“Compassion for others and compassion for myself became the new foundation for my self-healing.”
I have just completed another semester of “Service, Society, and the Sacred,*” a senior religion elective at HKIS that is designed to help students find inner direction – to gain greater self-understanding and imagine how they might want to apply their gifts and talents to the world. The student essays and sharing on the last day of class again overwhelmingly affirmed that the body-mind-heart framework that has become the underlying course structure is what students need as they seek direction in life.
I share Sandra’s story for a couple of reasons. First, like many students we have taught, the Humanities I in Action course is an inspirational start to their high school career, but they then lose that sense of purpose, becoming swamped by high expectations and a demanding course load. Sandra, too, found herself in this situation, and this loss became a critical turning point in her high school career. Her essay describes with emotional clarity how she found, lost, and regained the sense of flourishing that she first experienced in her “in Action” and her World Religions courses during her grade 9 year.
The second reason to share Sandra’s essay regards her struggle in her sophomore and junior years. She and her parents believed that the solution to her issues was a medical one, taking up antidepressants to cope with her stress. Again, this is a common story: anxiety and depression are global phenomena among young people, and a common response is medication. Sandra’s courageous story describes how she chose to return to something true within herself to heal rather than relying on what turned out to be ineffective medication.
Sandra’s journey is a return to her true self, a heart of compassion and spirituality. I’m grateful that she is willing to share this essay, and I hope that her example emboldens other students to listen to their inner voice in search of greater wholeness.
Service, Society & Sacred
Compassion and Spirituality:
The Long Journey to Finding Me Again
When signing up for senior year classes, I remember sitting in Mr. Fleischmann’s office reflecting on my years in high school. Although I knew that Humanities I in Action and the religion electives that I had taken were by far been the most influential teachings to me, the faded inspiration over the years of not having similar classes that emphasized compassion, conscience, service, spirituality, and global understanding had left me lost and I didn’t realize that this loss was the root of why I had hit an all time low- very frustrated with myself. Only later did I realize that not having a religion elective for a full year was the reason for this frustration. I’m beyond grateful that when sitting with Mr. Fleischmann I decided to sign up for SSS because it has explained many of my unanswered thoughts and developing perspectives of the world that had built up after finishing Humanities I in Action.
My World Religions class in freshman year also made a big impact on me, broadening my worldview as I understood and appreciated diverse spiritual connections. My faith in Christianity strengthened when I realized that the Christian worldview was to bring your full self – body, mind, and heart – to help those in need. We used meditation and other spiritual practices to develop that full self. Coincidentally, with perfect timing, we went on our Foshan trip. I can recall so vividly sitting on the bus going back to the hotel, reflecting on our interactions with the children. I had a sudden realization that I began to constantly relate every action, every thought, to the insights and morals of not only Christianity but also to Hinduism and Buddhism that I had been taught in the World Religions class. Though this realization seems small, this exact moment was where I discovered what really matters to me: compassion for humanity and spirituality.
Throughout the rest of my freshmen year I meditated as often as possible and I was very content and even naive to the fact that this time of my life was definitely my highest and happiest of times. I flourished in school, put my passion into service, had a strong relationship with my family and friends, and I took care of my body by exercising and eating healthy.
However, after I completed Humanities I in Action and World Religions, during my my sophomore year I fell into the self-focused and competitive environment of the student body that HKIS cultivates. Actually, the problem was not the student body; the problem was me letting myself drown in the pressure WITHOUT the simple guide of service and spirituality that my Humanities I in Action and World Religion class had instilled in me. I was constantly fighting upstream to stay true to this part of myself.
Although I’m not a shy or weak person, these parasitic fears took up residence in my brain, leading to the influential and insecure belief that I was not as smart as my classmates. I put pressure on myself to be perfect until I was paralyzed by anxiety. I came to believe my own potential was limited, a very damaging mindset. I had turned into a completely different person, a very similar feeling that our guest speaker Riya [see picture below] had courageously shared with us in her struggles with anorexia. With this, I went from flourishing with this guidance from those two classes to losing myself and who I was, disconnecting myself from everyone, and eventually beginning my journey with a solution that was bound to fail: antidepressants.
After coping with my downward spiral for over a year, one morning as I picked up my bag of antidepresents from the living room table, I saw my clear medicine box, reminding me of a simple yet horrifying truth: I had fallen into a monotonous, unhealthy daily routine. I decided I was not going to allow myself to fall deeper into the hole. I decided to talk to my parents, and we struck a deal: I would stop taking medication that didn’t seem to be helping me anyway. I began to find ways to heal myself, referencing my notes from humanities and religion classes that I had learned so much from. What I found was that everything tied back to compassion. I loved service trips and exposure to diverse spiritual practices in these classes. Compassion for others and compassion for myself became the new foundation for my self-healing. I began to focus on my breathing and cultivating a practice of gratitude. Through this struggle I found what makes me happy: caring for other people.
Right when I had this realization was when school had returned. There I was, a senior in SSS, immediately taken back to my freshman year beliefs and questions that had always been in the back of my mind. After a few more classes and reflecting, it hit me…….these teachings of spirituality, compassion for humanity, and the messages of a variety of religions is a necessity for someone like me. I always knew it subconsciously, but it was then that I was very aware of it. This “special world” is not a place that I just go to, it is my ONLY world.
Interims were and are also a fantastic way to feed my passion for caring for others – dedicating time, sweat, and resources to those who are impoverished. Contributing in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Tanzania, and this coming March in Fiji is very rewarding for me. Now, I make it my goal to lead from the bottom up. Servant leadership has been the perfect outlet for me to project compassion not only to my classmates on the trips but especially to the locals we served. Through these experiences, I’ve come up with a checklist I go through before beginning any endeavor. First, to self-evaluate. To identify core values, strengths, and being confident in what I believe in. Second, to accept myself and the gifts I am blessed with. Lastly, I found how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Paradoxically, my experience with failed solutions and self-healing reached a sort of enlightenment where my insecurity led to a strong growth mindset and identity.
Whether he knew it or not, Mr. Schmidt has been my mentor since the beginning of my high school career. All I want to do is share his teachings with anyone who is open to it. It really relates to almost anything in everyone’s daily life. Recently I found myself explaining gut health and meditation to my personal trainer and how that relates to my internship of figuring out your genetic makeup. To my surprise, he is now teaching others about how gut health is your second brain, and he is also more interested in the meditation aspect of exercise.
But the most dramatic example came about a month ago when I was talking to a close family friend who lives with her 20 year old son who has extreme OCD. Her therapist and psychiatrist had been recommending her to “let go” and stop telling him what to do because that was probably the reason why their relationship was getting worse. All she wanted to do was help him and guide him, but she put an incredible amount of stress on herself due to this responsibility. I then took over an hour to explain about meditation, specifically loving kindness meditation, because I knew it would work for her- seeing a type 2 [on the Enneagram] in her just as I saw in myself. I explained diet, gut health, and exercise as well and how it all intertwines with meditation. I sent her links to loving kindness meditation audio clips and explained how a simple 5 minute listen every morning would be very beneficial for her situation- how her worries and negative thoughts of “is my son okay right now?” and “what do I do to help him?” would eventually come and go through her mind. She was very intrigued and actually did what I recommended her to do, which I did not expect. Only a few days ago I was working with her and she got very emotional because her whole living situation with her son had completely changed. Her son’s OCD is a lot better than it was and her therapist is very surprised considering they may also stop taking medication for his OCD. They think he also has the potential to go off to live on his own now. I knew it would help but I can’t believe the results were this amazing. It almost seems like a miracle to me.
Overall, SSS has made a huge difference in my life as I have incorporated diet, exercise, and meditation into my daily routine. I have always been very involved in exercise and am very knowledgeable of its advantages, but I have become all the more committed to a better diet and regular spiritual practices through learning much more in SSS and experimenting with what works best for me. However, before it was always these individual things; I never thought about incorporating them together. From praying before meals, to learning how important gut health is (second brain), to realizing that superbrain yoga represents the importance of exercise, to finding myself as a type 2 “Helper” on the Enneagram, knowing that loving kindness meditation is the most effective for me, all have contributed to another year of feeling enlightened. I have never been so grateful for such an experience. The unfinished puzzle after Humanities I in Action and World Religions in freshman year has finally been completed and I can now go on and continue these learnings that Mr. Schmidt has taught me.
The takeaway for me as a teacher is that students like Sandra are very hungry for an integrated experience that connects their bodies, minds, and hearts together. Just like the Wisdom Tradition framework predicts, the conscious linking of these elements of the self creates a harmony out of which students’ most important values naturally emerge. They can then receive the inner wisdom that they need to take the next step in their lives. Sandra, thank you for sharing your journey with us, and all the best to you in your last semester at HKIS and at university in the fall!
* “Service, Society, and the Sacred” Course Description
This junior-senior religion elective aims to enable students to gain a better sense of life direction through a holistic exploration of their bodies, minds, and hearts. The starting point of this journey is the assumption that each aspect of the self – body, mind, and heart – has its own unique intelligence that it brings to bear in addressing the question of purpose in life. The class, then, consists in teaching about and training of each intelligence to bring it into greater sympathetic resonance with other aspects of the self. The training of the body asks students to find ways to improve their physical health; the training of the mind challenges students to develop non-reactivity beyond their immediate impulses of like and dislike; and training of the heart uses various spiritual practices to attune students to a sense of calling in their lives. It is hoped that this intensive self-exploration will enable students to be more at ease with themselves and to better understand how they can lead a life of purpose and service to society.
Learning Outcomes: Students will:
- Pay attention to their physical health and nutrition.
- Observe their emotional reactions and learn how to respond more positively with acceptance and gratitude.
- Discover their personality type and learn how to rebalance it through a variety of different practices and meditations.
- Apply learning about their bodies, minds, and hearts to a consideration of their university, career, and future life choices.
Assessments: Major summative assessments include a nutrition project, a spiritual practices project, and final paper summarizing their learning from the semester.