A Crashing Halt to my Plans

by Olivia Symons, student

My experience with Open Circle began one year ago when I started volunteering in a weekly group at a Reading Buddies and Nutrition program at an inner-city school. This was where I was first introduced to reflection circles. This was something entirely new to me in a volunteer position, and I enjoyed reflecting on our volunteer work and its significance to ourselves and the community. Doing this every week solidified how important engaging with the community was to me. However, I was hesitant to take part in the circles offered to students outside of volunteering, nervous of what they would entail. Spurred into action when the COVID-19 pandemic took over, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and join the Becoming Yourself Series. The pandemic and subsequent isolation forced me to confront truths in myself that I had been ignoring or simply hadn’t noticed. The fact that the future cannot be controlled, regardless of all the plans I had made, was one of said truths. All my summer plans had come to a crashing halt and I sat back with nothing else to do (quite literally) but watch them go up in flames. My summer trip, cancelled. The summer job I had acquired, no longer existed. And my breaking point came when I started talking to my friends who had all signed up for summer school courses and it was too late to sign up myself. The culmination of change after change to my perfected plans lead me to the first panic attack of my life. So, following the hour spent crying in my room questioning life, my purpose, and the future, I signed up for the Becoming Yourself Series.

The Becoming Yourself Series has been a bright light during the difficulty of COVID-19. Through the weekly practices, including meditation and journaling, I have discovered strategies that work for me to bring more awareness into my life. Before Becoming Yourself, I had the mindset that negative self-talk was the motivating force driving my productivity, but I learned a surprising truth. Negative self-talk was actually demoralizing and by practicing self-compassion instead of tearing myself down in moments of pain or struggle, I was able to better process my emotions, and increase my productivity and happiness. One example of how practicing self-compassion has helped me was through accepting my anxiety about my third year of university. I was finally able to face my anxiety, naming what I was feeling without judgement, acknowledging that I was not alone in my difficulty and expressing compassion toward something that I was struggling with. I was finally able to feel some excitement beyond the anxiety and, for the first time after weeks of procrastinating, plan out my courses.

Through Open Circle and the Becoming Yourself Series I have found a group of supportive people that made it easy for me to participate and learn about emotional self-care. Over the past 15+ weeks I have let go of judgement and started to listen to my inner voice that had gone quiet from years of doing what I thought I was supposed to instead of what I truly wanted. Though I have only known Marybeth for the weeks we have been participating in the Series, she has become a role model and mentor to me. She has helped me much more than I can express along the way by encouraging me to follow my curiosity, to trust, to be okay with things that cannot be controlled. I know more about myself now than I ever could have learned on my own, and what I have learned will shape my future in ways I cannot begin to imagine, and for that I am immensely grateful.