This time of year offers a moment to reflect on the year almost past. It’s a time to honor the memory of those who passed from our lives, whether a family member, a friend or anyone else who affected our lives, even a beloved pet. We may review world events, ever-changing and more often seeming to be filled with loss and strife than hope and healing. The impermanence of the universe is a constant reminder of our own impermanence. A sobering thought indeed. Of course, many of us also make New Year’s resolutions.
Most years I also review what I accomplished, or didn’t. During this same time of contemplation in 2014, I decided not to make specific resolutions. Each year I try to take up something different in terms of learning. It could be a new hobby or intellectual pursuit or growing a new plant in one of my gardens. But, a year ago I decided 2015 was to be the year of no goals, no self-imposed pressure to succeed, no new activities unless it struck me in the moment during the year. Lazily, I set all specifics aside. Instead, my New Year’s resolutions were open-ended generalizations:
1. Remain open to change;
2. Accept what is without fighting it; and
3. Practice mindfulness.
Three simple yet potentially life changing practices _ more of an attitude adjustment than anything else. This week, taking stock of these three ideas, I asked myself:
1. Did they improve my life?
2. Did they make me happier?
3. Did they work well for me?
The answer is yes, yes, yes.
For starters I didn’t sweat the small stuff so much. A hundred years from now, no one will even care what I did today or the past year or at any time in my life. In 1915 World War I raged. In 2015 are you thinking about what the average person was doing to survive World War I? Highly unlikely, just as it’s unlikely anyone in 2115 will be thinking of me or you and what we were doing on the eve of 2016. Oh, the historians will document wars in the middle east, terrorism, refugee crises, political upheavals and the like. But, it will be documented as a block of time in history not each individual story.
An epiphany during the latter part of 2015 led me to feel more tolerant and accepting of what is without having to think about it consciously. Railing against a perceived injustice or having a ‘why me’ pity party doesn’t change the past. While it is still cathartic to get something off your chest, it is what it is. Don’t let it define you. Accept it and move on. Sometimes I even laugh at my misfortune or foibles.
I also gloried in my success _ finally success _ at losing weight. For all the years losing weight made my list of New Year’s resolutions, I never lost much, nor did I keep off what I did manage to lose. Without pressuring myself to lose, without the lofty goal of twenty pounds hanging over my head, I actually lost the elusive twenty pounds. I didn’t really take up the cause until March and I made my goal a realistic one of eating healthier, instead of losing pounds. By practicing mindfulness with my eating and exercise habits, I changed my approach. That small shift in thinking made all the difference.
And, I started writing more. Joining a close-knit group of writers with a leader who inspires and encourages, I formed the habit of writing often, initially just so I had something to read to the group each week. As the end of 2015 nears, I find myself writing almost every day with focus and purpose. While I may never be a Eudora Welty, my first short, very short, story was published this month in an anthology of poems and flash stories. It’s a start.
Although the pundits recommend specific goals to start the New Year, I’m repeating the same resolutions for 2016. They worked for me in an odd way. As someone who lived my work life ultra-organized with lists, goals and structure, being able to relax that standard in retirement is a gift. While I want a life with continued meaning and purpose, part of what gives life meaning is the ability to enjoy life’s gifts. If this is the time of year to honor the past, it is also a time to appreciate the present. That, too, is a gift.
As I reflect on the past, I look to the future mindful of the present with an openness to change and a willingness to accept what is.
Happy New Year!