New Year's Reflection
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
This is what I wrote for my Jan 2nd personal reflection at church.
Today, we’re talking about letting go. I feel like I haven’t let anything go in my life. Like Jacob Marley, I’m dragging around every habit or bad behavior I’ve ever picked up. Of course, that can’t be true. I stopped gelling my hair straight up in 1989. I don’t go to clubs until 2 in the morning on work days any more. So there must be other things I’ve let go of as well.
Now, as I’ve been working on this, I started to recognize something about myself. And what I’m recognizing goes against what we hear from pop psychology or maybe even legit psychology. It definitely goes against Weight Watchers. I just realized that most of the things I’ve changed or let go of in my life did not happen because I decided to do it for myself. They have happened due to outside forces – circumstances have changed – marriage, new jobs, children.
So, this is interesting to me. Anything I’ve let go of, has been due to outside forces. It’s a bit of a revelation. The question is what to do with it. If I want to make changes, I need to find some sort of outside pressure to cause the change to happen. I am never going to be invited on Oprah thinking like this.
Although, there are some things that I have let go of in recent years that sort of went on their own, although outside circumstances didn’t change. Internal circumstances did. At Thanksgiving, I talked about learning from the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh how to be present, and how I see trees so differently now and what deep gratitude I find myself sometimes able to feel for being alive.
This spiritual awakening, and the work and readings I have continued to do, have caused me to let go of some bad habits. The biggest is a tendency to judge or critique pretty much everything. It’s exhausting work being in charge of the universe. I’m happy to give up as much of that job as I can. It might take a few lifetimes to really lose that tendency, but even losing a little of it helps with this lifetime – I’m more compassionate, more able to relax, and less anxious (most of the time).
So, what I’m learning is that for me most change comes from outside variables, or from a spiritual shift, not so much a psychological shift.
And I do have some stuff I’d like to let go of. I’m not going to tell you what exactly, because that would be embarrassing, but it rhymes with “schmooze fate”. That’s all I’m saying.
In fact, a few years ago, I looked back at a notebook from college where I was giving myself a written pep talk and the same stuff I was struggling with then I still struggle with now. That was 1983. Maybe I shouldn’t say that outloud? Some stuff from that notebook I’ve taken care of – it’s not all still hanging on. I mean I did finish that paper on Richard Nixon by the due date. But, again, that was driven by a schedule, an external requirement.
If all these years later, I’m still dealing with the same foibles, maybe the things I am most aware of as problems are really just part of who I am – and spending my life trying to eliminate valid although possibly broken parts of myself is a faulty approach.
So this year, in an attempt to let go of something, I’m actually going to add a practice. I have to go back to my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has a wonderful exercise for dealing with negative emotions. He describes them as a baby screaming in the living room. What do we do when a baby is screaming in the living room? We don’t yell at it. We don’t put it in the basement so that we can’t hear it. We pick up the baby and look at it deeply. Why is it crying? Is it hungry? Is it tired? Is something scratching it? We must keep looking until we find the problem and can solve it. Only by looking deeply are we able to meet deep needs.
Have a happy and healthy new year.