Discovering genuine self-confidence under lockdown
Initiating our "Self-Confidence Series", Xenia Sofianou, a young change-maker from Greece, shares her story of finding genuine self-confidence through meditation and writing "morning pages" while being quarantined on her gap-year in Barcelona, where she is currently working as an au-Pair. She spent the first leg of her gap-year on "Semester at Sea", traveling to 13 countries, exploring the world and within it, herself.
In 2017, Xenia was awarded a scholarship to attend the United World College ISAK in Japan, where she completed her High School diploma while being devoted to organizing and facilitating a youth peace-conference, leading her volleyball team in international tournaments and being actively involved in bringing positive change in her community.
On March 14th, the day that I entered the dark-shaded new normality of self-isolation, I could not have imagined that today, almost 3 months later, I would be getting out of this situation with a new perspective on self-confidence and a story to share. An overly social person, I knew that being enclosed by four asphyxiating walls would eventually turn into my own kind of a homebound odyssey. Being limited in my comfort zone would be a slow, agonizing death to my self-confidence. Winning a volleyball match, buying myself a new outfit, hooking up with a random guy in a club, these had been my most recent boosts of self-confidence. But there were not such antidotes hidden in the fridge of my kitchen or in the first-aid kit of my house. So what would happen to my self-esteem over the period of social distancing?
It was during the quarantine that I realized something very important. In our perfectionist world, we have constructed the problematic belief that in order to build self-esteem, you need to fix your flaws. Basically, get rid of whatever decreases your self-esteem. Build the perfect body, buy new clothes, get a degree, mark an important achievement. Undoubtedly, such activities will yield a certain amount of temporary self-confidence. But the problem is that it will be an artificial kind of confidence, and its effect will sooner or later wither away, in search of a new confidence boost.
However, during the last few weeks, I realized that the heart of self-confidence lies within a very quiet place within. True self-confidence has to be built on a foundation of self-awareness. This kind of self-awareness lets you understand your strengths and your weaknesses on a deep and intimate level, embrace them and be at peace with them. Two new habits that I discovered during quarantine guided me into building a considerable amount of self-awareness that soon turned into genuine self-confidence: Meditation and journaling.
Meditation: The first magic ingredient
The lack of social life created an empty space in my daily routine. Therefore, I had plenty of free time and pretty much nothing to fill it with. It was a Monday when my friend gifted me a subscription for a Meditation app. “Cristina and her spiritual shit”, I thought, and continued my life, “promising” her that I would try it at least once. And here I am now, 63 days later, having meditated 648 minutes in total, according to the app. There have been plenty of books written on abundant scientifically proven benefits of meditation, but what I'd like to focus on today is how meditation can truly help you build self-confidence.
Bart Mendel, a master in meditation and a uniquely qualified guide, mentions in his talk “Discovering genuine confidence” that meditation is the key practice to discovering and building “genuine self-confidence". He explains that there’s an important distinction between ordinary confidence and genuine confidence. One could say that ordinary confidence is the kind of temporary, artificial confidence I mentioned in the introduction of the article. It is based on some kind of a reference point, an achievement, a relationship, or personal attainment. Genuine confidence, on the other hand, has very little to do with external events. It is actually based on an unconditional experience of self -awareness, and a sense of self-worth, regardless of circumstances. And that is what I experienced through meditation.
A core tenant in meditation is to sit with yourself. To just observe your inner space without judgment. You’re not avoiding anything, nor are you trying to make anything happen. You’re simply observing what is. Think about it this way: you open the dark box of your conscious (and subconscious) feelings and thoughts and you take them out for a short coffee, in the sun. You do not get terrified by what is there in the box, neither do you allow it to consume you. You voluntarily allow it to manifest itself, listen to what it has to tell you and when the time is right, you are able to put the content back, close the box and once again integrate yourself into the outer world. It’s only when we sit down and observe our inner self in this non-judgmental manner that we can start to unravel who we truly are.
Eventually, this will lead to a better understanding of our strengths and limitations, which is what I call self-awareness. And through the practice of non-judgmental observation, we can also condition our mind to no longer judge those limitations, yet embrace them. Thus, self-awareness becomes an effortless and subtly powerful self-confidence.
And here comes the interesting contradiction that lies in the heart of meditation, which is also one of its main cores: Although you acknowledge and observe your feelings and thoughts, you do not get caught up in them. You do not fuel the negative thinking that might be going on in the back of your mind. You realize that feelings and thoughts do not define you and that they shall pass, they shall soon be replaced with something new. Rather, you remain focused in the present moment, allowing them to simply come and go.
Morning pages: The second magic ingredient
A few days after discovering the meditation app, and while wandering around my cousin’s labyrinth of a library, I came across a book called “The artist’s way: Morning pages journal” written by Julia Cameron.
After a brief read, I actually started doing what the book was all about: a thing called “morning pages”. These are three pages of handwriting done in the morning, when you are thinking about anything at all, such as “I did not call my sister back”, or “it’s time to change the bed”. The writer suggests that what this exercise does is clear your mind. She emphasizes that “you do not need to be a writer to write whatever crosses your mind. You write down what is crossing your consciousness. Think that you are meeting your shadow and taking it out for a cup of coffee. When you put negativity and distracting thoughts on the page, it is not eddying through your consciousness during the day. It is a clearing exercise, that makes you have much more consciousness as you pass through your day.”
When I look at my pages, at my hand-written letters on a sheet of paper, I feel more connected to myself. When I give the chance to all these thoughts and emotions to be expressed, I instantly become more self-aware. And this pinprick of self-awareness grows more and more until it turns into a beautiful flower of genuine self-confidence.
To conclude, I must admit that upon embarking on this adventure, I realized that it is not about building confidence. It is about unburying all this confidence that has always been there but has been obscured under socially constructed ideas of beauty, success, and identity. When you meditate and express your thoughts and emotions, you see your naked, vulnerable self, and you embrace it. You are at ease with your mind, and soul and this, for me, is genuine self-confidence.
We like to call ourselves "change-makers" We strive to bring peace into our community, into our country, into the world. But when fascinated and absorbed by our "big plans", we tend to forget something very simple, yet so important: That we need to start from inside out. For we can't achieve outer peace when we have not accomplished peace of mind. And now, more than ever, the world is in desperate need of young people, who, full of genuine self-confidence, will heal today's wounds, and create a better tomorrow.
Bart Mendel Bart, & Bart. (2020, April 8). Discovering Genuine Confidence through Meditation (And Why It Matters). Retrieved from https://mindworks.org/blog/discovering-
Developing Self-Confidence Through Meditation. (2020, May 27). Retrieved from https://siyli.org/resources/confidence-through-meditation
Morning Pages. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2020, from https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/
Teplin, J., & Lcsw. (2018, July 11). How Meditation Can Improve Your Self-Esteem. Retrieved from https://www.manhattanwellness.org/journal/2018/7/11/how-meditation-can-improve-your-self-esteem