“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Every new year, I reflect on the past 365 days and think about how I can do better. Be better. Healthier. Wealthier. And every year, resolutions meticulously noted in beautiful, colourful script, lie forgotten in a journal. A journal in which blank pages eagerly wait for fresh ink, yet remain forgotten and despondent for weeks at a time after those first, furious days of January.
By the time February rolls around, I have completely forgotten what I wanted to do and be and accomplish in the new year and that new year has already lost its luster. And every time that has happened, I have felt ashamed of myself and overwhelmed by the immensity of my flaws and failings.
But that does not mean that meditating and reflecting on the past year is useless or that failure is inevitable.
Upkeep vs. Renovations
Meditation and reflection are a bit like the upkeep of your home. There may be nothing obviously wrong, but if you don’t make minor adjustments at least once a year, you are in for some serious pain down the road – both literally and financially. For instance, two days after Christmas this year, our furnace died. We might have been able to avoid the sticker shock during a financially draining month if we had scheduled a simple $95 check-up a year ago.
Beginning a new year by reflecting on the one just ended is a time to check all those things in the house that keeps it from falling down around our ears – those habitual thoughts (especially those negative ones) that we tell ourselves every day and the actions that enforce them.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to see the big picture all the time. And sometimes that big picture is scary AF. It quickly becomes overwhelming, my brain panics and I run and hide – in work, in books, in my art, in my writing, in food. And all those resolutions and meditations sit abandoned — gathering dust and mildew.
But when I take that massive, overwhelming picture and focus just on one corner of one room and say, “I can work on THIS corner today, this month, the next 6 weeks…” then everything calms down and I am better equipped to accomplish the job.
The Power of a Word
In addition to meditating and reflecting on what I want the next new 365 days to look like, I also choose a new word. A word that embodies my hopes and dreams for the next 365 days. A word that oftentimes, chooses me. Given the ups and downs and complications that was 2017 for me and my family, it did not take long for 2018’s word to appear.
There is a wealth of meaning in that word. A word that is a comfort to someone like me who has struggled to accept and embrace the effects of Lyme disease. I spent weeks upon weeks angry that I had lost the strength to do certain activities I love: kayaking, honing white water skills, traveling long distances either by car or plane. There were days I could not even hold a pen or type for more than a few minutes. My concentration was shot, and my focus deteriorated.
Although I did have some small victories along the way, I still had to accept that healing and long-term change were not going to happen overnight and that the anger and resentment I was feeling was in fact me going through a period of mourning – my past self might as well have died.
Once I allowed myself to become immersed in that emotion and then let it go, things began to change. Not huge, sweeping changes. Little changes. Changes that were almost imperceptible.
Stripping It Down
For instance, this past Christmas, I wanted to keep things low key – less materialism, less giving in to the commercialism that bombards us 24/7. I wanted to return to the roots – not necessarily the religious roots, but the simple aspects of the season:
Gifts of time and attention
And I still ended up rushing around big box stores, frantically gathering unnecessary necessities, spending money that should have been tucked in savings, and collapsing in exhaustion every two days and every weekend as the crush of the holidays and the emotional rip tide of other shoppers drained me of what little energy I had.
I didn’t cook a huge, special dinner. We didn’t haul out numerous decorations or put up a huge tree. When family came by later in the day, I made sure I stayed in bed because I was having a Lyme-based flare. And I worked from home in the days after Christmas to give my body time to recover all that precious energy.
This year, I want to strip things down even further. Nothing major, nothing overwhelming. Using the house metaphor, I’m talking about making small changes – repainting a room, changing an outdoor light, cleaning out the dryer hose, etc.
This means that as part of my upkeep, I will begin to prepare for a more natural, laid back Christmas by calmly setting boundaries – for both my brain and my loved ones – in January. And again, in February. Taking it room by room, little by little, adjusting and fine tuning every month, every week, every day. So that by the time December and another year rolls around again, simplicity will have become a well-beloved habit.
Not just for the holidays, but for the rest of my life.