New Year’s Day, 2010
Yesterday’s post spoke about thinking more thematically about New Year’s Resolutions. To follow up on that, I feel I must give some more concrete examples of really what I mean. To that end, I have only one New Year’s Resolution. More aptly put, I believe this is a New Year’s theme that I hope characterize my year and the years to come. That theme is Healthy Living or Health.
You see, I could do what I did last year and talk about all the things I want to do, as though life were some sort of checklist to be completed before the end of it. As a product of the American baby boomer culture, I’ve seen life this way more often than not. I’d make my list, work frantically to accomplish it, come very close (or maybe not at all) and feel miserably unsuccessful or ineffective if I didn’t complete the list. I was what I could accomplish.
The problem with this thinking, at least for me, is that the list can never be completed because something is always being added to it. You check off one item only to put another objective in its place. What’s the sense of accomplishment in that? How does this manner of operating lead to peace and contentment? Even if you do accomplish something, the effect or result is only temporary, unless the item stays on the list and then, if you think according to the list, even if you’ve made progress, the danger of perceiving that you haven’t completed anything or not as much as you would have hoped exists. Lists are about completion not progress. I want to focus on progress, process and becoming.
Really, what I am talking about here with this whole New Year’s Theme thing is not giving myself more stuff to do (and more reasons to be disappointed if I fail) but instead I’m dealing with effecting lasting change in my life. There are areas I am not content with and I need to change.
Time for Change
Perhaps an example from my own life might serve to provide greater understanding of what I’m really driving at here. Several years ago, nearly a year, maybe almost two before my divorce even started beginning, things (as things in a failing marriage will tend to be) became very chaotic and conflicted. I was unhappy, he was unhappy, the kids were caught in the middle of that and dealing with the magnitude of kids that we had (11 in our blended situation), tensions were running at an all time high. We’d been separated and back together more times than I care to consider, and I was at the point where I knew that something had to change. I was afraid of what that might mean, but I knew I could not continue in the present situation any longer. My health was failing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before I experienced a serious and major collapse.
I really had to take some time and think about what it was I wanted. Now, I didn’t take the attitude of it’s all about me. I took the perspective that I needed to take care of me so that I could take care of those who depend and rely on me. In that case, my children, my support network, my community in a larger context, but admittedly I wasn’t thinking on that grand a scale back then. I was simply in survival mode thinking about what was going to be best for my children and I in the short run, but also in the long run. If you’ve ever been in this place you know what a difficult task that can be. How do you think about making monumental decisions that will be right for the immediate future and still be the right ones, down the road a piece? There are ways of doing this, I’ve since learned, but at that time I was floundering around in a state of hopelessness, fear and anxiety.
Respect and Survival
As I sat there in a school presentation where the speaker was talking about dealing with children respectfully and building a climate of respect in schools and in homes, everything crystallized for me. It all came together for me, not as a list of things I needed to do in a sequential order, but rather as a frame of mind I needed to adopt; as a way of being I needed to pursue. It became clear to me, in seconds, that what was lacking on so many levels and in so many areas in my life was, quit simply, respect. I wasn’t being treated respectfully, nor was I extending it to others in most areas of my life. Not only that, material possession, symbolic of someone’s effort, time, life and money were being treated disrespectfully, the world around us was not being treated with any measure of respect either by any of us. This is not how I wanted to live, nor was it the environment I wanted my children to grow up in learning that this manner of living was an accepted option.
With the theme being respect, I was then able to clearly see that in the current situation I was going to be crippled if not completely detained in my pursuit of a respectful home atmosphere and lifestyle. I was then able to make the hard and frightening decisions with confidence and assurance that I needed to make at that time to ensure for me and my children a life that involved treating each other with greater respect and infusing our home with respect. Three years after that day, I can look back and say it was the right way to look at things and, though we haven’t perfectly arrived, because we continue to learn more each day about areas where we can demonstrate greater respect to each other and because, quite frankly old ways of being die hard sometimes, we are in a much better place than we’ve ever been. We would not be here now if I hadn’t taken the necessary steps to start the process. I couldn’t have taken the necessary steps if I had focused on what I should or shouldn’t do. Focusing on what I wanted my children and I to be and experience made it possible for me to figure out the rest.
It seems I’ve come to another place where a theme is stepping up to the forefront and demanding attention. In the last three years, several themes have developed. First, was the theme of Respect. The next theme that characterized the first year after the divorce till now was Survival. The next theme which I believe to be developing in my life is that of Healthy Living or maybe just Health. It is a theme that encompasses not just the idea of physical fitness and healthy eating, but also the areas of spiritual health, intellectual health (sustenance and growth) and relational health.
These “themes” I am talking of, if that is even an appropriate terminology, are not something I adopt, carry around with me for a while and then discard because they no longer suit the situation. If you could think of building an onion from the inside out a layer at a time, you might come closer to how this all works for me. As each theme develops in my life, it becomes part of me with following themes overlaying themselves on pre-existing themes.
So, since the title of this post is about a healthy new year and since I did mention it earlier on in this now rather lengthy post, I suppose I should discuss it just a bit. Healthier Living, as a theme in my life, for this year, or for whatever amount of time it decides to be the forerunning focus, will help me make decisions daily regarding my time, my activities, my decisions, my focus. Instead of creating a list that I may or may not accomplish, depending upon my motivation level or my feelings, I will instead operate from the place of asking myself, “Is this the healthiest thing for me right now?” Or I might consider, “Is this particular choice going to move me closer to the healthy, whole life I see for my children and myself?” The particular questions help me sort the myriad choices I face each day in order to more closely align my life with the healthful vision I see of myself and for myself and my family (because I don’t just simply think of myself, ever, in isolation; what I choose impacts and affects many others whether I recognize it or not). So, in brief then, the theme works to direct my efforts, focus my energy and determine my choices. I am no longer burdened by a list that can never be accomplished. I am simply, moment by moment becoming healthier and these moments will, undoubtedly stack up and create a year that is much healthier than years previous.
Approaching life this way has, over the last three years, been very effective for me in implementing significant and incredibly positive change in my life over a relatively short period of time. This approach might not work for everyone, but I’ve found it to be incredibly effective for me in determining where to focus my energy, how to prioritize all the conflicting demands that bombard me daily as a single mom, and in helping me keep at it even when things become discouraging and disappointing as they likely will. It is an approach which instead of frustrating and defeating me, fills me with optimism, confidence, enthusiasm and hope. Since I’ve heard those are some of the key ingredients for someone in good mental health, I guess that’s not a bad place to start.