Making Room: May It Be So

I started out today expecting to write the usual laundry list of ambitions, both petty and profound, and compose my thoughtful, well-intentioned game plan of  self-improvement, neatly ordered into checklists that can be efficiently scotched or unscotched as the days go by.

Instead, I found myself thinking about my grandmother. She died in July. It wasn’t COVID or anything dramatic. Time got her. She was 94 and lived independently in an apartment of her own until the final, frail weeks. My parents took her in, setting up the hospice bed in my old bedroom. My mom and dad and aunt and uncle and cousins took care of her. We visited most every day. My brothers came in to say their goodbyes. So did my cousins’ kids, my grandmother’s great-grandkids. During the 15ish months of relative isolation during the peak uncertainty of the pandemic, I saw my grandmother infrequently for fear of carrying the virus into her home.

And so it was tremendous relief when our families were able to gather together and help each other help my grandmother through her final weeks, days and hours of life. She died peacefully surrounded by people who loved her, the people she loved.

And I am thinking of her today instead of making my resolutions. I am thinking of the way she was able to love people so well. She was filled up with love, so much that it spilled out constantly. Her love was a bountiful abundance. She could not keep it to herself. She could not keep it inside.

None of us ever needed to wonder how she felt. She told us. She took interest and asked questions. She was curious about our lives and our doings. She was proud when we did something worthwhile and liked to celebrate every small success.

I am thinking of her today because her way of loving is my inheritance. It is the way I want to live my life. To spill over with curiosity and kindness for the people in my life. To give generously without reservation, nothing held back, nothing set aside. She was all in, always.

It doesn’t matter what goals I set myself for the coming year. I will set them and I will see them through. But the meditation is not for what I will do but for how I will do it. With kindness. With generosity. Ever curious. Ready to celebrate. Opening, always opening. Making room for everyone and everything.

This is my new year’s day meditation.

May it be so.

Turn the Page

Thursday, December 31, 2020. I am imagining so many of us all around the world just sitting in our favorite chairs today, contemplating the year that has almost passed, ready to turn the page on 2020. Always satisfying to turn a calendar page. This year we can tear all the pages out. Release all of our aggressions toward a confounding, dangerous, stressful year. Shred the hateful year. Burn it. Bury it. Don’t look back.

Adapted from “20120605_IMG_38316” by Joshua & Amber is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tempting to believe things will be magically different effective 00:00:01 Friday, January 1, 2021. Satisfying to see the odometer roll to zero. It seems, however briefly, a fresh start. A clear demarcation line between old and new, the life we have and the life we want.

And so, New Year’s Resolutions are made with varying degrees of planning and reasoned approach. Better health, better attitude, better relationships, better you, better me, better us. Some of us will keep some of those resolutions, make them into habits that become our daily lives. Good for us. Some will break those resolutions before the sun sets on 2021 Day One. No worries. Try again on Day Two, Day Three… Day 354.

The point is the effort. The point is putting our hopes into action. Doing things that carry us toward our hopeful selves rather than away.

I don’t often make New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve got all the usual hangups that need attention. I need loose the 30 pounds. I need to drink more water, eat less sugar, exercise more. I should meditate daily and keep my public blog and private journal. I need to read and write as much as possible. All of that is with me everyday. I need that today. I need that tomorrow. I need that four months from now and forever. So, I start today with a down payment of attention. I don’t wait for the odometer to roll. I give myself a head start.

What if I fail, you ask? Oh, I will fail. That is guaranteed. And so, January 1 is not about fresh start. January 1 is about picking it back up after I fail. The failure is certain. The picking it back up after I fail depends on me.

A mind trick, perhaps, but it helps take the magical thinking out of the calendar and the turning of the page.

We wake up tomorrow with new calendars, new digits to write in our daily life tracking chores.

New calendar. Same lives. Brimming with possibility.

Wishing you a happy, safe 2021. Be well, friends.

Grateful for Difficulty

This past year and the year before have been the most challenging years of my life. We continued to adjust to the loss of my mother-in-law. We did our best to help an angry, tired grandmother die comfortably and with as much dignity as possible. My considerate, sweet 8 year old daughter became an obstinate punk. My marriage wobbled under new stresses. I lost my way, for a time, both personally and professionally.

But here’s the thing. These past two years have also been the richest years of my life. Our losses are constant reminders of impermanence, a source of new urgency and clarity about things that actually matter.

My newly punkified 8 year old explores my patience daily and reminds me that respect in any relationship is earned through habits of sincerity and discipline. This isn’t only true between parents and children.

The challenges inside our marriage threw us both off our feet. We found a better way to stand together. At 41 years old, I fell in love again with the woman I have loved since I was 15 years old. I am learning there is no edge, no ceiling, no floor on how two people can commit and grow together. She is the best part of my life.

I am finding my way out of darkness and I am traveling lighter and with greater clarity of purpose. Instead of constantly taking things on, I am pairing things down. I am learning to set down the burdens that do not properly belong to me.

I used to believe a good life was crowded, exciting and easy. I am coming to know that the good life is simple, steady and full of difficulty.

And this is my new year wish for you: that your life be filled with difficulty, frustrations and obstacles. And that, in difficulty, you may find your better self. That your relationships grow sweeter and your days more urgent. Our time together here is very short. Every moment matters.

Time Change!

I’ve never understood how New Year’s Day became the high holy day for self-improvers. You go to bed too late and wake up with a brand new calendar. Your insurance deductibles reset. You have to stop and think before dating the documents you sign. Everything else stays pretty much the same.

Where I live it is usually a bit dreary on December 31 and dreary again on January 1. The weather doesn’t change. The angle of the sun doesn’t change.

Our ancestors used to mark time by the passage of the sun, the angle of the light and the resulting changes in the world around them. Winter is the dream time when the world is dormant and sleeping. When dream time ends, you know it because you can see the world waking up. Daylight has heft and lasts longer. Green things start to grow. The world is frisky and vibrant. Everyone and everything is awake and full of potential.

For me, this transformation becomes most apparent with the start of Daylight Savings Time. Say what you will about the antiquated practice, I love the one hour jump. Until my body adjusts, I feel like I am living an hour in the future. This excites and inspires me.

I don’t make resolutions on New Year’s Day. Those plans aren’t real. They don’t enshrine themselves into ongoing habit. However, with the start of daylight savings time, I naturally adopt a new mentally. My focus and attention sharpen. I run more. I eat healthier. I pay attention to the calories I put in my body, the calories I expend, and the amount of water I drink. My family spends more time together outdoors. We do things, fix things, organize things.

This happens every year without fail and without advance planning. This is, for me, the end of dream time and beginning of waking up.

How does the time change affect your life routines? Do better choices become easier or does it make any difference at all? Do you ever feel like you are living just a little bit in the future? I’d love to know if I am party of one or if this happens for you.

Three Words for 2015: Love. Authenticity. Flow.

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a few years ago. For me, resolutions had become Puritanical slogs of self-deprecation and guilt with an incredibly unhealthy focus on not doing some things I was doing and doing some things I was not. It had to stop. I have no regrets.

The goals I set myself were usually so minor or so divorced from reality that they could not survive contact with daily life. Exercise more. Count calories. Read more. Write more. Weigh less. None of this is helpful in improving my actual life.

And so, I came to the idea of writing a personal mission statement, which I did. It felt good. Rather than a prescriptive list of things to do or not do, habits to be created and broken, the yearly mission statement is a simple statement that helps me recognize and stay focused on my true priorities through the year. The work isn’t managing a specific list of behaviors or thoughts. The work is managing focus so I can constantly make useful choices about how I use my time and where I invest my energy. You can’t do everything. The trick is figuring out what most deserves your time and where you will receive the greatest reward.

And the work of writing my mission statement was useful. It felt good. Then, I read Chris Brogan’s post about choosing three words to carry with me through the year. Three words are precise. Three words can be carried in my head. Three words are handles for what means the most to you and where you will spend your attention, time and energy.

And so, my three words for 2015 are: Love. Authenticity. Flow.

Love because, when things get crazy, it is way too easy to take the people you love the most for granted.

Authenticity because, unless you practice constantly, it is easy to live someone else’s version of your life.

Flow because, more than anything else, I like to imagine things and write them down. I want to do that as much as I possibly can.

And so, without reading my mission statement, you can tell where I am going to place my practice this year. I will try things I have never tried before. I will refuse to do things I have been doing for too long. So yes, it is, again, a list of doing and not doing, except Three Words gives me the framework to evaluate and decide each moment what deserves my focus. I can grow with it and let this become my practice.

I am ready to start a new year and see where it can take me.

January 1, 2014: This is Not the Post You Are Looking For

Today is New Year’s Day. You are probably expecting someone to post the secret recipe for life. This is not the post you are looking for.

I don’t have any answers. If anything, 2013 brought me more questions. Last year was a difficult year, and this year will be more difficult still. People I love are sick. I’m going to lose some of them this year.

I continue working with groundlessness and gratitude. Groundlessness has become my code-book for life. It is my faith, if you want to call it that. Some Buddhists call groundlessness “impermanence”. That is a good word for it, though the term tends to emphasize the impermanence of our lives. Most spiritual practice, it seems to me, overemphasizes the fact of our eventual deaths. In this focus, impermanence narrows to the unpleasant surprise of our own mortality. Most spiritual practice, it seems to me, makes too big a deal of death. By focusing too much on the ultimate unpleasantness, we miss a more important truth. Our daily lives are impermanent. Our minutes and hours are in constant change. Our understandings are always confounded. Our expectations dashed.

This is not a cause for sorrow or anxiety. Despair is the wrong response. When working with groundlessness, I remind myself, I must also work with gratitude. When you have given up expectation that things should be a certain way and you are working with gratitude, you are teaching yourself to pay attention. You are letting go of an invented narrative about The Way Things Should Be and are able to notice things as they really are. Gratitude is the habit of noticing the specifics. Gratitude is about paying attention.

I am not prepared to make any New Year’s resolutions. I intend to continue working with groundlessness and gratitude. I intend for my life to develop around this one theme: pay attention.

I’m not good at paying attention. It is, for me, very much a practice. Things always go wrong. They don’t go the way I intend for them to go. I am working to remind myself that the problem isn’t with Things, the problem is with my Plan for Things. Things don’t happen the way we expect or the way we believe we need them to happen. And still, we can be grateful.

And so, as I face another year of uncertainty and almost certain losses, my wish for myself is my wish for you as well. May you be faced with every obstacle and surprised by unexpected challenges and yet remain grounded in your acceptance of groundlessness and may you grow large with gratitude for things the way they really are rather than confused and frustrated with desire for things the way they ought to be.

Resolved: Keep Lists Short

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. If I need to exercise, eat healthier, write more, <insert your own pet personal failings here> and I am waiting for a specific day to occur before I get started, the project is pretty much doomed.

That said, I am definitely a sucker for self-reflection. I practice self-scrutiny with religious fervor and New Year’s Eve is High Holy Day for me and people like me. And so, a few things I must constantly remind myself in order to have a successful 2013:

  • Pay attention.
  • Focus on doing what’s most important and do only those things that help accomplish what’s most important.
  • Say no more easily than you say yes.
  • Delete unnecessary email.
  • Don’t waste anyone’s time, especially your own.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed. Impossibly brilliant leaps forward usually result from a sequence of possible, mostly mediocre smaller steps. Do those smaller steps. Do all of them. Do them in order. Do them consistently. Do them until they are done.
  • Keep lists short.

My New Year’s Resolution: Make New Mistakes. Lots of them.

Once again, Kind Readers, you are spared my own musings because something way more inspiring landed on my screen. Here’s fantasy/horror/YA author Neil Gaiman’s New Year’s wish for us all:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Love this! My thanks to my dear friend, Daryl Nash (chaos_sleeps) for putting this on my screen. He must have known I needed to hear this.

The wisdom of not doing things, differently

I’m one of those people who enjoys New Year’s Eve. I like the whole self-reflection thing, and I’m a sucker for the idea that Things Are Going to Be Better Next Year. I’m pretty much made for the New Year’s experience. I love making lists and am constantly doing a mental self-inventory of things I might improve about myself.

Several of my friends are posting new years resolutions to Facebook. One has gone so far to post a pretty honest self-critique to Facebook in hopes of spurring personal change.

I think that’s great, but I don’t do New Year’s resolutions anymore. I don’t blame people who do. I just don’t. They don’t work for me. For me, it simply isn’t possible to intentionally create a new habit from force of will and start on January 1 to make it clean start date. I have never had success intentionally adding a new behavior to my catalog of habitual acts and/or modes of thought.

But I came across an idea that needs sharing. The idea is this: You aren’t a bad person. In fact, there’s a great deal about you that is pretty terrific. You have gifts, talents and abilities that people need, admire and respect. You have lots of habits that serve you well and carry you toward excellence.

If you aren’t as excellent as you believe you need to be, it probably isn’t because of something you aren’t doing. It is very possible that you are being hindered by something you are doing. It is much easier to stop doing something old than it is to start doing something brand new. So, instead of making a list of new things you are going to do to improve, make a list of things you intend to stop doing.

This isn’t a resolutions list. This isn’t a list of new behaviors to start. It is a list of old behaviors to stop. Stop doing those things that interfere with your basic excellence. Keep this list with you. Add to it. Consult it often. Ask people who care about you to help you remind yourself when you do something on your stop doing list. You will succeed. You will uncover more of the excellence that is already there.

A few items from my personal Stop Doing list:

  • Stop explaining yourself to others unless they ask for an explanation.
  • Stop being vague when being direct would serve someone better.
  • Stop avoiding unpleasant conversations.
  • Stop assuming that the current situation is the best possible situation.
  • Stop interrupting.

Feel free to tell me how I’m doing with any of these at any time.

Happy New Year.