Where we live, winter is the season in which we watch the undressing of the world – the trees made bare, the grounds where gardens once bloomed, now open and empty, and many kinds of animals hidden out of sight, in hibernation, to stay warm. In winter’s cold days, we instinctively turn inward and reflect. The earth itself seems to pause, resting in the darkness of winter’s long nights. Winter is like a shawl that Nature cloaks the world in, inviting us to be silent and to listen to the questions that arise from the soul: “Am I living the life I was meant to live?” and “Am I focused on what matters most?”
This winter, as I look to the New Year, I feel a bit tired when I consider what all of us have been through. Human beings around the globe experienced uncertainty on a scale we had never encountered before. How can we prepare for a new beginning when it is likely that many things will remain uncertain, and even stay the same, in our daily lives?
In reflection, I take some comfort in reminding myself that I have been at this place before, a place where I had to surrender to things that were outside of my control. As an alcoholism counselor I learned to “let go and let God,” one of the guiding principles that helped people reach sobriety. I learned through hospice experiences about not holding too tightly onto people, places, or things because impermanence is a part of the human condition. Leading Death Cafes for five years taught me to focus on being appreciative and grateful each day because our depth comes from experiencing pain and our strength comes from heartbreak. Having lived through hard days makes every good day able to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest.
While we can’t control what may happen to us, we are always in charge of our attitude. Here are three things we can do to manage our expectations and prepare for the coming year:
- Be clear about what matters most and act accordingly – We have months to go until the COVID-19 restrictions ease, and it might feel at times that the pandemic is relentless, and all-consuming. As much as we may look at staying home and avoiding travel as a kind of “prison,” there is something we can learn from actual inmates who adapt well to their restrictive environment: they establish clear definitions of what is most important, and they focus on what they are able to do to make the best of their circumstances. So, following their example, we can take the time to identify what matters to us, make it a priority, and then intentionally plan to spend time with those people and things that are the most important in our lives. Our goal is to live authentically so that what we feel internally matches what we do externally.
- Nurture yourself each day as the foundation for nurturing relationships with others – Tending to our own emotional and physical needs is a good foundation for building the kind of world we want to live in. This isn’t selfish; self-care is a healthy priority that allows us to be prepared and able to help others when needed. What nurtures our mind, body, and spirit, can be different for each person. For myself, I know that daily walks outdoors are essential to my well-being, and to keeping a positive outlook, along with eating and cooking good food, including comfort foods that I have loved since childhood. What is on your list of things that are nurturing?
- Trust your resilience as a tool for building “uncertainty tolerance” – We are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for and it is an important resource for us during difficult and challenging times. The more we are able to be grateful and appreciative of the many small things we can control, and the more positive our attitude is, the better we will be able to tolerate life’s sameness when it’s our companion in 2021. Our uncertainty tolerance is something we can strengthen by consciously choosing to be open and curious, rather than rigid and closed. We know that nothing stays the same in life so it works to our advantage if we take control and try new things, learn new things, study and grow new skills. The idea is to do something where you are not sure how it will turn out – it compels you to tolerate the uncertainty. I have two friends who are taking Master Classes (www.masterclass.com) and are excited by learning from famous experts, celebrity teachers who have mastered a field of interest such as photography, and home gardening. It is pushing them to improve their current skills. I myself just signed up for a yearlong course offered by Spirituality and Practice (www.spiritualityandpractice.com) titled, “Contemplative Writing and Listening Practice Group.” I feel excited and challenged by the description, and look forward to meeting new people, and making new discoveries as I sharpen my writing and listening skills.
In closing, I offer this blessing for uncertain times:
May you meet whatever 2021 brings with loving kindness and compassion for yourself and those around you.
May you feel the continuity of this beginning with all of the others that you have lived through, remembering that you are not alone on this voyage, and that there will be shelter and energy to hold you safely.
May you know that risk is your greatest ally, and may you remain open and vulnerable to what is new and different in the coming year.