It’s often easy to make New Year’s resolutions but hard to realize them. A few people I know just recycle the ones from the previous year. Changing something can be effortful, especially if the process of change is uncomfortable in any way. On the other hand, I have met people who have come up with ingenious ways to let go of something or to introduce something new into their life. One person, whose health challenges demand his full attention, told me that he was changing one small thing every week, choosing on Monday what he will modify in the days to come. Motivated by wanting to reclaim health and wellbeing he tackles each step with commitment, choosing to back himself all the way. Change can be gentle and maybe even subtle and at its most basic is about doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. So here are the five things I want more of in 2019:
There are a few things I really value that come out of deliberately practicing meditation and mindfulness. These are: a safe inner refuge to retreat to, a more intimate connection with body and being, a calm that transcends the ups and downs of daily life and a heartfelt presence and participation with the world around me. What I appreciate most though is the clarity of mind that comes from regular meditation. It’s so easy to get tangled up in things like confusion, conflict, worry or regret and when the mind is crowded with difficult thoughts, life’s joys vanish out of sight. When I think of the mind I imagine a clear blue lake high in the mountains. It’s clear until storms arise that whip up waves and create turbulences stirring up the mud that usually lies undisturbed. The clear water becomes muddied and cloudy; it’s hard to see. Meditation is like making space for the waves to calm and the mud to settle and the water to become translucent once again. Life is so much less complicated when the mind is clear.
Evolutionary science tells us that our brains are biased toward the negative; we are more prone to focus on and remember that which is unpleasant ( a simple self-test can reveal how true this is for you: if you look back over the last day or week, what do you remember most clearly?). This is greater sensitivity to the negative is an automatic response and one of the most important keys to survival. If we miss the stick, so to speak, we may not live to see another day. If we miss the carrot, it’s no big deal in terms of survival. So, the question is how to transform this automatic reaction of remembering the negative? Easy. A deliberate practice of gratitude brings the good back into focus and balances the scale. The impact on the quality of life can be immediate. Personally, I start my day writing down three things that I am grateful for. The things I note can be as simple as having had a good night’s sleep or as meaningful as appreciating a particular aspect of a poem. It doesn’t really matter; what matters is to train the brain to remember the good.
Albert Einstein said: ‘I am I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.’ And as history has shown this curiosity took him far into remarkable discoveries. Curiosity takes us beyond the obvious, it stretches the mind and expands the horizon; it lets us experience the world around us with fresh eyes and makes life eternally interesting. So how come we lose curiosity so easily? Perhaps one explanation is that curiosity requires us to suspend judgment and with it move away from certainty. Not feeling certain, hanging out with not knowing can be unsettling or even scary and threfore not so easy to bear. Perhaps it is comforting to remember that curiosity can be a wide-open state of mind but it can also be a specific question filled with genuine desire to understand. The poet Rilke offered these lines as guidance” “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I’ve just spent 2 weeks with my little niece. She is nearly 4 but Down’s Syndrome has made her learning a bit slower (nothing wrong with her intelligence or her communication, it’s just the words that won’t quite form clearly yet). Every morning, while combing her hair, in her own way she’d tell me all kinds of stories about her dog or her sore finger or anything else that was of interest to her in that moment. If I didn’t get it she would patiently repeat the same word over and over until finally, I understood. As soon as I said the right word she would clap and laugh that gorgeous toddler giggle and we both felt chuffed and connected. This is what it feels like to feel felt, to be ‘gotten’, to be understood. It’s the good oil for human connection but like it is with curiosity, it requires an open mind and a willingness to step out of one’s known mental landscape and visit that of another. Try this simple thing once in a while: instead of responding with your opinion, thoughts or ideas to something someone has just said to you, start your sentence with: ‘so what you are saying is….’ (and then say back what you just heard in your own words with the intention to understand). Guaranteed to work.
Ahh, love. I don’t mean the romantic but the fierce kind. The one that says this matters, you matter. It shapes how we are with ourselves, with another and with life itself. It calls for commitment, for courage, for strength. It means a soft heart that is vulnerable to pain and loss and grief. High risk, high stakes. Big gain. The world needs more of it and luckily it’s not a finite resource.