My Attempt at Meditation

So yesterday I was feeling a bit spiritual and thoughtful about the world I live in so I decided to try meditation again. When I was younger I used to meditate on occasion to relax, relieve stress, and escape my world for a bit. It has been so long since I blocked out all distractions on merely focused on my inner self and finding deeper truths within my mind. 

Ok, so I know this all sounds kind of crazy and hippie-ish… but I promise, it does wonders. I don’t know if my form of meditation is “correct” or standard but its what I learned and it helps center me.What I do is I lay on my back (can be done sitting if you want) with my palms up and I establish a steady breathing rhythm. I then visualize and count the numbers 1-10 in my head. After this I visualize a bird flying from the left to the right and then a curtain goes up. To come out of meditation all of this is done backwards. Once I am in meditation I can do anything I choose. Sometimes I have a scenario I want to explore in mind ahead of time, but sometimes like last night I just let whatever happens happen (somewhat like dreaming). 

So here’s what I envisioned. I started out on the beach of my childhood neighborhood watching the waves crash against the shore. Unsure of why I was here and what I should do I began to swim out as far away from the shore as possible. I kept swimming until I had exhausted my body and came upon a kayak in the water. I switched to kayaking, moving faster than I was able to without it but after a bit the waves became too choppy for my small vessel and at this point a sailing ship appeared to me. I now switched into the ship, sailing together with other crew members, battling the raging waters of the sea.

Well, since this was my first time meditating in a long time that’s all I had the focus for. So I came out of my meditation and thought about what I had seen. Everything I had seen was a product of my own thoughts, feelings and memories yet instead of controlling my thoughts, I let them guide me. After a little analysis I realized there was a message in this journey of my mind. The beach near my childhood home symbolized my beginnings and swimming away from the shore out towards open sea was my journey through high school and early college. I wasn’t quite on my own yet but I was forced to be independent and carry myself forward into my life. As I moved farther and farther away, distance representing time, I am unable to continue on merely my own strength. I employ the help of a kayak or in real life, my college education. This goes faster and brings me farther away in less time. Sometimes it is hard to come to terms with the fact that I have learned the basics to what I need to know to be an engineer in a mere four years.

When the waters have become too choppy for me to make it in my kayak, I graduate to a ship where I still must work but I have others to help me and be my companions. This may symbolize my family and coworkers after I graduate. Maybe I was kayaking I had company too, but we weren’t so much in it together. In school I have acquaintances but when we graduate we will all go our separate ways; to jobs, families, and our futures. Maybe our paths may cross again but we will not be sailing together, always going to the same places, completely invested in each other’s well being.

My meditative journey last night helped me come to terms with graduation (on a very simple scale) and it has encouraged me to make meditation a regular thing. Not only does meditation make things clearer, but it is an excellent way to escape our world of constant communication, media, and noise. It’s a way to relax and have a few minutes (or more) here and there that you have all to yourself to reset your mind and have inner peace.

 

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What do I want to do when I graduate?

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That is a good question. And being less than 100 days away from graduation I’m still not positive. Sure I know the things I want to do before I die and I have a general idea what will make me happy but I’m really uncertain. I thought that by the time I was a senior I would have things figured out but I was so busy over the past 4 years dealing with everything life threw at me that I still don’t really know. So until I figure this out, and who knows when that will be…. I am applying to as many environmental engineering jobs as possible.

But here’s another problem. There are so many things I can do with an environmental engineering degree that I’m not really sure where to start. Some jobs make it easy with a title of “Environmental Engineer I” but others are not so straightforward…. Also I’m not sure that I want to go into straight engineering. I kind of want to… I just don’t know.

What I do know is what makes me happy, and maybe if I list them here they will help me figure out what I should do after graduation.

1. Singing and dancing. Nothing like a good ‘ol musical number to get my endorphins pumping. Personally I think life would be really cool if it was like Glee although nobody but music geeks and drama nerds and maybe some gay folk would agree with me. Sometimes it feels like the only way to get out all my feelings or to cheer me up is through a song and dance routine spontaneously breaking out in the middle of my life. Then again, it could get me put in a mental institution…. If I was talented enough I would pursue this, but my voice isn’t the greatest and I cannot dance to save my life. Unless I made it big by being as being such an awful dancer that people loved it….

2. A comedienne  I love making people laugh, but if I want to pursue this I’m going to need to sharpen up. Sometimes I’m unintentionally funny but I’m not sure if I’m ready for a stand up act yet. Sitcom I could totally manage but getting onto that scene is quite challenging as well. Maybe I could move out to Cali and try to get work as an actress but as we all know, it ain’t easy to make it out there unless you have the perfect balance of luck, connections, and talent.

3. A writer. I am way too ADHD to be a writer. This post here has taken me 2 weeks so far because of the lack of focus I had everytime I tried to write it. But I am always full of ideas to write about so that’s a plus. I think I’m going to work on more actively pursuing this (starting with this blog!). And I can make people laugh by writing. Or I can inspire deep thoughts. The world is my stage and I shall write for it.

4. Travel the world. This isn’t exactly a career choice but before I die I want to travel to all the remote (and close) nooks and crannies of the world. I want to explore and meet new people. I want to sail across the ocean and have an exciting adventure. I want to meet all different kinds of people and learn about their lives firsthand instead of from books, movies, or the news. I want to find my purpose out there. As St. Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”.

5. Help people. So many people have helped me throughout my life and I cannot thank them enough. In addition to enjoying helping people in general I want to pay it forward and be able to do for others what others have done for me. There have been so many friends and family members who have helped me through difficult times and helped me grow into a more mature, stronger, and independent person and I want to help others achieve that as well. No one should feel like they are alone in the world or have no one to turn to for help. If we would all help each other out the world would be such a better place. Even small acts of kindness can make a world of difference. So I always want to leave time in my life to volunteer where my skills are needed.

6. A family. This is self explanatory. I want a children one day who I have enough time to nurture and love. I don’t want to be a parent who is always at work and hardly knows their own children. But like my wonderful mother and father who always took time to be with me and do special things with me, I want to have plenty of quality time with my children and raise them to be strong and happy individuals. And I want to take in children who don’t have homes or anyone who cares about them. Because I believe that all children deserve love and a chance at a good life.

So these are the things I want in life. From least realistic to most, I need to find a way to incorporate them into my life. Maybe I can be a traveling volunteer finding safe water sources for third world countries for a few years and then start a family. Maybe I can settle down at an engineering job that cleans up hazardous waste sites and turns them into schools for children and then have a family and travel the world with them. I don’t know what will happen but I hope that I will find my way to happiness one day. Right now I’m shrouded with stress at school but I know that if I put my mind to it, I can have the life I want. A life full of purpose and love and free of stress and pain. No one can fully avoid the awful things in life and I know there will be rough times too, but I am setting forth on my journey with optimism and determination to make a life for myself that I will be happy in.

I found a video on youtube that inspired me to go after what I really want, rather than what I have been told by society I need.

What if money were no object? Well the things I have listed are what I would want. And I’m okay with a life that isn’t lavish. I have never lived a lavish life and that hasn’t kept me from happiness in the past. I am so thankful for my loving family, amazing friends, having a place to sleep at night, always enough food to eat, and a chance at higher education. I know so many people who lack some or all of these things and some of them still find a way to be happy and if they can, I definitely can. Although I have battled with depression in the past I don’t want to let things going wrong at school or work get me down. There are always options, our lives are filled with millions of possible paths we can take with unknown outcomes. We can take risks or we can play it safe. Our lives are in our hands and the key to happiness lies in our hearts and minds.

I am still young and I want to seize the day ahead of me. I have spent far too long dwelling on what I wish I had done in my years in college or what I shouldn’t have done but regrets will only keep us in the past. So I learn from my mistakes the best I can and I will keep moving forward, each day growing a little bit older and hopefully wiser. And I need to build up faith in myself and slowly become stronger and braver. I want to have the courage to do what will make me happy and allow me to do the most for others. So as I move through these last ten weeks of my undergraduate career, I’m going to do my best. I’m going to work hard and stay positive and find my path. I may not have found it by the time I graduate but I’ll never stop searching for it.

So here goes….

How to be a Hu$tler on Campus

So you’re a poor college student. Struggling to pay tuition, rent, grocery bills, etc. Not to mention your booze and weekend allowance. So what do you do? You hu$tle. From working mutliple jobs to selling your old things on ebay there are lots of ways to squeeze money out of time and into your pocket (or straight to your college tuition…). So here’s a list of ways to save and make easy money in college.

1. Search for the best deals on textbooks. Don’t settle for paying the high prices your college bookstore will charge. Textbooks range from $50-$200 per book and with an average of 5 classes per semester this can add up. I don’t even want to think about all the money I have spent on textbooks over the years. However, there are lots of ways to get out of this. The first step is to check and see if any of your required textbooks are available at your university library. You would be surprised how many they will have. The trick is to act on this quickly because they may only have one or two copies of the book that you and 100 other students need. Another possibility is to share your textbook with a friend who is taking the same class, or borrow/ buy a used textbook from a friend who has taken the class before. Always make friends in class! Even if it’s a huge lecture hall, it’s extremely helpful to buddy up for lots of reasons. My favorite way to save money on textbooks is to buy the international editions. They are the exact same book but softcover and sometimes have lower quality paper, but not always. I just bought one of my textbooks in the international edition for $60 that would have been $113 at the college bookstore or $180 used online. It just came today and it’s smaller and lighter  than the copy they are offering for $113 but with the same content. If you aren’t planning on keeping your textbook, consider renting it or selling it back when your course is finished. Lastly, I use isbns.net to instantly compare prices for your textbook on hundreds of websites. Don’t let your college bookstore hu$tle you!

2. Amazon Student. Did you know that as a college student you can get a free Amazon Prime account for 6-12 months? It’s easy to sign up and completely free. The perks are free 2-day shipping, discounts sent to your email, and again FREE SHIPPING. What you save on not paying for shipping adds up, plus you get your stuff faster! When your free membership runs out, they offer you a discounted Prime account which I decided to get because with what you save in free shipping it pays for itself. Plus with a regular prime account you get access to Amazon Instant videos which has most of what Netflix has. You can make your free Amazon student account here at Amazon Student.

3. Coupons! While you may not be as successful with coupons as the people on Extreme Couponing, they can still help lower your grocery bills if you live off campus. There are lots of ways to get coupons such as in your Sunday newspapers, online or in e-mails. Use your coupons wisely. Don’t buy something just because you have a coupon for it, but save the coupons for items your would buy anyways like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, or snacks. Make sure to match your coupons with weekly sales to get the ultimate savings and maybe one day you will be on your way to being and extreme couponer.

4. Get a job. Or two or three…. Find an on campus job that works for you. If you live off campus a dining hall job will provide you with some free meals. If you live on campus find an easy info desk job that allows you to do your homework or study when there aren’t any customers. Most colleges have a job website that makes it easy to find work. I work in the game room in my school’s student union. It’s the perfect job because I sit at a desk and can do my homework during work. I also have television and a computer at work, so if I want to just veg out I can do that too. If a job is too strenuous it may interfere with your performance in classes. I worked in a lab for a year cleaning bottles and doing other menial tasks. While it paid well, I was on my feet for hours at a time and was too exhausted after work to get any school work done. So take advantage of easy jobs and even double up on jobs if you can handle it. In addition to my campus job, I do babysitting and tutoring on occasion when my regular clients need a last minute sitter. I look for my babysitting, tutoring, and petsitting gigs at care.com which is a great legit site for finding work.

5. Rewards websites. There are easy and safe ways to make some money online by taking surveys, watching videos, shopping online, searching online and playing games. I use Swagbucks and I make about $50 per month on it by spending 30 minutes-1 hr per day on it. If you shop a lot online this site is great because for most shopping websites you can earn 1-10 “Swagbucks” per dollar. Each swagbuck is about a penny but they add up fast. Say you are buying your textbooks on Amazon and the sum total is $300. If the rate for Amazon textbooks is 3 sbs per dollar, you will earn 900 swagbucks from your purchase which is about $9 back. You can redeem your swagbucks in the form of gift cards for anything from Paypal to Walmart. It’s a cool site and I would highly recommend it. You can also use MyPoints, which is works the same way but it’s harder to earn points and it takes a lot more points to earn rewards.

6. Sell your old unwanted valuables on ebay! Not everyone has things to sell, but if you have stuff lying around that you don’t want anymore you might as well. If you only sell 10 items per month there are no extra fees and ebay takes a very small percentage of your profit. You can sell things like video games, trading cards (look out for cards that are worth a lot now!), old electronics, etc. I don’t sell very much but when I do it’s nice to have some extra money coming in.

7. Sell your eggs or sperm. This is kind of extreme and I haven’t personally done it, but eggs are worth a couple grand if you are a healthy college student. If it’s something you are open to, go for it. If not, ignore this tip.

8. Participate in campus research studies. Most college campuses offer a handful of studies periodically which can be quite lucrative for the participant. While studies have a reputation for involving taking pills or MRI’s, there are less intrusive studies which only require you to do simple reading tasks or puzzles. In the past I have been paid up to $80/hr in cash for these studies and all I had to do was take simple reading tests, do some math and answer questions. Since they are through the university they are definitely legitimate, but if you ever find studies that aren’t affiliated with a university or reputable company, be wary and read everything through before you sign anything or participate.

9. Save your pocket change in a piggy bank. You would be surprised how much your loose change from an entire semester can add up to. I keep a couple cups of coins in my room where I put all my loose change that I find on the floor or in my pockets and by the end of the semester it’s my gas money home.

10. Scholarships!!! You would be surprised how many companies or individuals are willing to help fund your education. Although I haven’t received any scholarships in college, I came to college with scholarships from AXA, Big Y, and a local bank that totalled almost $15,000. Almost every big company has a scholarship fund you can apply to and your school may have scholarships as well. If you are a minority it’s even better. There are loads of scholarships for women in science, African Americans, etc. Take advantage of these and spend time before and during college applying for scholarships. The time really will pay off and it will reduce your loans drastically. A great resource for finding scholarships is Fastweb. It will help you find scholarships specific to you.

Well, that’s all I have for now but I hope these tips help make college easier on your wallet. Ready, set, start hu$tling!

Surviving the Perils of a College Dining Hall

College dining halls. A peril only to be faced by the most daring of warriors. Or by unsuspecting freshman… Either way, it is quite the force to be reckoned with. These buildings house our main source or nourishment for our four years (or more) at school, so they must be approached cautiously. One can not make enemies with their dining halls, yet the relationship is not quite one of pure amiability. In this post wish to provide my fellow scholars with a practical guide to braving mass produced sustenance based on my experiences in the past four years. My first year of college I was housed nearest to the most daunting of the dining halls in my university. It had a reputation for foul food that only the honors and arts students could stomach. This hall was located in the most remote corner of campus and only those who had classes or lived nearby dared to enter. Throughout the rest of my years I ventured farther out to the other halls but found them to be just as formidable in their own way. Each had it’s own ups and downs and although I opted for take out whenever possible, when my bank account ran dry I was forced to again turn to the halls. And so I provide some valuable tips for surviving your undergraduate eating career.

1. Become allies with the gatekeeper. The little old ladies who swipe you into the dining hall are the key to finding edible food. If you are nice to them they will help you, but if you are frigid to them your path will be ever so more arduous. Give her (or him if the case may be) a nice smile and “how do you do” whenever you come in and they swipe your ID. If there is no line have a short friendly conversation. These lovely retired ladies (or gentlemen) may be lonely guarding the entrance all by themselves, make friends with them and they will give you valuable tips about the food that day.

2. Be prepared. Check the dining hall menus online ahead of time when possible and avoid food you know to be horrid. Do not let the gourmet names fool you. Food from a dining hall is food from a dining hall. Although Black and Bleu Cube Steak sounds enticing…. well I’ll get to that in a bit.

3. Avoid ethnic food. Nothing at all against ethnic foods (eg. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese) but when it is cooked by dining hall chefs on a mass scale, it doesn’t taste like what you get at a restaurant. Occasionally its tasty but most of the time…. it’s not.

4. Eat Kosher or Halal. Even if you are not a Jew or Muslim, the Kosher and Halal food at college campuses is usually cooked on a smaller scale. And since religious guidelines are so strict, the quality of the food is almost always drastically better. At my school the Kosher food is delicious and nutritious more often than not. Unfortunately our Kosher/ Halal kitchen is in a far corner of campus that I rarely journey to and so I am still subject to the regular food.

5. Check your meat before you eat it! This was a lesson I only just learned today. I was served my Black and Bleu Cube Steak and it looked wonderful but when I cut it open I saw that it was not cooked at all on the inside. This was rarer than rare and totally against health codes…. Were they trying to poison us? Maybe, maybe not but inspect your meat before you eat it.

6. Build up an appetite for pizza, salad, sandwiches and cereal. If there is nothing appetizing on the hot line there is almost always cold foods available that are hard to screw up. I know there have been some weeks where I live on salad, subs, pizza, and pasta from the dining halls. Also, I keep (mostly) kosher, so when there is only main dishes with pork I don’t really have a lot of choices.

7. Use the suggestion box. At my school the dining hall suggestion box is really popular. We ask for things we want more of and let them know when something is really awful. Sometimes a couple of comedic cards get in there too so they are fun to read. From my experience, the managers usually take most of the suggestions into account so you might as well take advantage of them. Can’t complain if you haven’t spoken up! (I have put quite a few of those cards in over my four years)

8. Attack your meals in pairs or groups. Generally it’s more enjoyable to go to dinner with friends. Especially so you can bitch about the food and let each other know what’s good and what’s not. One of the best parts of the dining hall experience (and believe me, there are not many) is getting to relax at meals with your friends and have a nice time. Put aside time for your meals when you can and spend them with good friends. The food is not quite so bad if there is laughter involved.

9. Pick a college that has good food. This is for any pre-college students who may be reading this. You’re going to be eating the food for a long time, make sure you try out a dining hall at each school you visit. It’s a good way to get a feel for the atmosphere of the student body and test out the food. Hey, food is pretty important, so if two colleges are pretty even and you can’t decide, make food your deciding factor.

10. Condiments. Nothing like some ketchup or BBQ sauce to add some flavor to really bland food. Get creative.  🙂

That’s all I have for now, but I hope it helps. Some of what I have written is specific to my school but most of it applies universally. Even though you may be discouraged after a few weeks of dining hall food, keep on trucking. Winter and summer breaks are a nice time to refresh your pallet and eat everything that is not delicious or available at school. Keep some snacks in your room too and most importantly, stock up on Ramen and Easy Mac. There’s a funny thing about the freshman fifteen. I have noticed that some people gain it and some people lose it. It all depends on your balance of eating and exercise.

Then again, maybe it just depends on the dining hall and your survival techniques…..