about what it can become. What it can become is the part I am expanding on.
So how do we know what we can become?
Through knowing our strengths? Our weaknesses? Our fears? It is all of these, but the one that stands out most in my eyes is our vulnerabilities. How we change, is opening up our vulnerabilities to people, and hopefully, if they accept them, growing with them.
What makes you, you, is not only your vulnerabilities, but how you communicate them. Being open enough to say, “I am scared,” “I need help with something,” or even saying, “I’m sorry” is a way of saying that you have vulnerabilities and that you are open to share and change. This also means that you have trust in that person. How you deal with those vulnerabilities when they involve interacting with other people involves a lot of trust.
One’s level of vulnerability and transparency are key elements in who a person is.
If you are truthful with yourself about your vulnerabilities, and transparent to other people about them, people will find trust in you. This trust, will allow them to open up their vulnerabilities to you. When someone opens up their vulnerabilities to you, they are asking for help in return. Help to overcome what is holding them back from being fully open with themselves and with others.
My vulnerability, or at least my willingness to open up my vulnerability to people can backfire. Sometimes, I open it up to people who are actually unable to help me grow, unappreciative of the situation, or unreciprocated in being open. These times can be hurtful; for we lose trust in people we once thought were there for us. At the same time, it proves who is actually there for us, the ones that care and are willing to spend time helping you understand yourself more.
One cannot be too phased by rejection of acceptance. You must accept this and move forward with life. Although these are methods of dealing with others who don’t accept, there are no answers here that can be applied universally. Figuring oneself out is a natural process of humanity.
We must learn from our fears and vulnerabilities, and allow other people in, for the sake of growing.
Hello readers of Exploring Mindfulness. I would like to quickly update you all. Life has been fairly hectic for myself lately, so I’ve been unable to find the time to write a quality post. I imagine things will slow down within the upcoming weeks, so you can expect content to be posted on it’s regular schedule!
There will be a new post coming up next week from a guest poster! Check back in on Tuesday!
Go with the flow – a phrase we hear often throughout life. More often than not we simply disregard the phrase, regarding it as some “hippie” type saying, but what does it actually mean? How does one “go with the flow?
As we know, in life we are constantly faced with different situations, facing different external stimuli that influence us in various ways. It’s hard to actually figure out what the best course of action is for every situation. If we don’t know what the outcome will be in a given situation, we may simply end up retracting and avoiding the situation. These are the types of situations which now remind me of the phrase “go with the flow”.
When I was younger, I would often become anxious at the thought of a situation with an unpredictable outcome – going to a party, hanging out with new people, going to a location that I hadn’t been before, pretty much anything. I tried to have a calculated decision for every possible situation. I was still figuring out who I was and what I stood for at this time, so I figured if I could predict the outcome of a situation, I would at least have some insight as to how various external stimuli would influence me. If I couldn’t predict an outcome however, I would retract and end up missing potentially exciting opportunities. I lived a lot of my younger life like that until I actually started analyzing and understanding myself.
The key for me came down to knowing what I want in life. I analyzed and analyzed until I found my answers, which were helping people and being happy. Everything started to fall in place after that. I feel as though I started to go with the flow. I suddenly didn’t retract to my usual recluse state. I knew what I wanted in life, all of those situations where I’d have to calculate the outcomes suddenly became a thing of the past. It didn’t matter what situation was thrown in front of me, so long as I knew what I wanted in life, I was able to go with the flow, as they say.
I’ve since taken this philosophy about “going with the flow” a step further, specifically after studying Daoism. I’ve started to adopt this analogy: Our lives are much like rivers, and we are traversing the waters. Our rivers may shoot off into other rivers, streams, etc., but given time, we will end up back into our own river, or, perhaps your river will eventually merge with another river. We don’t know what will happen in our lives and when we worry about the future, we lose the ability the live in the present. I encourage you all to understand yourself. Understand what you stand for, what you want in life, and go with the flow. Don’t sail upstream and make life more difficult than it has to be. Let the river’s flow take you to explore new and exciting opportunities.
With the recent events of October 1st, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon, I felt obligated to write an article pertaining to the media portrayal of these types of events, as well as it’s relation to mental illness. The tragic event started at about 10:30am PDT, resulting in the loss of 10 people, including the gunman himself. This event marks yet another school shooting in the United States, which are averaging about 1 per week, with the total now being 142 since the events at Sandy Hook. While America as a whole is starting to become safer, these events are starting to become commonplace in the United States, which, in itself, should never be the case. It has gotten to the point where the United States hasn’t gone 8 days without an incident of this caliber.
When it comes to law enforcement handling the situation, they are trying to prevent the glorification of the perpetrator by not releasing their name or even focusing on their crime, but rather focusing on what happened to the victims, which I feel is the way this situation should be approached. The media, however, passionately disagrees. In relation to the event in Oregon, we’re starting to see articles pop up like these:
This type of identification and glorification does not add anything constructive to the situation. Yes, it may provide information, but at the same time, it’s giving the individual recognition for what they’ve done – precisely what they are wanting. This type of “anti-hero” glorification may encourage other individuals to repeat these type of events. We, specifically the media, should not be encouraging these events to occur. We should focus on those who were impacted by the event – the victims, not the perpetrator who brought the event to fruition.
In addition to media portrayal of these events, there are other concerns that come to light when events like these happen. Mental illness is one of the major concerns that come to mind, more specifically, a lack of treatment for an individual suffering from a mental illness, or a mental illness that an individual has been living with that hasn’t been identified. There’s a lot of debate over some other concerns among society, such as guns being too easy to obtain in the United States, as well as the security of institutions where these events take place. However, we should be focusing on the first point.
Mental illness is a large factor in whether or not people have these types of thoughts. Treatment for mental illness should be more streamlined – individuals should be able to get the help they need to prevent these types of tragedies from occurring. With the general ignorance toward mental illness in addition to the stigma surrounding it, individuals suffering often feel like they’re insane or alone in the world, exacerbating the underlying illness. It allows them to be alone with all the negative thoughts they may have, which is upsetting and terrifying in itself, but, as we can see from the tragic event from October 1st, if an individual is left alone without external help or support, this is what may happen.
We as a society need to educate ourselves about the myriad of mental illnesses out there. Know the warning signs that are present when someone is suffering from a mental illness. Help them seek help, in whatever way you possibly can. Offer your support to them. Show them that they aren’t alone in regard to how they’re feeling. Furthermore, we need to address and reduce the stigma towards those who are suffering from a mental illness. Instead, we must start treating it exactly as such – an illness.
I will leave you all with a video I saw yesterday relating to the subject matter at hand. I feel that it touches upon the subject quite well.
Having talked about stress in my previous article, I would like to continue on with the topic, this time with a focus on the stress involved in achieving one’s dreams. Whether you want to be an actor, engineer, scientist or teacher in today’s society, achieving success in any profession can be very daunting and rather difficult – seeming almost impossible at times. Often to achieve what we want to do in life, we have to get an education at a post-secondary institute, such as a university or college. That itself can be rather stressful. Questions arise such as, “is this truly what I want to do?” or, “what if I end up not enjoying it?” or even, “can I afford to risk this type of investment?” All of these questions can be very stressful when it comes to chasing one’s dreams.
In the current state of society, it’s almost always required to have a degree in a related field to even apply for a career of one’s choice, but, even with a degree in the field one wants to work in, a degree isn’t always a guarantee that one can get the career they want. For a year of study in an art related program in Canada, the costs range from $2,500 on the low-end of the spectrum, up to $12,000 on the high-end, with $6,000 being roughly the median. Unless one is well off, or has financial backing from other means, such as scholarships, bursaries, family, etc., this means that for a total of 4 years of study, on average, in Canada, we’re looking at a cost of around $24,000, not including room and board. In the United States, costs are even higher, with the average being $15,000 per year of study at a public institution, going up to $15,000-$30,000 at private institutions. Students often have to take upon a part-time or full-time position outside of their chosen field in order to afford the cost of living during this time, all while needing to study for exams and finish the homework associated with each course of study. For individuals who are predisposed to experiencing mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, it seems like quite the impossible challenge at times to get a chance to achieve what one wants to do in life. It’s a type of risky investment that is very taxing to mental health – one that yields a “conform to the system or fail” type mentality.
Speaking as an anxious individual, it makes even attempting to further educate oneself through post-secondary seem like a fruitless endeavor – you get in a thought pattern where the ends don’t justify the means, especially with most recent societal developments; an undergraduate degree often isn’t enough to get to where you want to be in life anymore. More and more businesses are requiring that aspiring employees have a master degree or higher in a related field, which means more of a financial burden, more potential time wasted and more self-doubt among individuals who are mentally ill. Even if one does succeed, there is a chance that one may not obtain their dream career without sacrificing more of their own time and money. The whole scope of the situation is very taxing to mental well-being. It may exacerbate underlying conditions, causing an individual to experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms related to stress, or even bring forth mental illness that one wasn’t aware of, such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or addictions (such as drug dependence).
After speaking with an actor from the province of Manitoba about this subject, she has agreed to share with us her pursuit in achieving her dream of becoming a successful, full-time working actor, one that she has held onto dearly since she was a child. Her story that will follow sheds light on how difficult it can be to achieve what you want to in life, as well as how mentally taxing the pursuit of your dreams can be.
Not many people can say they’ve known since the age of four what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was then that I, somehow, knew I wanted to be an actor, and I have spent my entire life vigorously pursuing it as a career. I am proud to say that, from 2010 up until now, I’ve been working professionally as an actor, booking pretty consistent work in television, theatre and musical theatre.
However, like most actors in our society, there are periods between gigs where I am doing nothing but auditioning, occasionally picking up a shift at my survival job, hoping I book at least something. It’s during these periods where the money I’ve made from previous gigs trickles from my bank account—nay, pours—and I am left hoping and praying to the Universe that something comes of the projects I’ve recently auditioned for.
An actor may not book a role for reasons completely out of their control; they look too young, they look too old, they’re too sexy, they’re not sexy enough, their nose is too big, their voice is too high, they look too much like the director’s ex-wife…it rarely has anything to do with the actor’s talent. To add to the stress, an actor never really knows when their next audition(s) will be, so they must keep their schedule flexible enough to not only accommodate last-minute auditions, but to make sure they have enough time to prepare for them as well.
I spend approximately $8,000 a year on my career and work somewhere between 20 and 70+ hours a week. I am always working, even when I’m “not working”. Acting is more than a full-time job. If I am performing in and producing a project, I work 70-100+ hours a week. I recently performed in/produced a show that toured in 3 different cities. It took me a solid 5 months to organize, prepare, and rehearse; in the end, it didn’t sell very well, and my production company partner/castmate and I lost thousands of dollars on a show not many people came to see.
I’ve, so far, barely scratched the surface of the trails and tribulations of being a professional actor. I could continue for days, talking about headshots, demo reels, finding an agent, getting into ACTRA or CAEA (Canadian actor’s unions), or SAG (actor’s union in the US), and so forth, but hopefully this gives you an idea on the amount of stress that accompanies pursuing a career in the performing arts. The craft itself is incredibly demanding mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, but the industry, on the other hand, is a whole other rival.
And it’s a tough battle.
A really, really tough battle.
So tough, in fact, that I developed depersonalization disorder.
Now, performing arts and panic attacks yield a perfect recipe for a juicy dramatic tale on stage or screen, but in real life, it’s the perfect recipe for disaster.
Making money, having direction and being successful is a constant stress for an actor. The pressure relentlessly weighs heavily over their heads. So heavily, that three years ago, on a closing night of a nine-month long tour, I experienced my very first panic attack, which soon turned into a solid case of depersonalization disorder.
One of the most terrifying things I have endured since was having panic attacks, with heavy depersonalization, on stage during performances. Luckily, I’ve been able to pull through each time it has happened; I was able to continue on with the show, and no one on or off stage knew what I was experiencing. But silently, in the confines of my mind, I was deteriorating. Not only was it beyond exhausting to fight through that each time the lights came up, I dreaded having to go on stage in the first place. The fact that the stage became a place of fear, as opposed to a place of comfort and pleasure, destroyed me. I am now in the process of putting the pieces back together, taking every step possible to slay the wily beast once and for all.
In the aforementioned time between gigs is when my panic, depersonalization, anxiety and depression often becomes exacerbated. The stress of my unknown financial future inhibits my craft if I am not careful; desperation can subconsciously ooze out during auditions, unintentionally self-sabotaging my chances of booking a role. Many actors, unknowingly, do this, as well as unintentionally psych themselves out, resulting in sub par auditions and lost opportunities.
Recently, my mental health has been compromised a lot more than usual, as my supportive parents have been more concerned about my financial future than ever before. They’re often bringing up the fact that I’m 26 (“almost 30”, as my parents put it), and I do not have a solid plan B that would “guarantee” me income.
First, I’ve never had a plan B. There has only been plan A, because I am going to do whatever it takes to bring plan A to fruition. Second, no plan in our society “guarantees” income. Just ask the Starbucks barista with the master’s degree. Third, everything else I have even remotely considered as a “plan B” (a secondary career I would go to school for/pursue while still attempting to pursue acting) is artistic.
And society isn’t built for artists.
Artists, especially actors, generally push against the “conform to the system or fail” precept, straying off the pre-paved path and creating their own way. That’s because, regardless of if an actor or artist has a degree, diploma or certificate in their respective creative field, finding employment after graduation is even more difficult than it already is in our society. Jobs are scarce, and wildly competitive. It’s who you know. And for actors, it’s also who you are and what you offer. This means that a vast majority of actors/artists have to create their own employment opportunities—i.e. spend their own hard-earned money trying to further their career. Never mind paying off their student loans.
After finishing high school, I was pressured into going to University, because “once you take a year off, you’ll never go back”. I hated it. I didn’t agree with the system; to get your degree, it was mandatory to take a bunch of courses outside of your chosen field. It was also mandatory to purchase books and textbooks that we would barely—or never—use. I felt like just a number. Not only that, but I studied acting once a week for 3 hours. That was it. It wasn’t enough. I wanted something full-time, focused completely on that I was there to learn. So, I dropped out of University and attended a post-secondary acting conservatory. The tuition was $15,000 plus books for the one-year program. The only reason I was able to pay it off in one go was because I was in a near-death car accident two years before hand and received a hefty cheque from the provincial insurance company. Otherwise, I’d probably still be paying it off. Since graduating, I’ve taken classes and workshops whenever I can, all completely ranging in price. Bottom line: being an actor, or an artist for that matter, is far from cheap.
At my survival job, I work with one of the most talented, hard-working, humble musicians I have ever known. He books his own daily gigs, travels the world to play his music and puts thousands and thousands of dollars into his career. He sacrifices everything for the sheer love of his art. Another group of friends from my survival job are in a band, and it’s the same thing with them, too. My survival job is filled with artists; a painter who specializes in murals, and she’ll only get a job only a few times a year. There’s also a photographer, who spends the money he makes taking photos on equipment and studio space, a painter, who had to turn to a career in massage therapy because he wasn’t able to support himself solely off of his art (his work is so incredible that I purchased a piece, which now hangs proudly on my bedroom wall), and an incredible actress who just spent $12,000 out of her own pocket producing a show that barely sold. These are just the artists at my workplace. I haven’t even begun to mention every other artist I know.
We’re all struggling just as much as the other.
This dose of reality does nothing for my mental health but exacerbate my symptoms. Anyone suffering from mental health issues will probably say the same thing. As an artist, I push through the “conform to the system or fail” mentality each and every day, and it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening. And it’s tough. But it’s also incredibly invigorating, because it gives me even more drive to overcome the impossible.
If society were better built for success, there would be a lot less suffering. I know I am not the only one suffocating under the conditions.
So, what can we do?
She raises an interesting question at the end – what can we do? Is it right that we have to take upon such great sacrifices in order to achieve our dreams? Could we lessen the burden by making education more affordable? These types of issues are becoming more prevalent in society as time passes, especially in the United States, where costs of education are at an all time high. There needs to be change, and that change starts on an individual level. Vote for who you believe will better your country. With elections coming up in 2016 in the United States, and in October of 2015 for Canadians, it is more important than ever to vote if you want to see change in your country. Your vote does matter. Take the time to read about the candidates for the elections. See who your views align with. Make change in your country. We need it now more than ever.