I closed the door to my freshman college dorm room and started balling crying. I was 18 and I had just hit a point of complete overwhelm with anxiety and depression. It was consuming my life, and I had no idea how to fix it.
Since that time, I’ve been on a 7 year quest for the answers to the reasons WHY I had gotten to that point. I’ve spent thousands of hours learning how to master my mind, and I’m happy to say that I’ve found a solution to my pains. I’m even happier to say that these solutions can work for you, too. That’s right, you have the power to completely change the way you experience life.
You may be wondering how I got to the breaking point, and what steps I took to heal myself from that dark place, ultimately stepping into a place of love and light. This is my story.
The first 18 years of my life were blessed in many ways. I was raised in a loving family and had good friends. I performed well in both sports and academics . I had seemingly everything going for me, but there was one problem: I seldom felt truly happy. In hindsight, I realize this was a result of my mind state at the time. I had developed a mind that was habitually anxious and often depressed, and I didn’t even know it.
Anxiety is something I dealt with, but never talked about, for as long as I can remember. For the first 17 years of my life I coped with it silently. I wasn’t aware that I was anxious. I never learned about it, and I had no skills to cope with it.
Finally, things got to a point where I knew I needed help. So at 17, I worked up the courage, sweating bullets, to tell my mom I had anxiety. I was embarrassed, scared, and ashamed that I had anxiety.
I went to see a psychiatrist and I got my adderal and prozac prescriptions. Problem solved right? No more worries?
Wrong. That’s not how it went down at all.
The medications helped numb the pain and increase focus, but the core problems weren’t going away.
The root was the mind.
I didn’t like the way my mind made me feel at the time, so whenever possible I partied. Weed and alcohol became exciting hobbies that allowed me to escape my mind temporarily. Luckily, being at boarding school, these behaviors didn’t escalate to anything bad. I graduated unscathed.
I was living on a high of winning the State Championship in lacrosse and going onto play in college. I had fewer and fewer rules, but I was becoming increasingly anxious and insecure and self-medicating on a more routine basis. As I prepared to transition to College, I had high expectations that things would get better.
Unfortunately they did not. As it turns out, life was about to punch me in the gut.
I entered Colby College with big expectations for how much fun I would have. What I didn’t think about was the fact that I would have no close friends to begin and an extremely demanding schedule that consisted of studying, working out, playing lacrosse, and de-crompressing with late night weekend benders. I was not equipped to balance this melting pot of stress and partying. It started to consumer me more with each week. Finally, it got to a breaking point.
I returned home to my dorm one day and the tears just started coming out of my eyes. These tears quickly turned into a full on, uncontrollable sob. This was a release of some deep pain that had been living inside me. I had repressed so many feelings that there was no more room to hold it inside. I cried for about 10 minutes, and I’ll never forget how sad and lonely I felt at that moment.
It safe to say this was the lowest point of my life. Despite having everything I had sought after, I had hit rock bottom. But the thing about rock bottom is that it’s solid, and you can stand on it. So that’s what I did.
2. Confronting the darkness, discovering the light.
I knew I needed help, so I started going to therapy. For the first time in my life I started talking about the way that I was feeling. My therapist exposed me to body relaxation exercises, which are a type of meditation where you go through and relax different areas of your body one at a time. I still remember a light bulb going off in me realizing that I could actually learn how to calm myself down without needing a substance.
My relaxed state opened me up to talk more about my feelings, and as I would talk, I could literally feel their weight being lifted off my shoulders. For the first time in my life I started to see that healing was possible. I was still dependent on medication and a therapist, but I was progressing.
Then life hit me with an even bigger punch to the gut, and that was the death of one of my teammates, Derrik Flahive.
I never had met Derrik. He was studying abroad when I arrived to Colby. But I had heard legendary things about him and had built him up in my mind to be a legend.
Needless to say, when coach called an emergency team meeting to inform us that Derrik had died in a cliff jumping accident, I was shocked to the core. Something inside me cracked, and after the meeting I cried on the whole walk home to my dorm. Something about the fragility of life, combined with the fact that I was not living happily, added up in that moment and I decided “time to stop playing the victim and figure your life out”.
Luckily, I had Derrik as a guide even though he was no longer alive. In the wake of his death, and his friends reflections about the kind of person he was, I realized that Derrik had embodied in many ways the life I was aspiring to live. People described him as Happy, kindhearted, adventurous and in the moment.
His friends kept referring to his relentless effort to get people to “live in the now” which was a message from his favorite book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
Eager to learn more about this concept, I acquired this book. What I learned would change my life forever.
What I realized by reading the power of now was that my suffering wasn’t being caused by life itself. Rather, my suffering was being caused by my own personal reaction to life’s circumstances and constantly living in the future and past. I realized that by focusing on the present moment, and training my mind to learn how to stay there, I could drastically change my life.
Luckily, my therapist also taught weekly meditation sessions at Colby, so along with the education I was receiving in this book I started attending these sessions where I could apply the teachings and start training my mind.
Between the exercise, therapy, meditation, and reading I was doing, I entered into a long period of extreme growth and happiness. A lot of good things started happening. I turned my perspective around on lacrosse and became 100% dedicated. I fell in love. I earned the starting spot. Everything just seemed to be getting better and better, topping it all off with getting accepted as a transfer student to UVA after my Sophomore year. Colby had been a great experience for 2 years, but I was ready to keep riding this happiness train to the land of dreams at the University of Virginia.
I had high expectations things were going to keep up on this upward trajectory, but again, I was wrong.
3. Plagued by the dullness of just getting by.
Colby had given me a lot. I had become truly happy for a time. I had healed my mind significantly, taken myself off Prozac, and was feeling great in my pursuit of lacrosse. I was a big fish in a small pond, but I was living with high levels of purpose.
Transferring to UVA, I was drawn to party scene. I had this image of what college was supposed to be like, and I imagined ultimate happiness as a laid back schedule, flexibility, and frat parties.
Boy, I was REALLY wrong. What I didn’t realize at the time was the the rigorous schedule I had at Colby, and the dedication I had to a team sport, were actually some of the biggest driving causes for why I had found happiness in the first place. As soon as I no longer had these things in place, I stepped back into a life that, although exciting and fun, had less structure and virtually no higher purpose.
This reduced sense of purpose was compounded by me ending my relationship. I had completely flipped my world upside down.
Sadly my fulfillment levels went down. And they stayed relatively low for the next 4 years. Despite a lot of great times, most of those days were lived with a cloud of manageable but unfulfilling dullness. I constantly tried to fill that void with partying, but that wasn’t doing the trick long term. I always felt like fulfillment and happiness were 1 party, 1 new person, 1 step away. It was always something I was reaching for.
These feelings of dullness and lack of fulfillment, which I would describe as pain, continued as I pursued my masters degree in business and then took on my first job at Red Bull in Atlanta.
The good thing about pain is that it can cause you to grow, and mine did. My lack of fulfillment led me to pursue deeper understanding into my own feelings. Ultimately, I stumbled into emotional intelligence and had my second big eye opening experience (the first being mindfulness).
Emotional Intelligence helped me understand what I was feeling. I had spent 5 years meditating at that point. I had a high degree of control and awareness of my mind, but I was completely missing the boat on emotions.
That’s a REALLY important boat to be missing, because emotions are actually the most potent factor in our life experience.
So without getting into it too much, learning about emotional intelligence ROCKED MY WORLD. And trust me, it can rock yours too. It’s the single most valuable skill I recommend someone learn.
My development of emotional Intelligence helped me to identify the biggest pain point of all that I felt: a lack of connection. Connection is one of our fundamental human needs, and in my quest to understand my own mind, I had done a lot of isolating myself as I tried to find the answers. As a result, you feel crappy. Ultimately, by understanding this, I have been able to grow my connection levels and am truly living a different life.
Through understanding connection, I was able to start improving my relationship with both the people and the world around me.
4. Realizing my Life’s purpose: to live and teach the art of inner Peace
Okay, this is where the story gets crazy. Despite all the progress I had made with mastering my mind, emotions, and connection, a key piece was still missing: PURPOSE
What is the purpose of my life? It’s a question we all struggle with, and one that I really struggled with for a long time. As luck would have it, as I embarked on my move across the country for a promotion at Red Bull the opportunity arose to discover my life’s purpose by embarking on a 6 month vision purpose guides discovery process.
The culminating point of this deep dive into my soul was a two day vision quest in the middle of the California Wilderness. No food, No Phone. Just me, my water, my journal, and my journey. I sat atop a mountain and meditated for 8 hours straight, and it was here that I realized my life’s purpose: to live and teach the art of inner peace.
So, my friends, that’s what brings me here today. My misison is to help spread inner peace in the world and to help build a community of like minded people. So, without further adieu, Welcome to The Academy of Inner Peace. We hope you’ll come and hang for a while.
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