A happy belated New Year!
The earth has again danced her way round the closest star and the Gregorian calendar has given us a new year. The official celebrations mark the end of my own new year’s observations. If you’re a returning reader, it won’t come as a surprise that my spiritual new year begins with Samhain. The period between Samhain and the winter solstice serves for me as a time of tying up loose ends from the passing year and planning for the coming one. Winter solstice marks the beginning of new activities and goals, a time to begin crafting the changes that I want to make.
I tend to shy away from making new year’s resolutions, which tend to be big dreams with little planning. I try to flip that by making goals that are little dreams with big planning. My annual goal setting process begins with a vision of what I want life to look like at the end of the year, deciding on what changes are needed to get that result, and finally narrowing down to a short list of changes that are the most realistic, actionable, and impactful. If a potential goal does not meet all three requirements, I abandon it for what it is – a daydream. I can visualize running the NYC marathon all that I want and I can make a training schedule and plan financially for it, but as a goal, it fails the litmus test of being realistic on so many levels. So, it was nice knowing you, daydream; now kindly step aside so that I can get some real work done.
Among the things that I’m working on goal-wise is to be more grounded and in the moment this year. I’ve always tended to live more in my head than in the outer world, a habit that’s gotten worse as I’ve aged and resulted in being increasingly less observant of the world around me. In other words, I need to get my head out of the clouds. Finding ways to do this is proving a challenge, but I’m finding that less screen time and more meditation are helping.
At the suggestion of a friend, I’ve also started setting a randomly timed reminder on my phone every day. When the reminder sounds, I spend one minute observing something near me, giving it my undivided attention. If necessary, I’ll hit snooze on the reminder until I can safely do this (as in, not driving, operating machinery, or attempting to chew gum and walk at the same time). The first attempts at this ‘awareness minute’ made me question its usefulness. I’d try to focus and find my thoughts wandering off to play with their friends.
Progress is being made, in spite of the initial failures. When today’s reminder sounded, I cursed the inconvenience as I’d just showered and was perched on the edge of the tub, towel-drying my hair. Since there was no danger in doing the practice, I sat for a minute and watched the beads of water rolling down the shower wall. The drops would begin small, slowly picking up other tiny droplets until suddenly, the weight of the drop became too much. The drops would then race down the wall, leaving behind a trail of tiny droplets in their wake. Those new droplets would feed the the next larger drop that would in turn leave its own trail.
I watched this process for a full minute and then another. For once, my thoughts barely wandered and when they did, it was to ponder how human beings are like those drops of water. During our youthful years, we tend to spend a lot of time absorbing information and knowledge from others, picking up bits as we move along our paths. Maybe we learn from our grandmothers how to nurture others or perhaps a run-in with a bully provides us with a new way to stand up for ourselves.
Like the full drop of water, at some point, we start losing bits of ourselves to others. Perhaps we teach our grandchildren how to nurture others or we serve as an example for a bullied child. We give a little of ourselves as we progress along our paths, but we are no less rich for that giving. Even as we roll fast toward the end of our journeys, we are still picking up bits of learning and knowledge from others in our path.
There is something that I find beautiful and profound about having a moment of careful awareness transform a broader observation about life. Part of the beauty is that my brain is functioning in way that it did prior to the Very Serious Illness: instead of drifting from one random thought to another, it focused long enough to connect the dots. Go brain!
Also lovely is that those connected dots have me thinking about those folks who have influenced my path and how I can create something useful for others based on those influences. This in turn has directed my thoughts in the direction of the legacies that we leave behind – a subject that is going to require some unpacking before I write more about it. In any case, there have been a lot of thinky thoughts generated by a minute of watching rivulets of water run down the shower wall.
I’ll post updates later if this awareness exercise turns out to be useful over the long term. In the meantime, whatever changes you may want for the coming year, I wish you the very best on your new year’s journey.