Last fall, I was in a class at Belmont University called "Social and Emotional Issues in the Entertainment Industry". It was taught by one of my favorite women, Cristi Williams-Gilbert. She is a celebrity life coach and she also happens to be the mother of the mega-badass lead singer of Paramore, Hayley.
Cristi was exposed to the social and emotional aspects of the entertainment industry as Hayley was immersed into the music industry as a young teenager. Cristi's experiences with her own family developed a deep passion within her to learn and explore mental, social, and emotional wellbeing for those in (and outside of) entertainment. Cristi's insight was far more valuable than I ever anticipated and it was one of my favorite classes that I took in college.
Throughout the semester, Cristi poured into us about her personal experiences. She taught us about embarking on our own journeys of mental and emotional wellness, but she also taught us about being empathetic and understanding of others.
One of my favorite lessons from Cristi's class was when she walked each of the students through a mental health exercise. We each had to close our eyes and envision a place of peace. She instructed us to imagine a place of complete contentment, light, inspiration, and a place where we felt at ease. She told us to envision ourselves being there and being completely unfettered. We had to acknowledge anything negative that tried to cross our paths, but we simply redirected our focus and let it pass by us.
At the end of the exercise, each person in the class opened their eyes and there was a universal feeling of contentment in the classroom. Each of us had been focusing on our hopes, the optimism of what we looked forward to, and the peace that we knew existed. At the conclusion of the lesson, Cristi emphasized the importance of recognizing the power that our thoughts have on us. Cristi simply said, "Think of this place that you envisioned and how much peace you felt. Know that you can always draw on this place in your mind. You can always access this." It was simple at the time, but it is powerful if you really consider it. Our circumstances are always changing and we can't predict much of what happens to us, but we can allow ourselves to learn how to respond to life. We can learn to find peace and light in the midst of anything.
I valued this mental exercise because I really believe in the power of our minds. Our mental and emotional wellbeing is crucial to our health and ability to live with a sense of contentment.
In my head during the mental exercise, I had envisioned a quiet little park down the street from school. It was a bright and sunny day and I was on a roller coaster. The tracks of the roller coaster were jumpy and sporadic, but there was sunshine on my face and wind in my hair. I couldn't stop smiling because I knew that the light on my face was my constant. I closed my eyes briefly as I dropped over certain hills on the ride, but I kept my eyes fixed on the beauty around me. There were children laughing as they played and there were people walking through the park. There was also a bench that I noticed that I could go sit on. There was joy and peace and although I knew I had to be on the roller coaster long-term, I knew I could go take a break and sit on that bench whenever I wanted to. There was never a true moment of fear because the light illuminated everything. Once the exercise was over and I opened my eyes, I smiled to myself and realized that it can be interesting to see where our minds go when prompted to think of peace.
I instantly knew that in my mental visualization, I had created the roller coaster as a symbol of my life. I view life as a ride and a journey that is often unpredictable, really high, and sometimes low. It is an adventure and a journey that serves a distinct purpose. I am on my ride for a reason. The light in my vision was my faith and the presence of God in my life. No matter what I walk through, I know I'm not alone in it. The children playing and people walking through the park represented the people that come into or pass through my life. Although they may not be on the roller coaster with me for the entire duration, I see their joy, potential, beauty, and light-- I am grateful for them. Lastly, the bench represented the time that I take every single day to step out of my circumstances and look inwardly. For me, it is essential to take "quiet time" each and every day to pray, meditate, journal, and think about life and the bigger picture. In order to stay optimistic, I must remind myself that life is but a journey that carries significant purpose. Taking time to get in touch with my innermost thoughts, desires, and revelations is something that grows me.
This mental exercise was something that I'm sure was meant to be a brief part of Cristi's curriculum, but it was something that really resonated with me. It reinforced my belief that mental health is vital to our overall wellbeing. I have been passionate about mental health and holistic wellbeing for much of my life and something as simple as a mental exercise in a college classroom encouraged me to continue to explore MY OWN mental wellbeing.
Ever since that lesson, I have made it my point to own my thoughts and take them captive. I have made my best effort to be intentional in where I let my mind wander. Tough times come--it is inevitable. But over the past year, I have come to practice and train myself to redirect my thoughts back to the light.
Each person's "peace" is different. For some, a mental visualization may not come as easy--and that's okay! Ultimately, it comes down to knowing ourselves and knowing what fuels us. It's about realizing that when we can't control our external scenarios, we can do our best to have grace with ourselves and seek the light that can be found. When we discover an internal light, external circumstances can't ever fully extinguish it.
I encourage you to take some time to be introspective and find what fuels you and what brings you contentment. As you learn to place your attention on deeper dreams, motivations, and joys, it is amazing to see how much peace you can train yourself to find. Faith, spirituality, and inward growth are powerful things that can radically transform your life if you choose to seek. Just always remember to have grace with yourself.
Oh, I also must mention that the photo above is the exact spot at the park that I had envisioned in my mind. I stopped by the park last week to go for a walk and was reminded of the season of life I was in at this time last year. So much has changed and yet these hopes, the light, and my journey still stand.. only they have been deeply strengthened.