For students and teachers, the first week of every school year can be overwhelming. Many of us feel a combination of fear, excitement, and nerves. Some may even feel a heavy sense of dread.
This year, depending on whether you are starting the year remotely, all in person, or a hybrid of the two, going back to school in the midst of a global pandemic adds an additional layer of logistical and emotional complexity.
Whatever your emotions may be, it might be helpful to keep in mind the following TRUTHS as you begin a new school year:
TRUTH #1: YOU ARE NOT YOUR FEELINGS
Because our feelings are inside us, they are a part of us, and it’s tempting to believe that they ARE us. However, they are not. Our feelings are a product of our thoughts, and even though we create them and they live within us, they are not part of our identity. I’ve always found it odd when someone says, “I’m an emotional person.” Being emotional is part of being human, and if you’re human, you’re emotional. However, your unique, individual identity does not include your emotions because they are always temporary.
TRUTH #2: YOU LITERALLY CAN CHANGE HOW YOU FEEL
Remember how I said that our feelings are a product of our thoughts? That means we can change how we feel by changing what we think. It’s remarkably simple, but it’s not easy. It takes practice. If you’ve never read The 7 Day Mental Diet by Emmet Fox, I highly recommend it. It is a very short book, about 15 pages long. However, it teaches you how to practice dominion over your own mind. Change your thoughts, and you will change your feelings. Try it!
TRUTH #3: YOU ARE ALSO NOT YOUR THOUGHTS
Although you can develop dominion over your mind and learn how to change your feelings by changing your thoughts, remember that your thoughts are also not part of your identity. If you’ve ever tried meditation, you probably know that thoughts pass through our minds like a conveyor belt, usually leaving us as quickly as they come into our awareness. As human beings, we are capable of thinking some amazing, wonderfully impossible things – like a child wishing that all the water fountains in school were filled with chocolate milk – and we are also capable of thinking some embarrassingly awful, and sometimes evil, thoughts. Just as we are not as good as our thoughts conjure us to be, neither are we as terrible.
TRUTH #4: YOU MUST MAKE SPACE FOR YOUR THOUGHTS AND YOUR FEELINGS
Yes, developing dominion over our minds by changing our thoughts is an important and necessary skill for having an emotionally and mentally healthy life, it is also important not to avoid or ignore our thoughts and the feelings generated by them. Make space for them. Name them. Think them and feel them, but do not dwell on them. When we make space for and experience them, they will pass through much more quickly and painlessly. However, as soon as our thoughts and emotions make us feel like we are suffering or out of control, this is the time to practice our dominion over them. Notice that I said they should not make us suffer, but it is ok and even advisable that we allow ourselves to experience some discomfort. This teaches us resilience. So, discomfort? YES. Suffering or feeling out of control? NO.
TRUTH #5: TRULY LIVING MEANS TO EMBRACE BEING FULLY HUMAN
When we can withstand our strong emotions, and welcome all our experiences – positive, negative, and in-between – we are embracing our full humanity. When we avoid, ignore, and distract ourselves from our thoughts and feelings, we are not truly living; we are in a zombie-like state. Our bodies are alive and we may appear fully human, but we know when we are being truly authentic or not. When you make space for and allow yourself to feel sad, angry, and afraid, in addition to feeling happy, content, and relaxed, you are embracing life and living it to its fullest.
So, as you go into the next week, remember that you are so much more than just what you feel and what you think. If you’re feeling a combination of fear, nervousness, excitement and overwhelm, make space to feel it all. Sit with these thoughts and emotions until they begin to pass.
However, if you notice that your thoughts or emotions are making you suffer, change your thoughts, and then congratulate yourself for making space for them. Finally, remind yourself that feeling and thinking all the things means that you are truly alive!
Keep in mind that this all takes practice!
So, why not start now?