Can you believe that you’ve been in college for over a month now? It’s crazy to think about how little time you’ve actually spent here considering the normalcy that is probably beginning to set in. I hope that you’ve finally rid yourself of the first-year plague and that you are changing your underwear at least twice per week.
In my previous letter, I wrote about the need to ground yourself in order to balance out the metaphorical sumo-wrestler that is the unpredictability of life. In order to be grounded, you need to grow, and to enable said growth, you must achieve balance in your day-to-day life. So what is it you are trying to balance?
Imagine, just for a second, that you are a tree. A tree needs three things in order to become big and strong. First, it needs sunlight in order to photosynthesize and produce the food it requires to survive. Next, it needs earth (soil, water and air) to be able to grow roots and have a physical space in which to exist. Finally, a tree needs time, for it cannot expand and tower above the canopy of the forest in a single day.
Like a tree, you need three things in order to grow. Just as a tree needs sunshine to catalyze the production of chemical energy, so too must you expand your mind to have a more comprehensive understanding of yourself and the world around you. Just as a tree depends on the earth to provide it with nourishment, so too must you take care your body to act as a healthy host for your consciousness. Just as a tree must surrender itself to the construct of time, so too must you become aware of the immaterial essence that is your soul. You are just as much your thoughts as you are your biology; just as much some a state of being as a being itself. The mind, body and soul are all deeply interconnected and interdependent. To neglect one is to neglect the other two. You must give your attention to all three facets of yourself so that you may plant deeper roots and reach greater heights.
"Okay, so all this existential philosophy stuff is great and everything, but how do I actually implement this into my life?" Great question! Let’s dive in.
The mind is the facet of self I think college students place most of their emphasis on. After all, we are students who came to a school like Duke to learn and study. However, one giant mistake I made in my first few years of college was believing that my classes were a means to an end. I chose my major because it was “practical,” not because I was particularly curious or interested in the subject matter. I knew, or thought I knew, that my success in life would be determined by what job I got after college, so I went into a field that would give me the greatest likelihood of fulfilling the vision of success I arbitrarily set forth for myself. Thus, don’t let school get in the way of your education. The world is such an incredible place that we as a species are truly just beginning to comprehend. Use this education to challenge your preconceptions and biases and follow your natural curiosity. As I learned in a lecture from William Deresiewicz last week, “there is no such thing as information, there are only arguments.” You must analyze the arguments of others and make your own in turn as you define for yourself what is good and what is true.
The body is the home you build for your mind and soul, so it’s fairly important to make sure it is in good condition. First, you need to build exercise into your routine so that when you are pressed for time, it doesn’t become neglected. It’s pretty absurd that you have a free gym membership to a gym that is 300 feet from your bed. Take advantage of it.
Next, it’s easy to go crazy with food in college. I personally have a strong affinity for Marketplace’s limitless lemon meringue pie and need to be restrained if I come within a five-foot vicinity. However, self-control and discipline are key if you are to keep moderation in your diet. One thing that can be helpful is adhering to strict rules for yourself about what you can and cannot eat for six days of the week, and then having a splurge day once a week where you can stuff your face with an abundance of Domino’s wonderful cheesy bread. The previous days of abstention will make it taste that much better.
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of sleep. You won’t be efficient or produce good work when your brain is off and your body is tired. Listen to what your body is telling you and just go to bed.
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The soul is the hardest thing to take care of because it's immaterial and deeply individual.
However, here are some things that work for me that might also help you out. First, find time to practice gratitude each and every day. Stress can pile up, as can loneliness and insecurity. Remind yourself that there is so much in your life that is going right. You don’t have to worry about food or shelter. Your full-time job is to learn and grow. You have a brother who cares enough about you to author a poorly written public letter to you every two weeks. Everything is actually okay. Happiness is nothing more than wanting what you already have.
Next, keep a journal. There surely are lots of thoughts swirling through your head as you unlearn who you once were and redefine who you are and who you want to become. Writing in a journal is a great way to organize your thoughts, reflect on your experiences and maintain a dialogue with the one person who will never leave you: yourself.
And finally, laugh as much as you possibly can.
Your loving brother,
Grant Besner is a Trinity senior who one day aspires to operate his own alpaca farm. His column, “Dear Noah,” runs on alternate Mondays.