It’s 2015, and I couldn’t be gladder than I am to be welcoming in this fresh new year which, as my old companion Anne Shirley of Green Gables used to say, has no mistakes in it.
Not that making mistakes is a problem. One of my favourite anecdotes about how important it is to make mistakes, and how to face them, comes from an interview I once watched with Karl Kruszelnicki — Dr Karl — in which he spoke about some aspects of his mother’s parenting style. I wish I could find the reference now [if you can, please let me know!]. What I remember is him telling this anecdote about being a small child, and spilling some liquids on the kitchen floor. Milk, juice, I don’t remember. A combination of things. Anyway, rather than be all housework-focused, his mother responded by asking him if he wanted to play around with those liquid spills on the floor for a while, before they cleaned it all up.
For me, the great thing about this anecdote is that it offers you a productive way to respond to ‘mistakes’: as opportunities to explore, as unexpected incidents that provide opportunities for new understanding.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about how I don’t begin the year by making resolutions any more (and why I don’t do that). Instead, I begin each year by trying to find:
Two words to anchor myself. Two words to orient myself as I try to live in this confusing world in a way that’s meaningful and right.
This year, I’m going with Simplicity and Strength.
So, first of all, Simplicity. This is about cultivating a focused and directed approach to life.
Not over-cluttering my head and heart with obligations and responsibilities, but choosing as much as possible what to take on. Learning to say no to extra obligations, knowing that when I take on too much I only disappoint myself (and sometimes others) by meeting those obligations too late, too slowly, or just not to the standard I would prefer.
Decreasing debt (paying off that goddam credit card) and living within my means in a way that still provides me with the opportunity to spend money on the things that give me pleasure: good food, and at least a little travel, for example.
Being in the moment. In Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, he writes about some of the lessons he learned from Samin Nosrat, including the Buddhist philosophy he adapts/summarises as ‘when chopping onions, just chop onions’ (Cooked, 125). Samin tells Michael, at one point:
“Great cooking is all about the three ‘p’s: patience, presence, and practice,” … Samin is a devoted student of yoga, and she sees important parallels in the mental habits demanded by both disciplines. Working with onions seemed as good a place to develop those habits as any–practice in chopping them, patience in sweating them, and presence in keeping an eye on the pan so that they didn’t accidentally brown if the phone rang and you permitted yourself a lapse in attention. (Cooked, p141)
Elsewhere in the same book, Pollan writes:
After a week in front of the screen, the opportunity to work with my hands–with all my senses, in fact–is always a welcome change of pace, whether in the kitchen or in the garden. There’s something about such work that seems to alter the experience of time, helps me to reoccupy the present tense … When stirring the pot, just stir the pot. I get it now. It seems to me that one of the great luxuries of life at this point is to be able to do one thing at a time, one thing to which you give yourself wholeheartedly.
So, this is what I mean by Simplicity (at least for now!). Being selective about the tasks and responsibilities I take on, and then focusing on the task at hand. Doing whatever I can to clear the space to make that attention and patience possible. Not making, but taking, the time to do each of the things I do with care and attention and presence.
Secondly, Strength. Amelia Earhart said a great many wise things about nurturing and honouring the strength you have, and the strength you need in order to live your life with as much daring and courage as you, and this world, deserve. She said that there was more to life than being a passenger, for example, something I feel I’ve been for too long. That is, someone who is so consumed by self-doubt, so uncertain of their own direction, and so eager to please others that I have too often allowed others to make decisions for me.
I have even had that strange experience of being so focused on what others–more vocal, more determined, more volatile people, particularly–said that they wanted or needed from me, that I have too often been unable even to identify my own wants and needs.
Part of fostering Strength in and for myself is about learning to listen for that small voice inside myself. Learning to know what it is I need, want and feel. Not, I’ve discovered, as easy as it sounds!
Amelia also said:
When I think of the Strength I am fostering in myself this year, this sense of making (thoughtful) decisions to act is at its heart. Making decisions that spring from a solid sense of what I believe is right and good and true.
For the world, for others, and for myself.