As A Year Ends… A New Year Begins

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Today is the last day of 2017 with 2018 only hours away. Do you celebrate New Year’s Eve? Do you party with friends? Do you do anything to acknowledge one year ending and another beginning?

I have my personal ritual that I do each year beginning with the Solstice — I place two pieces of poster sized paper out in plain sight. One piece is titled, “What I did in 2017”; the other is titled, “What I want to do in 2018”. For the couple of weeks before New Year’s I create a list on each piece of poster paper. For the last year, I reflect on what I did. As I began creating my list this year the image of filling a jar with stones became my metaphor.

At first, I am almost always certain that what I did will be a short list because I only focus on the big things that immediately come to mind — the accomplishments, crises, those events that occupied a lot of emotional and mental real estate and are easy to remember. I am aware that some of these events were unplanned and, yet, important because they required my attention. These big things are the big rocks I place in my jar first. Oh how quickly they fill the jar!

As I walk by the list day after day, however, the list grows (when I thought it wouldn’t). No longer the big rocks, but smaller stones that filled my months — the routines of work, hikes in the woods, day trips to new places, memorable conversations, etc. I am aware that what I thought was full with the big rocks became even more full with smaller stones filling in between the large rocks.

Each day, I continue to add to my list until I am adding what I’ve done day to day — these become sand added to my jar. These are my daily practices that have carried me through. Daily practices fill in the spaces between the stones giving my days substance and meaning, a quiet support for the larger stones.

This image of filling a jar beginning with rocks and continuing to fill the jar with smaller stones and then sand led me to how I want to begin my list for this next year (I don’t do sure to fail or be forgotten resolutions). After the sand is added and it seems that the jar is full once again until… I add water. I can see that full was an illusion. There is plenty of room for water and I watch as the water touches everything and is as important as the big rocks I can barely see. Water to the top of the rim and the jar is now truly full.

What does the water represent? The water, for me, represents how I have shown up in my life that truly shapes what I do and how I do anything. My intention is to always be true to myself, honest, and be (mostly) positive. This last year, I showed up in a variety of ways — some I liked, some I didn’t. Mostly, I was positive, open, kind, hopeful, and loving. I was also frustrated, angry, sad, and (at times) felt hopeless.

Also on my list of what I’ve done are the books I’ve read. Throughout this year I have been inspired by a list of writers such as Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Terry Tempest Williams, Mary Oliver, Amy Cuddy, Robin Wall Kimmerer, John O’Donanhue, Dan Buettner, Adam Grant, and so many more (can you tell I am an avid reader?). From each of them, I’ve learned (especially when reading a book for the second time) and been inspired to show up as my best self — full of integrity, truth, and a willingness to be my Self in strength and resilience. Each of these authors have become my teachers and mentors for living life fully on purpose. They have inspired me to follow my “Yes”. Most importantly, they have laid a foundation for next years list that sits next to my reflections list.

For this next year, at the top of my list is my focus on how I wish to show up each and every day. I know that mindful attention on how I am showing up will shape my year in positive ways no matter where life actually leads. Mindful attention will also set the stage to navigate the challenges that come along — they always do. Then, I also have my bucket list of what I’d like to do and experience. I will finish this year tonight with a meditation — saying good-bye to 2017 and welcoming 2018.

How will you show up next year? How can I support you to be your best self? Let’s plan on supporting one another.

Have a blessed and happy New Year!

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A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

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We are living in such precarious and, even, perilous times. Each day another worry whether from natural disasters from hurricanes to wildfires, north, south, east, and west or another unfortunate expression of chaos in our government. I find myself checking the daily headlines for what new disaster is unfolding, what tweets have been sent from the hands of an immature man-child, what undoing has been done for the safety & health of people everywhere, or how much closer are we to a nuclear war. Emotions seen on everyone’s face — anger, fear, grief, frustration, hopelessness and helplessness — is more and more common.

I find myself between wanting to stay home, hibernate, and stay out of harms way OR being more social, nurturing connections, and reaching out. I cling to my practices that calm my nervous system for my sanity and support my health.

On the day of the shocking Las Vegas shooting disaster, I was driving home from North Carolina. The highways were busy and full of trucks carrying their cargo and nearly everyone in a hurry to get somewhere (yes, I’ve noticed more aggressive driving in this last year). I drove along in silence with my inner conversation my companion and my destination of home my focus. After hearing of the devastating number of people hurt or killed in Las Vegas on the heels of an unprecedented number of people who have lost everything from hurricanes or wildfires, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, rage, and fear.

In my silence, I considered answers to many questions: Why is there not more gun control in place after so many mass shootings? Why is there diminishing compassion and instead a growing hatred toward fellow human beings through racism, LBGT, women’s rights, our environment, immigration (supported by this man who is president)? How can I help? How can I pull myself up and out of my own anger, sadness, and fear so that I can help others to do the same? What action(s) can I take to move forward in a positive way and help change the trajectory of our country?

I recall that Martin Seligman in his book, Flourish, speaks of kindness as important and powerful to positively affect both myself and those I extend kindness towards. A simple practice of being kind to others. Am I kind enough? Can I extend more kindness to others in the course of my day?

This recollection and my inner dialogue led me to re-committing to kindness as a mindful practice. Kindness, I know, has a rippling effect. How can I do more to be kind? For the rest of my drive, I practiced mindful kindness — allowing truckers into the passing lane by slowing down, moving out of the way of the person in much more of a hurry than I needed to be, and being mindfully courteous as the miles passed by. At rest stops, I made a point to make eye contact, say hello, and wish other travelers a good day. At gas stations or while getting food, I did the same. I began to feel lighter and a smile peeked out from other emotions.

What I noticed. When I extend kindness to someone on the highway by letting them by or pausing for someone to pull into traffic I notice that within a short period they will also extend kindness to another driver. When I open a door for someone or say a kind word with eye contact, a softening happens and that kindness ripples to others. Quite amazing and simple.

I have made kindness a mindfully conscious practice and am encouraging others to do the same by asking them to join me in spreading goodness and connection. The feedback has been incredibly satisfying! Those who have tried it for a week have also noticed a ripple effect in action (of course, not every time or with every person).

Kindness leads to more kindness.

How easy it would be to hibernate, keep my head down, and stay in the busy lane of life. It feels safer, protected, and effortless. However, it also keeps me in my fear and anger. In practicing mindful kindness, I can feel more hope because I see the positive ripple with each kind action. I may not be able to change the larger picture of discontent. However, I can make a difference toward changing my world one person at a time as I meet them on my way – a smile, a moment of eye contact, and a kind gesture goes a long way.