We have control over the attitude that we have in response to situations that arise. Sometimes the way we begin something influences its trajectory.
We begin a new year. May it be meaningful and a year of growth and connection. Sometimes the new year brings us great joy, and sometimes great sorrow, and often everything in between. One thing we don’t have control over is the circumstances in which we find ourselves. But we do have control over the attitude that we have in response to the situation in which we find ourselves. Sometimes the way we begin something influences its trajectory.
I ask that we think about how we want to begin this new year. We can choose to think about the things that we don’t have or the things that disappoint us or the things that we wished had gone differently. Or we can get on with living in a way that invites a renewed sense of hope while still recognizing disappointments, unrealized expectations, and losses. They are not mutually exclusive; we just choose where to put our focus and energy.
Some of us may begin this new year with trepidation or fear. And there may be good reason to feel that. Recognizing it can open an opportunity to recall and examine how we have handled our trepidation and fear in the past. This may give us strength for what we face now. We can learn what we did or did not do and, with hindsight (and perhaps some wisdom), learn how we got through those tough times. The present circumstances (changes in our health, relationships, or work) may be different. The list may seem endless. But the underlying message is the same: What attitude do we bring to each new day as we deal with what we are facing now, at this moment?
Research in the field of contentment continues to emphasize the importance of gratitude as we face challenges. That doesn’t mean that we are not cognizant of the losses and the disappointments. We are. It does mean, though, that we are able to still be open to what the gifts are in our lives – even if they appear to be insignificant in the larger context. But that’s the point. Coming home from a medical treatment feeling nauseous and depleted while still being able to notice how comforting it is to be warmed by an afghan crocheted by a favorite aunt offers opportunities for gratitude. A friend who calls and listens to our woes without insisting that we “look at the bright side” can be a gift so that when we are ready, we can move through the woeful moments. Sipping a hot cocoa on a freezing day can trigger sweet memories of childhood. Whatever we are dealing with, there will be highs and lows, fears and triumphs. The attitude we bring to our situation can make a significant difference to how we get through it. May this new year be filled with peace and the ability to get through whatever challenges our circumstances present.
My parents continue to teach me life lessons even though they are no longer walking this earth. My mother, especially in her later years, always had something to look forward to. Whether it was a holiday gathering, a theatre performance, time with friends, or a nail salon appointment. She wrote everything into her calendar. I recall one winter when she turned 97, she planned a trip for the following summer. The idea of being in the present moment WITH something to look forward to in the future creates a beautiful life balance. At the top of her list of things that she looked forward to was time with her children and grandchildren.
I would like to share something that recently happened to me that I had looked forward to and it happened as the year closed, coincidentally, very near the anniversary of my mother’s death.
I ended this year with a wish that came true.
As many of you who know me are aware, I have a deep love for the sea. Specifically, a deep love for the deep sea. I have been scuba diving since the age of ten, when my father and I dived off of the island of Curaçao, an island in the Southern Caribbean Sea. From then on I was “hooked” (forgive the pun). Jacques Cousteau, Eugenie Clark, and Rachel Carson were among my heroes. And that same year, an ex-Navy frogman named “Mike Nelson” (played by Lloyd Bridges), swam into my living room in the TV series, Sea Hunt.
As an aside, imagine my surprise when, in the mid – late 1970s, I moved into an apartment in Malibu, CA, walked across the street to the beach to see a man walk out of the ocean carrying a mask and snorkel. (That was not the surprise.) It was Lloyd Bridges! He lived right on the beach, across the street from my apartment!
I am fortunate to have dived in many oceans and seas in the world. I dived incredible coral reefs (before so many suffered the results of warm water bleaching), artificial reefs, sea walls, kelp forests, caves, archeological sites, and shipwrecks. My companions have been turtles, rays, whales, sharks and countless species of fish. I am my happiest when underneath the sea. For two years in the 1970s I served as the scuba diving consultant for the Israel Government Tourist Board arranging for American divers to experience diving in the Red Sea when it was one of the most vibrant underwater sanctuaries in the world.
So why am I sharing this with you? Because I had always looked forward to a time when I might have the chance to scuba dive with my children and grandchildren. I have had the great joy of diving with my children. And recently, I experienced diving with a grandchild. I did not know when or if it would happen. And then it did. I was able to be in the moment as well as understand the context. There is something about sharing an experience and then, in the middle of it, being aware of the feeling of appreciation that this was something I had dreamed of/wished for. For me scuba diving with my son and granddaughter was that wish come true.
About 30 years ago I was diving with my son. There was a much older woman (probably younger than I am now) who was on the dive boat. She suited up and dived with her grandchild. I thought, then, how amazing that must have been for her. And now, I realize that I am that older woman.
It’s never too late to have a dream come true.
So in this new year, we can think of what we would like to share with people who we care about, be they family, friends or colleagues…or strangers whom we might meet along the way. As I mentioned, my mother, always made sure she had something to look forward to, and that made her aging years not only tolerable, but filled with a positive quality of life and optimism. She taught me that we can create things to look forward to at any age.
We can attempt to keep doing what we love. Whether it’s reading books that we enjoyed when we were younger or finding a new series by an author we just discovered. Or developing a new hobby: painting or cooking, traveling or dancing, writing poetry, learning music or a new language or whatever skills we dropped along the way as we were busy living our lives. Now might be the time to do whatever you love and to share it.
The chaos of our days and lives seems ever-present, and we can easily tune out how we are feeling in the moment. In order not to do so, we need to take time to pause and pay attention to where our thoughts are at any given time. Taking small breaks can help us to settle in a very short time.
We can seek silence every day, taking a break from noise and “doing” so that we have a chance to emerge refreshed and reenergized. By engaging in these “mini-practices” we can settle our bodies and stabilize our nervous system.
Find pockets of silence from “outer noise” such as TVs and computers by turning them off. Then we are more likely to focus on quieting down the “inner noise” of our minds, which requires more effort.
Focus on our breath, slow down our rate of breathing, notice our movement if we are taking a walk or playing an instrument.
Ask ourselves: “Where is my mind is at this moment?” And then we listen. Pay attention to where it is. Are we anticipating a difficult discussion with someone? Are we ruminating over a past decision? If we pay attention, we can see that perhaps IN THE MOMENT, nothing is happening, and we can settle into noticing how our body is responding to this much needed break.
The idea is to engage a short practice to interrupt the busy-ness of our day and in particular, our mind. In doing so, we can increase our ability to approach challenges with increased awareness and less of a feeling of overwhelm.
When you meet someone and ask them how they are, pause and arrange your body as if you really want to hear the response. Take a breath and listen to the answer. People are more likely to respond with an honest response when they feel the person asking them a question is interested. And remember, if someone gives you news that is difficult to hear, you don’t have to fix it. Be present in the moment, be aware of your own response, and try to share kindness and compassion.