What I Learned In College That Textbooks Didn’t Teach Me
As of yesterday I completed my finals, and now my senior year of college at Boston College is coming to a close. I wanted to give myself a day of reflection, and now, as always, I find myself turning to writing to allow myself to go deeper.
I’m not sure when it finally sank in, and like most endings I think this one too came in waves. There was shutting the classroom door yesterday after my exam was done. There were those three victory laps around campus in my car blasting music after I got back to my apartment. There was the realization that I didn’t have any more reading to do for classes. There was the celebratory dinner last night with Cezar. There was sleeping in until almost 11. And now there’s finally quiet, a pelagic quiet that seems both a little haunting yet still pregnant with possibility and adventure, with true north once again being the beating of one’s own heart.
So following the sentiment of reflection, after a good night’s sleep with the sun cheering me on through the big bay windows of my living room, here are a few things I learned from college that the textbooks didn’t teach me:
The college journey is first and foremost a spiritual journey. The sooner you break the shackles between your education and money, the happier you will be. You’re getting your degree for you. As follows, make choices that challenge and deepen your own spiritual path, whatever that may mean for you, whether it’s taking classes on other religions, meeting groups of people you never reached out to before, or reading something that deeply moves you. Learn from every situation, every struggle you come across, and your patterns. Let lessons not only be academic, but spiritual as well. Always ask yourself how something you come across informs your own sense of self and relation with the collective consciousness around you.
Never be afraid to define your own success. For some that may be graduating and making 100k a year, and for others it may mean traveling post-grad, or it may mean taking each challenge and giving all of yourself to everything you do. Success doesn’t have to be monetary or academic, it can be deeply spiritual. I’m not just trying to find “a job,” I’m trying to find a job that fulfills me and challenges me as I navigate my own sense of spirituality, and that, in my eyes, is what I find successful, not working for a business that I don’t care about to make money to buy things that don’t add an atom to my happiness.
Be open. Open in all ways, when it comes to people you meet, activities you choose to take part in, and even participation in classes. My outlook on academics completely changed my senior year when I didn’t go to classes for the soul purpose of taking notes, instead I took notes in a way that allowed me to look into myself and ask what the material really meant for me. If you’re taking classes where the material doesn’t have a deeper meaning for you - run. Run far and fast and don’t look back.
If it doesn’t add spiritual depth to your life, ditch it. These four years are too short to fill with things that you want to put on your resume. If you live your life for other people now, tailoring your activities and your learning to suit what you think others want from you, you’ll continue to do so in your life after college. That’s spiritual suicide. If something doesn’t feel right inside, have the courage to admit so. If this means stepping away from certain people, extracurricular, or majors, always do what’s right for you because your college counselor most likely won’t. This is your experience and your life, cherish it!
Try to accept as soon as possible that love and truth is the currency of happiness, not money. This also goes with my second point of defining your own success. While people may laugh and say the old trope, “money doesn’t buy happiness,” is cheesy, it is my belief that as a society we have not transcended it. Imagine how the world would be different if everyone followed their spiritual path in a way that allowed them to attain pure bliss from where they put their effort each day. Be the change.
Know your limits, and that extends far past alcohol. Now is the time to learn the word “no.” Say no to things! That includes social engagements, drinking, taking classes that don’t add an iota to your inner being, and taking on things that will just distract you from what’s important: your growth. It’s easy to fall into a labyrinth of distractions, and it took me awhile but I learned that the way out of that labyrinth is within. Go within, and look.
Find your space. Make sure you always have somewhere on campus, or maybe even off, that is consistent and you can visit it anytime you like, make it your sacred space.For me, it was Bapst library and to an extent the Barnes And Noble bookstore this past year. Go get your “you” space. Don’t go there with your friends, make it your own. Study there, write there, whatever you need for yourself. It’s always there for you when you need your own mental and spiritual space away from the college pressures and demands that can fray your aura and make your soul tired.
Find your people. I’ve heard a lot of people at various times in their college years describe themselves as feeling very alone. I was one of them. My first year and a half of college I was somewhere new each semester: London, Northeastern (Boston), and finally Boston College (Chestnut Hill) where I made my home. But even after coming to BC I still experienced my own existential loneliness. At times it benefited my spiritual path in the sense that I learned to be alone, to be with myself, and it added a lot of depth to my meditation. It’s counter intuitive because you’re almost never alone, and unless you have your own room you’re constantly inundated with noise and people. It wasn’t until more than half way through college that I realized I was around the wrong people. But I’m happy to say that while there were some constants, like my boyfriend Cezar, it was through taking classes that I truly loved and took for myself (writing workshops, Russian literature, Buddhist meditation) where I met friends that I just clicked with, and when I gave all of myself to activities that meant the most to me (horseback riding and yoga). For a long time I convinced myself that yogis and writers just didn’t exist at BC. It was only after I set out alone (but with my constant!) where I found the people that were right for me, that added such depth to my life, and I credit that to following my passions.
Find your constants, and find your adventures. I just mentioned constants, and this applies here as well, but combining a healthy balance. Don’t allow yourself to follow a single rut from which you never deviate. Tolstoy wrote that intellectual stagnation is one of the greatest dangers to man, but I take his claim a bit further to say that spiritual stagnation is. Have your constants like your friends, certain sacred spaces, certain organizations or activities that move you, but always mix in new things as well for the sake of your own inner expansion. Balance is something that I think every college student struggles to find, like a Holy Grail of sorts, but when reduced from mythic proportion balance comes from within and manifests itself in your external reality.
Meditate, always and always. This goes without saying.
So what’s next for me? After this summer, which I think will be filled with meditation, yoga, exploring Boston, job applications, and revision on my novel in progress Meditations In Wonderland, Cezar and I will move from this cozy apartment we have called home for the past year to pursue our dreams in Brooklyn! He’ll be acting there and I am currently applying for writing jobs and jobs in the communications field there. In the words of my graduation anthem, the beautiful John Mayer song Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967, “When you’re done with this world, then the next is up to you.” Oh, the visualization meditations to come! Then there is my actual graduation ceremony on the 20th… I guess that comes first. My parents and Cezar’s mom will be coming up from Virginia to celebrate with us, and I look forward to all the love and celebrations to come.
Thanks again for indulging me in this reflection, and to all of the amazing yogis, artists, and self-explorers that populate my Tumblr feed with things of beauty that ask me to look within.