Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Trouble with New Year Resolutions

The trouble with new year resolutions is that they are too easy to break; the trouble is that they tend to be commitments to one aspect of our life, mind or body, when nothing that we are or do happens in isolation from the rest of who and what we are, think and do; the trouble is that they often sound like punishment, or self-aggression, a kind of new year's belligerence towards oneself, so they begin with what we perceive to be wrong with us, rather than finding things that we seek to be more right, more whole, more substantial within us; the trouble is they are demands, and nobody ever made deep-seated and lasting change by being bullied into it.

I prefer the idea of a manifesto.  A manifesto is a public declaration of intentions, opinions or objectives.  The word comes from the late 14c. Old French 'manifest', meaning evident, palpable or clearly revealed, or directly from Latin 'manifestus', meaning plainly apprehensible, clear, apparent, evident.  So it is a good word for a new year, encompassing as it does the idea of public declaration and a setting out of one's intention or objective for the coming year; it also contains within it the sense of making something more clear and I like the idea that we can, through our new year's manifesto, come to know ourselves better and make wiser choices for ourselves, so that we can live better, more wholehearted, more generous and loving lives

Writing a manifesto for yourself means setting out a host of aims for the coming year and this seems to me to be more realistic than the usual one line commitments that have often expired by 1st February. 

In addition, a resolution doesn't always take into account the reasons why we do something, so we end up denying ourselves former comforts without addressing the underlying reasons WHY we indulge in those comforts.  And there is always a reason.  If work is so bad that we need half a bottle of wine every night to unwind, then we should not only be addressing the problem of drinking more than is healthy, but also the reasons why work is so dissatisfying and what we might be able to do about that.  If our aim this year is to run a marathon or climb a mountain, we might ask if we simply enjoy challenging ourselves and whether we have forgotten that aspect of ourselves; do we simply need to nurture that part of ourselves hat enjoys accomplishing daring things and moving outside our comfort zone.

So in a manifesto, the resolution: Lose 2 Stone by 1st June might become:

Choose to eat more healthily this year
Walk to work every day; take the stairs to my office instead of the lift
I don't enjoy the feeling of being overweight and unfit, but I love food - by being wiser with what food I choose to eat, perhaps I can find a way to enjoy it AND lose a little weight.
Think of new ways to reward myself for good days and console myself for the bad ones, rather than reaching for a chocolate bar every day.
Think about why I am unhappy being overweight and how I can be more happy in the skin I'm in rather than seeking to change it.

Or, give up drinking wine during the week, might instead be a commitment to:

Find a new way to unwind after work without reaching for a glass of wine; work is really stressful at the moment and will be for the foreseeable future, but there are other ways to switch off after a stressful day I just need to try a few methods and see what works for me.
Book myself onto the pottery course I've been thinking about - yes, I am tired after work, but this will inspire me and be fun and I'd rather do that than sit at home with a glass of wine watching tv.

A manifesto is a commitment to understand yourself more as well as to improve the way you live your life; it is more inclusive and positive and less about 'fixing' the things that we think might wrong with us.  It is longer, choosing not one or two top line items that we would like to do differently, but our whole lives and everything in them, our whole selves and everything that makes us who we are.

So take a blank piece of paper and write yourself a manifesto for 2013.  Let the words come, don't overthink it (you can always go back afterwards and make it more coherent).  If you want to and you are brave enough, show it someone you love and who loves you to see what they think and so they can help you.  Put it somewhere that you will see it every day, or pop it in your bedside drawer and refer to it from time to time.  Are you living by the manifesto you set yourself, or have you slipped off track and into old habits that don't serve you?  If you have slipped, why?  Is there a deeper reason for it?  How can you encourage yourself to stay true to what you wished for yourself back in the cold days of January.

My manifesto is blutacked to the wall in the spot where I go to meditate.  It is encouraging and heartfelt; it is about healing and moving forward; it includes a commitment to do the things I love as well as the things that I know do me good, but that I sometimes forget to do or allow life and laziness to get in the way of.  I don't want my manifesto to be like the voice of my critic (inner or outer), telling me off and making me feel bad about failing.  I want it to be the voice of the ones who love me most (in the spirit of having love and compassion for myself), encouraging me to stay true to what I know, be fully who I am and to cultivate those things in my life that help me to stay with that.

I hope you enjoy writing your manifesto; if you're like me, you might even find out a few things about your deeper motives as you write it.

Monday, 7 January 2013

On Receiving Love

Giving to others the love, care, empathy and support that you yourself would most like to receive is of course only one half of the love equation: you must be open to receiving it into your heart from other people and this you cannot do unless you truly believe that you are worthy of it.

It doesn't matter how many people tell you that you are lovable and it doesn't matter how demonstrative they are about their love for you; if you do not truly believe it yourself, you have unknowingly erected a wall which stops that love getting through to your soul.  This has serious implications for your well-being, but it also hinders the imagined universe of which I wrote last week (in which there is more than enough love to go around for everyone).

If you do not believe that you are worthy of receiving love, then it doesn't matter if people have love shining like sunbeams from their faces and it doesn't matter if everyone has made of themselves a light, because that love and light cannot penetrate the wall you have erected to hide the fact that you don't think that you are worth loving.

Taking down that brick wall could well bring you face to face with every vulnerable moment that you have faced in your life, each one's name written on every brick:
The boy/girl/man/woman that broke your heart - Brick number 102
The parent that made you feel you weren't good enough - Brick 33
The best friend who told everyone your secret - Brick 108
The colleague who let you down - Brick 2
The one who shouted and hurt you - Brick 5

And looking at each of those bricks might show you what you did internally with what happened to you:
Brick 102 - I am not good-looking enough
Brick 33 - they were right and no matter what I do, I will never be enough
Brick 108 - people can't be trusted
Brick 2 - I should keep my ideas to myself so as not to risk embarrassing exposure at work
Brick 5 - I must keep my feelings hidden so that nobody will hurt me like that again

Perhaps you decided you aren't worthy of love to protect yourself; or because someone made you feel that way; or because it was the only explanation you could come up with for having been rejected; maybe you secretly think that if people knew what you are really like, they wouldn't even like you, let alone love you.

Whatever the reason and however it is made manifest, when it comes to love, I really do think that it is easier to give than to receive.

But just giving it is not enough.  To love totally and fully, to be able to see the light in everyone, you have to learn how to accept love and care from others; you have to know that you are not perfect AND you are lovable.  Just like everyone else.

Bring to mind someone you care about; imagine how they would be if they didn't make mistakes, didn't put their foot in it, lose control sometimes, get the giggles, act like a fool, lose things, act a little self-importantly sometimes.  Haven't you just taken everything that you love about that person away?  Haven't you just turned them into something a little less than human?  Do you even want to be friends with that version of your friend?

So now, why don't you let yourself off the hook.  The chances are that people love you FOR your shortcomings and not in spite of them.  You are lovable and you are good enough, exactly as you are right now, before you give something to someone, come top of the class, get promoted, earn more, lose weight; you are enough without having to prove anything. 

The strange thing is that when you are able to do accept love from others and put away that niggling sense of not good enough, then you find that you are not so needful of love; that it doesn't need to be so big and all-encompassing; you are not so demanding of it and nor do you have to reject it.  Now you are able to accept lots of little bits of love and know that you deserve it, you don't go looking for the big ticket demonstrations that prove that you are lovable when you don't really think that you are; and this makes possible a smaller, quieter, more fulfilling life.