One of our biggest sources of inspiration and aspiration at James Madison is the eternal Gandhi. This venerable man said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. This is very true of my university experience. My first two years here felt like I was wandering around, flailing, grasping at false friendships, trying to make meaning for myself in a place where I felt so lost. One of the most amazing moments of clarity came to me while driving back to Harrisonburg from my first Alternative Break trip to Bristol, FL. Surrounded by people from diverse backgrounds, of different talents and interests, all with a common goal: to leave a positive impact on an environment that needed help. I felt more alive on that trip that I had in a while. Dan Cumberland said “Finding your voice is mostly having the courage to speak and letting it be enough.” On this break trip (and subsequent ones), I learned that silence is not productive. That activism is more important than I ever knew. I somehow found myself comforted in the fact that I could pour myself into something like service and find clarity. I can be myself and be comfortable with the fact that not everyone will share my values or thoughts or emotions, that not everyone will agree with what I care about, but that shouldn’t stop me from doing so. My whole life before this was punctuated with thoughts of “oh I shouldn’t say that it sounds stupid” or “I won’t say anything at all”. Not anymore. I found my truth. And it is loud. I think it is because I was surrounded with such love and support, in ways that nurtured me and challenged me. I was starting to find my happiness. To find my truth, and not trying to fit into someone else’s version of truth.
Around this same time at the end of my second year of school, I found my way to yoga. Yoga is where I learned to be humble, yet bold. I learned to be safe, yet fearless. I learned to take care of myself and love myself in ways I didn’t know I could. I found this amazing capacity for love and empathy in my heart. I found that I can find a beautiful balance between self love and service. Service, outreach, and activism can be crucial cornerstones in my life and identity, but it is not everything. I live unapologetically and authentically as my true self. My true self also just happens to care a whole lot about other people.
Monica Bourgeau wrote an inspiring article for HuffPost: 7 ways you can change the world. She talks about how small changes can lead to big changes, how by doing something as simple as saying hello to someone can make a change, how happiness and love are inherent characteristics of activists. I believe in balance. I believe that there is an intense and wonderful joy that comes from serving others. I also believe that your true happiness comes from within. If you can reach inside, so some digging, find your truth, you can share it with the world. I think I have so much to share with the world, and I intend on using what I have learned and what I possess to create positive and lasting change in this world. Gandhi spoke to my truth in that I found myself in service and advocacy, but I will never lose myself.
p.s. Happy Earth Day! Do something kind for the planet. Do something kind for someone else. Be kind. Namaste!