I trust everyone had a lovely holiday, full of peace, joy, family, and friends. Since we finished our blog series on the 8 limbs of yoga, I can now go back to blogging about whatever is on my mind. Are you excited? LOL. I’ve been thinking this week about the coming New Year, and the fact that 2020 is finally coming to a close. Before we can really begin to set intentions and plan for 2021, I think it is helpful to spend a little time thinking about anything that we would like to leave behind in 2020.
Obvious things that come to mind right away include covid19, political ugliness, social unrest, and travel restrictions. I’d love it if we could leave these unpleasantries right along with 2020. But of course, as we all know, we don’t have much control over things that go on around us (aside from doing our part to maintain healthy conditions and vote). What we CAN do is work on how we respond to these things that are happening around us. Unfortunately the stress and trauma of 2020 may have led some of us to display some of our less healthy habits and thought patterns. This might include things like anger and judgement toward those with different beliefs than ours. Maybe we’ve been judging and criticizing ourselves for not reading 100 books or learning some new skill, like some of our friends did. Maybe we’ve allowed fear to dominate our minds and create divisiveness, loneliness, sadness, or despondency. Maybe we’ve been living in the past, longing for old times and therefore missing any of the great things that are going on right here in the present. Maybe we’ve become sluggish and lost motivation for some of our healthier habits like exercise or healthy eating. Maybe we’ve just been more irritable with those closest to us because we are frustrated with the limitations on our freedoms and activities. For us cancer survivors, maybe we’ve had even more fear than normal, with worries about getting sick at the office, not being able to get treatment in a timely manner, or not being able to get the follow up we need. Or we have felt especially isolated with support groups and exercise classes being cancelled or going on line, leaving us yearning for human connection. All of these are completely understandable responses to the crazy year that we have all just been through. So first, let’s just extend ourselves a little compassion and understanding.
However, we can then exercise some introspection, and we can see how some of these responses create more suffering than is necessary, and how we might be able to relieve some of that suffering within ourselves if we can just learn to let go of those unhealthy patterns and responses, replacing them with more loving kindness. So I invite you to think about some of the challenges of this past year. Consider how you responded to those challenges, and whether you could flip that narrative at all. Instead of “I hate being stuck at home”, we might let go of that urge to get out and think “Wow, what an opportunity for cultivating stillness and remembering how much I enjoy the simple comforts at home”. Or instead of “My husband is driving me crazy being cooped up in this house all the time”, we let go of our irritability and judgement and think “wow, what a blessing to get to spend more time together with this person who I love dearly, and who, while they may have different ways of doing things than I do, is really working hard to do the best he can for our family”. Instead of “I feel so isolated and afraid, and I don’t think I can get through cancer like this”, we could realize “This crazy year made it possible for us to more easily connect to people all over the world who are going through the same thing, and I can text or video chat with them anytime to get a much broader scope of support and advice”. Instead of “Damn, I can’t believe all the stress eating I’ve been doing, and how awful I look with this 15 extra pounds”, we drop the self-judgement and think “It has been a really stressful year, and this was the way I tried to cope and soothe myself, but I know I’m not alone in that, and together with my friends, I’m going to make a list of healthier habits to cultivate next year”. Finally, instead of “I can’t believe how stupid those people are who voted for XYZ, don’t they see how awful their choice is”, we drop the judgement and try a little empathy, with “I don’t understand their perspective, but I’m sure they are doing what they think is best, for whatever reason, and I respect that, and hope for the best for all of us”.
As Jack Kornfield says, “Letting go is the path to freedom”. Holding on to our anger, our judgements, our strong feelings about how things should be, or our preferences and aversions, keeps us trapped in the same old cycles of thoughts, behaviors, and habits. If you had an awesome year and felt fabulous and joyful through it all, maybe you already have it all right and you have nothing that you need to change. But I think most of us felt stuck, frustrated, fearful, angry, or irritated, at least a few times this year. If we want to be free, free to quiet our minds, free to open our hearts, free to live a life of joy and peace, then we must practice letting go of anything that is getting in our way. Take this final day or two of 2020 to reflect on the year, and then consider what may be getting in the way of where you’d like to take yourself in 2021. Be patient with yourself, as it may take some practice, but try letting go of any of those things and see if you feel a little freedom and lightness emerging.
Happy New Year and Namaste