“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.”~ George Orwell.
I have never been hung up on New Year’s resolutions. For whatever reason that was not something that was pushed in our household when I was a child. But the New Year has always been a time for reflection. In Jamaica, most churches hold a ‘Watchnight’ service which begins on Old Year’s Night and ends on New Year’s Day. It is a time to memorialize all those souls who departed during the previous year. For kids it was an excuse to stay up (or be woken up) after your usual bedtime, and be out and about on a cool, mysterious night, walking home at one o’clock, with someone’s large sweater draped over your shoulders, strange night sounds and sights so different from the day.
As a working adult I usually elected to work New Year’s Eve – in order to be home with my kids at Christmas. So for many years I saw in the New Year while at work; I mostly worked the overnight shift (aka the graveyard shift!) when I worked in hospitals. They often say that whatever you do as the New Year comes in, you’ll be doing the rest of the year. I guess working an honest wage isn’t a bad way to spend your life! Relaxing on a yacht, traveling the world will be my next life! I was working the night of Y2K – remember that madness? The night the world waited in watchful anticipation for everything to crash – for airplanes to drop out of the sky, for all of our electronic equipment to go haywire. Would we successfully transition from the 20th to the 21st century? I remember that it was a crazy night, with most of the staff on duty unable to even notice the moment when the year changed from 1999 to 2000. Talk about anti-climax!
We are often guilty of setting ourselves up with false expectations. I remember having to learn the lesson that a large, beautifully wrapped present may not contain the best gift in the world! For years (mostly in my married life) my birthday would leave me feeling vaguely depressed. Somehow it never lived up to my (unrealistic) hopes of how my birthday should be. I have often complained about the year I turned thirty, on the thirtieth of December. Somehow I expected the Miami Herald to have a headline declaring this momentous achievement! I looked for the announcement written in the sky! It didn’t have to be those long trails of smoke that dwindle into incoherence. A trailing banner would have been enough. Instead, I had a husband who declared that all holidays were a manipulation by the capitalistic society in which we lived. And a mother who forgot, and called me on the 31st!
Buddhist teaching says that suffering comes from wanting things (yearning) to be other than what they are; from being attached to things or outcomes over which we have little or no control. When we recognize that the only thing we really have control over is how we react to life’s challenges, it puts responsibility for our own happiness squarely back in our hands. Trying to change people to fit our needs and expectations is not only exhausting, it is futile. Flitting from job to job (or relationship to relationship) is equally non-productive. Often we exchange one imperfect situation for another.
This week (the third of my so-called Staycation), I chose to start out the New Year with family. And I restored my soul with a visit to an area of Florida I have never seen before. But most importantly, I communed with nature. My friend and activist and author and all round phenomenal woman Audrey Peterman recently described the National Parks as sacred spaces, a place where it is possible to view the world from a macrocosmic level, rather than our usual self-centered microcosmic point. We get caught up in the daily grind, unable to complete our compulsive to-do lists; with people and things not remaining under our control. Visiting an area of natural beauty reminds us that we are but a small part of a huge whole, and although we can have a huge impact (if we choose) it is good to lose our puffed-up sense of self in a place where Mother Nature rules supreme. Walking through the woods on a windy, cool, gloomy day, I felt my lungs fill with fresh air, and stale thoughts and patterns got blown out of my cob-webbed brain.
So although I am not making any New Year’s resolutions (as usual I resolve not to make any!) I have found myself being reflective. Since the New Year coincides so closely to my birthday, it is a time of evaluation and introspection. How am I doing on the things that continue to be challenging to me? This was what brought me to my New Year’s mantra – to Let Go and Accept. No matter how far I think I have evolved and grown, I still find myself hung up on outcomes; bothered by the perceptions of others; critical of my own shortcomings. One of the nice stories which has now become a ‘thing’ is the statement ‘you are enough’. We often make ourselves crazy thinking we are not enough – not thin enough, rich enough, pretty enough, smart enough, wise enough, evolved enough, etc., etc. And yet we are. Once we let go of the need to fulfill expectations (whether of ourselves or others); once we let go of the need for others to conform to our expectations; life becomes a little simpler. A wise, uneducated Yorkshireman once said “It’s a bit like beating up your head against a brick wall: it does feel good when you stop.” And then, after letting go, begin to accept – not in the sense of being a doormat, accepting whatever happens, but acceptance as an act of appreciation, receiving whatever happens as a blessing.
On this first Friday in 2018, I hope you find yourself surrounded by blessings. May you find the energy to face the new challenges with a new spirit of optimism. And if you feel as if you are not up to the challenges, find yourself a corner of natural beauty to stop and consider the lilly, or the tree, or the rockstone, or the sea, or some aspect of the natural world that is not consulting a smart phone or a daily planner and let go… and accept… Have a wonderful weekend Family!
Thank you for a wonderful reminder that we can control our own happiness.