"Peace, happiness, and joy is possible during the time I drink my tea." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Last year, I began the year with unbridled enthusiasm and optimism. I published the first blog on my website, on January 1, 2015, Happy New Year! What Will You Dream Into Reality This Year? and I wrote, "I have a feeling of anticipation when saying out loud, 'This is going to be a good year, the year that I realize my dream!' For me, this excitement injects new energy into any goals that I've already set and it helps me to generate new ones."
I found my own tips in that blog to be especially helpful for dealing with the challenge of sticking to resolutions and staying on the path when, "as we go about our more mundane daily responsibilities, we often lose the energy and excitement or become frustrated by obstacles. It's easy to get sucked back into life-as-usual and to feel too drained to devote time to new goals or to exert energy into changing habits in order to achieve a healthier life-style."
But midway into 2015, life hit me upside the head, and everything came to a screeching halt. My very dear dad spent the summer passing from his earthly body. Perhaps, you have also experienced some loss, disappointment, or another major obstacle in your life during the past year. I discovered for myself that when something like that happens, life becomes very "real." It would be very easy to say that 2015 was a "bad" year because of this. But, the reality is that it was a very mixed year. I experienced some joyful moments at a time when I experienced the worst and deepest loss in my life. So, how do I characterize the year? In 2015, life happened -- very real, in my face, and hard.
And I learned a valuable lesson that I didn't include in last year's blog -- to allow time for the pause.
Sometimes that pause consists of moments to smell the roses, and sometimes that pause is time spent with family. (I am particularly grateful for the moments with both of my parents because, after all, there are no do-overs.) Sometimes that pause consists of days spent playing, and sometimes that pause is a longer one, to heal the wounds we have sustained on our journey.
Terry Hershey writes in his book, The Power of Pause, "While waiting for perfect, we pass on ordinary. While waiting for better, we don't give our best effort to good. While waiting for new and improved, we leach the joy right out of the old and reliable." He suggests that we pause and notice those ordinary moments. They are morsels with joy hidden deep within. (Stay tuned for Terry's interview on my radio show on March 6.)
I've also learned that I can't just keep hitting my "dig deep" button, as author Brene Brown refers to this lack of pausing in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life. "The dig-deep button is a secret level of pushing through when we're exhausted and overwhelmed, and when there's too much to do and too little time for self-care," writes Brown. I saw, for myself, that if I pressed that button too much, there would be little for me to give. Brown tells us that when we pause and refuse to automatically hit that "dig-deep" button, it doesn't mean that we don't find a way to eventually get back on track and push on toward our dreams. It means we care for ourselves enough to take some time to reflect and rejuvenate.
So, how do we deal with those major obstacles -- and even on-going minor ones, which can be cumulative in their stress values -- so that we don't end up spiraling into addictions, including the addiction to busy-ness? How do we get back on track to our own dreams? In my blog, 10 Tips For Following Your Dreams -- While Riding Life's Ups and Downs, my number one tip was to relax. I wrote, "It's important to practice relaxation regularly in order to cope with stress, prevent depression, and to have the energy and freshness of thought to move forward with any goals." (Check out that blog for my other 9 tips!)
I spent the last week of 2015 attending daily meditation classes -- doing just that -- relaxing and relishing in the pause. The same message, given all week by different teachers, was the importance of focusing attention on the "in-between" moments, the pauses between breaths, the pauses between thoughts, the pause between the end of one year and the start of another, as those pauses are where we find our true selves. Deep within our selves, there is a knowing that that we are at peace, that we are worthy of loving ourselves fully, warts and all, that life is worthy of feeling joyful about even with all of the sad moments, and precious moments right in front of us are waiting to be embraced. The pauses are what will lead us to that knowing.
In her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach writes, "Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our own experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to what arises."
After a dark few months at the end of 2015, I've started this year with a different view than I've had before, as I realize that 2016 will be the first year that my dad is not here on this earth. I've been learning during the pauses, when I pay complete attention, that the pit of despair is not bottomless, that I can feel joy even while feeling grief, and that, by pausing and allowing, inspiration does begin to flow again. As I wrote in last year's New Year's blog, "In spite of the obstacles, I believe that it's worth our time and effort to stay focused and to keep moving toward our goals."
I'm refocusing -- with just one added caveat, and that is: Take the time to pause, regularly, whether feeling optimistic and "on a roll," or feeling sad and wounded. "Somewhere inside you still lives a dreamer who is ready to dream again," wrote an anonymous Facebook author.
My hope is that 2016 is a softer year, with more joyful moments and fewer difficult ones. Either way, I'm committed to the power of the pause.
Try this now:
Take this moment to notice your breath. There's nothing to change, nothing to control. Just notice the cool air coming in through your nose (or mouth). Notice the feeling of energy or electricity flowing through your body with the breath. And notice how your body relaxes on the out-breath. Close your eyes for three more slow mindful breaths. Now, how do you feel? Make it a point to do this several times throughout the day, no matter how you're feeling -- whether your on top of the world or digging yourself out from under a mountain.