ASK ABDI: WHAT SHOULD I FOCUS ON?

QUESTION: I’m 23 years old. I uprooted and moved to New York to study something that I thought was a true passion of mine. It felt good. I felt like I was being really true to myself, engaging in life, facing my fears... My moving to New York occurred after my first-ever introduction to the world of “spirituality”. My introduction to this realm occurred as the result of an apparent mental breakdown during my previous university degree. I reached a point where I couldn’t hide my feelings any longer. I genuinely thought I was depressed, and so I asked for help. I saw a handful of doctors, tried medicine, and nothing worked - until one day I picked up a random book that introduced me to present-moment awareness and being more than the mind.

Since then, I have been trying to stay true to myself, be humble, be mindful, surrender, and accept. I have tried to be strong and push through (while being gentle on myself) and to work through pain, and grow. But to be honest, I am just SO tired. I don’t know what to focus on. I can’t even seem to manage to get my schoolwork done. I don’t want to interact with people, I honestly get so fearful. One minute I am all positive, feeling like "I got this", and the next I am in a deep dark well, feeling so ashamed. So here I am with this amazing opportunity and I feel like I am messing it up, all I want to do is crawl back under the covers. I am tired of meditating and reading spiritual books and trying to work with the pain and trying to stay on top of all my schoolwork (which NEVER happens). I am tired of feeling lonely, but talking to people doesn’t help. You would probably tell me to let go... but what even is letting go? I feel like if I was to really let go fully and indefinitely... then I don’t know that I would even end up back at school studying this thing that I am supposedly so interested in. And then, I would mess that up too. I just want to put the world on pause to deal with all of this insecurity and anxiety and then dive back in, but TIME. It just doesn’t stop. Help me please. I want to scream and thrash around but I am too lazy because it would be pointless. I just don’t know.

ANSWER: No, I am not going tell you to let go. I will tell you the opposite, to roll your sleeves up and dig in. I read about many things you have tried, I did not read about doing emotional work with a qualified person. That would be a good start. Talking to people is not the same thing. It might be of assistance to try that. Doing body centered therapy can be useful in moving through this pain that you are describing. Using meditation or spirituality will not help resolve the pain. It can be a useful adjunct, but in and of itself - it is not intended for that purpose. Many of us do use it for that, but with poor or no results.

You talk about ways to get rid of these feelings. Start making friends with yourself, like you would a stranger you have just met. In fact, most of us are strangers to ourselves and certainly to our Self. You are 23, not 73. This is part and parcel of life. At least you are aware that something is amiss, which is more than most. The pain and malaise will guide you, since it is a symptom and not the problem. Instead of trying to push it away, ask for its guidance. What feeds it and what strengthens it? That would be something to pay attention to. There are no pause buttons, since the heat generated by all the distractions is part of the healing. But we can slow things down by taking the time to dive into the healing while paying attention to the mandatory things like school. Do not confuse the inside and outside. The necessities of the two can merge with practice, but many times they can feel a million miles apart. Work on bringing them closer. That takes time, something that seems overwhelming - but what choice do we have but to carry on?

Every moment is a wonderful opportunity. This moment. And this one. And this one. There is no messing it up; this is life unfolding, even though it is difficult at this time. Your story is not over. It is in progress. Let that be the talisman that will protect you through the dark times.