As the old year comes to a close, it's tempting to judge the year that's ending, and ourselves. We see the past year's mistakes, imperfections, and shortcomings. We focus on the new year, how we we will do 'better,' work harder, be more worthy.
But wait, let's be present, making space to see ourselves (truthfully and compassionately) as we are right now.
Consider these questions. . .
What brings you joy? Is there something you know about joy today that you didn't know a year ago? Where does joy show up in your life? Are you waiting for the big, 'special' joys or have you discovered some everyday, simple ones? Take some time, make a list of 5 joys in your life.
What is new? You aren't really the same person that you were a year ago, are you? What's visibly new? Your haircut, a new baby, an empty nest, a new job, a loss? What's new on the inside, something other people don't know about until you share it? A fear that you've been carrying? An attitude? An intention? A dream? Is there something new about you that surprises you?
How are you stronger? Maybe this is easy to recognize or maybe not, but if you search within yourself, I think that you'll find ways you've grown stronger. Have you grown more able to recognize your shadow side? More brave in working with it? More disciplined in how you express your feelings? More willing to feel those feelings? More present with things (in yourself or in the world) that trouble you?
How are you a different parent? Forget for now the parent you 'should' be, and recognize the parent you are. Is there something to celebrate? Something to enjoy? Something to love?
Who has changed you? Reflect on those teachers who have helped you to grow stronger, wiser, more compassionate. Remember what Pema Chodron teaches, "Difficult people are the greatest teachers," recognizing even the stealth teachers.
As we come to the end of the year, I wish for you the same thing that I wish for myself. I wish us the ability to see clearly and lovingly who we are, the inner truthfulness to see and celebrate our beauty, the courage to see and transform our suffering, and the loving presence to be in this moment just as it is.
Sitting in my house, noticing the obvious physical messes--crumbs on the table, a sink full of dishes, piles of papers--I know that they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are emotional and mental messes, too, hidden under the surface. All that I've done wrong, the Christmas traditions I didn't start that I wish I had, the many times I lost my temper instead of being present with my family, the countless things we aren't that I'm kind of afraid we should be.
And still, sitting here, my candle and frankincense incense lit, noticing the chaos in my mind, heart, body, house, family, world, I recognize that this is a sacred moment. Moments aren't sacred because they're perfect, they're sacred because they are. Because we are here. Because although we can't undo the old mistakes or change what has led to this moment, we can be here. We can breathe. We can see. We can choose.
I am remembering to love this moment, to surrender to the 'good' and 'bad' parts of it. To love my imperfect self and family and home and holiday and world, sitting in this moment rather than wishing for a better one. I am looking at the mess and recognizing that it is part of the sacred reality that is my life, and that each bit of the mess is also part of the holy (whole-y) truth of my life.
Will you join me? Let's honor the sacred that is already here and live this moment as though it is the very most special moment we will ever have, mess and all.
We are in dark times. In the midst of our preparations for Christmas (for those who observe), the miracle of Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, and so many celebrations of light, we are faced with the dark shadows of many, many years of colonialism, privilege, greed, and the misuse of power. In Aleppo, people (many of them children) are dying in horrific conditions even as evacuation efforts are set to resume. In South Sudan, people are also suffering and dying through shocking, ethnically driven violence. In the United States, Native Americans have been under attack by corporate interests and militarized police groups. All over the US, people are facing discrimination and physical/verbal/emotional attack for being who they are.
So here we are, parents, people, citizens. What do we do? How do we address these horrors? First, I hope we are all speaking up, writing letters, donating money, joining service organizations, and using our resources to serve however we can. Please, join me in giving what you can to The Compassion Collective, read this post from Glennon Doyle Melton, In Aleppo, we are the ones we've been waiting for--Please Read to understand why I suggest donating to them and for some inspiration.
Second, we can bring this work into our personal lives.
We do this in many ways. One important revolutionary act is to raise children who are emotionally whole and healthy, We can allow and support our children to develop their hearts, minds, and souls along with their bodies.
We can change the unhealthy and dysfunctional patterns of generations that have led to this imperfect world by witnessing, honestly, the distortions within ourselves and our parenting, by watching the hatred and judgment and fear and control that live in our own bodies and choosing each time we can not to act on those feelings.
We can show up, allowing the experience of parenting to clean us out by making our shadows more visible. Intead of turning away from those painful shadows, we can keep showing up, keep doing our best, keep forgiving ourselves for our mistakes, keep opening our hearts to our children and the world.
We can learn to spend less money, time, and energy on superficial consuming and more on connection, love, and spiritual purpose. We can show our children that we value all people by making ethical choices about spending our money, time, and energy and about how we speak and act.
None of these things will fix what's on in the world, but each of these things matters deeply and tips the balance a bit to a new world. And instead of despairing for what we can't do, please join me in doing what we can do.
Emotions are running high, both in our children who may be overexcited about winter break, presents, and treats, and in many of us who are amped up about the election, civil rights, and issues of power.
Acting out these emotions isn't helpful! But we can help ourselves and our children by spending some time every single day grounding in the present moment. Because yes, the next few weeks will bring exciting and wonderful things, and they may bring challenging and scary things, too. If we want to be present to enjoy the wonder, we need to slow down and be here. And if we want to be present to stand up for our beliefs, we need to be centered and grounded (rather than reactive and freaking out).
So stop now. Breathe in and feel your feet. Notice whatever you can feel--the pressure as they rest on the floor, the sensation of your socks, the way they feel on the inside. Breathing out, imagine a root extending down from your feet into the earth, connecting you. Breathing in, imagine inhaling grounded, calm energy from the earth up into your entire body. Breathing out, imagine exhaling extra energy, static, ungrounded energy down through your feet and into the earth.
Can you feel your connection to the earth? Stay with the breathing for a bit. Let yourself stop and be. Invite your child to do it, too. Imagine that you are a tree, rooted in the earth. Imagine the roots extending and intertwining with your child, your friends and family and neighbors, even with people you aren't that fond of, because we are all rooted in the same earth.
Remember as you ground, that we are all in this together. There is no 'other.' Join me in imagining all human beings grounded in the earth, connected, loving, and wise. When the next crazy news story, intense email, or 'I can't find my shoes' freakout happens, remember your feet and ground.
What's it like to have a conscious approach to gift giving? I've been sitting with that question this year, noticing my own more relaxed and spacious approach to Christmas this year. Here's what I've been noticing.
First, conscious giving begins with recognizing that we are enough just as we are. There is no need to give something that will protect or feel good to our ego. There's no need to impress anyone or to show that we are good enough. When we recognize that we are enough, we know that our budget (of time and money) is perfect.
Second, we recognize that the person we're giving to is already enough. They don't need us to give them the perfect gift that will make them happy, because their happiness and well-being come from a deeper place. Isn't that a relief?
Knowing these two things can dissolve the unhelpful rules we've been living with all of our lives. There's no need to spend a set amount of money, to give something big enough, or to prove ourselves. When we give from ourselves as souls to our loved ones as souls, the old patterns of giving fall away.
That leaves us with something much simpler, the joy of giving. Sometimes conscious giving leads us to give a material thing--a book we know someone will love, a special photo, a family membership to a special place. Sometimes it may lead us to give an experience--a ticket to a concert, a delicious dinner, baking cookies together. Or an adventure--a walk in the woods or a train ride. Or something from nature--flower bulbs, a beautiful homemade wreath, a leaf mandala.
It will be simpler than the consumer giving that is so prevalent. It will not lead us into debt. It will rarely lead us to a crowded shopping center. And it won't make us exhausted and resentful, feeling overwhelmed by the gift-giving holiday. It may bring the peace and joy that we talk about, write on our Christmas cards, and sing songs about into our actual lives. Won't that be wonderful?!
When I feel really angry, or hurt, or scared, it's hard to remember who I really am. I sometimes fall into a belief that I need to protect or defend myself, or push back at the person I'm feeling upset by. What I say or do in these moments is not wise, helpful, or kind for me or the person I'm with.
For many years, emotional reactivity has been at the heart of my mindfulness practice. As I have practiced, the part of me that watches my reaction has gotten stronger. The part that reacts--trying to control one of my kids' behavior, to convince someone they're wrong, to save face when someone has been unkind--is still strong, too, but it's not alone. The witnessing part is usually in charge, bringing some curiosity about myself or the other person, turning my attention to my breath or body, and when necessary just getting me out of the room.
There is true power in this witnessing part. It isn't the power of eradicating the reactive part of me. It's the power of mastering whether or not I act on that part.
We don't need to get rid of our anger or hurt or fear, but we do need to learn how to slow down, cool off, and choose wise actions. Especially as parents, our words and actions have a big impact both immediately on how our kids feel and over time on how they learn to handle their own feelings and impulses.
Learning to stop and cool down is essential for parents (and everyone in relationships). We can stop and take 3 breaths before speaking. We can check in with our bodies, noticing what we are feeling. We can go to the bathroom, staying behind a closed door for a few minutes to cool down. We can purposely and intentionally turn power over from the reactive part of ourselves to the wise part.
Parenting is not going to be a comfortable path. There will be confusing, exhausting, and painful days, we will make mistakes, our kids will make mistakes, our parents will think we're crazy, our neighbors will hear us yelling.
But, in the midst of it all, there is joy. We talk a lot about joy in December. I'm making a commitment this month to make space for joy every day. I'm starting with noticing the small things that are already going on in my life that bring me joy--
The smell of my sheets and towels, fresh off the clothesline on this windy day. Beautiful.
Two amaryllis bulbs sprouting on my windowsill. It is making me happy just to look at them.
Dark chocolate covered almonds. Yum.
A quiet house and nothing I am scheduled to do out in the world. Spacious. A chance for much needed rest and 'me' time.
How about you? What is already going on in your world that brings you joy?
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.