As the end of this year draws closer, we are left with the annual task of summing up what has come to fruition, and what hasn't. Last December we were faced with a similar ritual. Many tell me that they were only too happy to "close out the account" of 2009. Despite resolutions to lose weight and keep it off, save money and/or get out of debt, get organized and improve problematic relations, usually we have a tough time keeping them. There's a reason for this. We make far too many dusty, old resolutions that lack any sense of vitality or joy. This dishonors life. Too often we get hung up in "shoulds." Blessedly, there's a remedy. Let's get started.
There's something daunting about resolutions, isn't there? So much so that often we stop making them. We lose faith in ourselves or the unknown. You are either closer to the life you say you wanted to live last year or further away from it. You have either stepped into the reality of your heart's desire or have become discouraged. Our friends and loved ones are either celebrating an improvement of their own conditions or loosing more trust that right will win out in the end. Some of those especially close to our heart are no longer here, and we have said goodbye. Others face challenges that may end in this being their last New Year.
Each of us is one year older. Whether your next birthday is a big one (like my own at the end of January) or not, we surely know that we will not get the past 12 months back again. Many of the questions you asked yourself this season last year have been answered, and other concerns resolved in surprising ways. Other issues that you couldn't have possibly imagined have popped up, and some faded into the sunset "like old soldiers." During your 2009 holidays, you had no idea of the challenges you would meet or the strangers who might cross your path, finding their way to that sercret, well-guarded private door to your heart. If truth be told, you also didn't suspect that these strangers would usher you through unsuspected portals, or that the two of you would share moments of marvel, the mere recollection of which now uplifts your spirit and nourishes your soul. Maybe you have found a personal angel or two, in human form, under very unusual circumstances. Maybe you have met folks so commited to negativity, victimization stories and toxicity that their atmosphere is absolutely contaminating, and you find yourself infected with a case of major "heebie-jeebies," which send you silently running to the hills screaming bloody murder.
Likewise, who knew that you would discover parts of yourself that would stare back at you in the mirror this past year, some of which you like, others not so much? Perhaps, you've discovered that you are not nearly as patient or kind to yourself as you need to be. Maybe you've awoken to the fact that you'd do well to cultivate much, much more self-compassion before rushing off to save the world. Maybe you've even met the transcendent hidden inside the ordinary and lack all words to express pure and simple gratitude for the gift of life. And, if you have been truly fortunate, perhaps a new life has entered your family through the birth of a child, or the warm cuddle of a furry pet. Looking into these eyes, you're reminded of pure and holy, innocent wonder. Peering into the openess before you, you may have even dared to enter that incredible mystery that connects us all, sourced by what goes beyond all non-inclusive religion and language.
One thing is for certain, though. Having had parts of ourselves stripped away by the unforseen, we have come to know ourselves in deeper ways. We are wiser and better for it, to the degree we claim what we have been given. Without awareness we cannot grow, live the lives we would like to live or discover how to be more loving in our hearts while there's still time. Without awakening and valuing what we do have, we remain stuck in focusing on lack and set ourselves up for more of the same.
The truth is this: We simply do not know where we will be one year from now, much less tomorrow. This being the case, what do you want to make of today so that you feel great about yourself? I'm not talking about adding stress or taking on a mad-dash attitude! The last thing either of us needs is one more thing for the to-do list. No, I'm thinking more about what you'd like to drop from your life that would improve your sense of gratitude. For example, what "accounts" do you need to close in order to live freely? How could you do so simply? Dare I say it: how could you lower the bar to what's been unrealistic? (For example, I assumed that by now, following foot surgery this summer, I'd be walking in a way that was "normal" before. I'm not. What if we were to revise our standards, giving ourselves more slack? In my own case, this looks like, "How can I move with greater 'ease in the system' and appreciation for the fact that I am 'on my way,' as dictated by the wisdom of the body?" You get the idea.
Seven Guidelines to Get You Started
Here's the primary question to ask yourself: If you were to write a truly fresh life chapter that would rejuice you this upcoming year, what ground must you prepare today? Below are the guidelines with illustrations.
- Recall the gratitude you have for what others have given. (I am grateful for Maria, Georg, Marcos, Omar, Raymond, John, and other "human angels" whom I did not know last year but who have assisted me to embrace new challenges by their example of upbeat, loving service. I am grateful to those of you who know who you are, who have gone above and beyond to assist me to "learn to walk again" in more ways than one.) Your turn. Make your list.
- Recall the personal challenges that have helped you grow. Find compassion for the simple expressions of good that have come your way. (I am grateful for the encouragement of HuffPost readers, and your compassion as you claim your right to grow together, taking the time for outreach when it's impractical to take your time to do so.) Tell those who've assisted your unfolding.
- Recall moments of beauty. Beauty comes out of chaos. (I am grateful for the forest outside my window, the pond beside the forest, the hummingbirds at the feeder this December.) Share the memory with someone you love. Ask them theirs.
- Recall the new people, places and things you discovered that touched you most. (I am grateful for connecting with others who care about what's most important to the heart as we grow together, even while limping!) Write a thank-you notes in three sentences or less, and send them.
- Recall the dreams that have continued to stir your heart, pressing your spirit to express them while you still can. (I remember my gratitude for unfolding clarity on The Love Project, and what must be created to live it out in the rest of my life.) Ask someone you love about their current dream, and share your own.
- Recall the unexpected moments of encouragement you've found in nature, in the stillness, or in a glance or look from another living creature that have reminded you that connection lives, and that life is richest when appreciating the simple things.
- Recall one favorite moment from this year that touched you deeply. (I remember my grandbaby touching my cheek, again and again, as she drifted off to sleep, and the awareness that what matters most, at the end of the day, is love.) Thank whomever needs thanking.
If you take the time to follow these guidelines, you will notice what you'd like to develop over the next year, devoid of any "oughts" and rich in joy.
Now it's your turn. What do you recall from this past year that's meant the most to you? What direction do these recollections hint at, from your heart, for 2011? I'm listening...
Following my holiday and Intentions Retreat, I will return to writing for HuffPost in mid-January. Peace, joy and blessings to you and yours!
Special note: In remembrance of my cousin, Michael Lippe, who was killed in a plane crash two days after I wrote this: Your empty chair is remembered, as you were cherished. Thank you for the reminder that today is what we have. To life.
For more, see carabarker.net. For updates, contact me at carabarker.net, or dr.carabarker@gmail. To save time, click "Become a Fan" at the top of this page. Stay tuned for upcoming developments with The Love Project, including "Practicing Love." Follow Dr. Cara Barker on Twitter @DrCaraBarker.