I absolutely love the New Year.
First of all, I’m a certified planner addict. I scope out planners for, let’s be real, most the year, eagerly awaiting the moment on January 1st when I can start writing a new year into being. This year, I have not one, but TWO planners to launch into orbit. THAT’s how excited I am about 2018.
I love setting intentions. I love making plans and schedules and routines. I live by them. They please my order-adoring brain. They create a rhythm for my day. They make me feel safe and secure.
Especially come this January, I am eager to get back to the rhythm of my days. I have just spent two full weeks with my boys, almost-7 and 4-and-a-half years old, at home. To say we have cabin fever is to put it mildly. We--at least, I--feel like I have cabin plague. I have never been good at ordering my days when they are around, and I can’t wait for them to return to school so I can get back to my quiet days, the empty pages of my new planners, rhythms and routines as fresh as the new year.
I can’t wait to get up early. I can’t wait to step into the bathroom and go through my morning ablutions. I can’t wait to pad to the kitchen to boil water and squeeze lemon into the cup. I can’t wait to walk back to my desk, light my candles, rub essential oils on my wrists. I can’t wait to draw two cards from my tarot deck. I can’t wait to write my daily morning pages.
The year starts on such a high note of promise. Twelve months as of yet clean of fuck-ups. It’s possible from here to think that, this year, I will get it right. I will set my routines and rituals in motion and watch them roll steadily along the wheel of the year. Not a day need be missed. I can still be perfect this year.
It’s an enticing idea. There’s only one problem: being perfect was never the point.
I don’t know where we got this idea that success means getting things right straight out of the gate and not messing up once. Blaise Pascal wrote that “the error of stoicism is to think one can do always what one can do sometimes.” Living in the 1600s, he identified that we do ourselves harm when we set such a high bar for ourselves. How much truer this is in 2018!
Oh but we do love a winning streak though. Even my meditation timer app congratulates me on the number of consecutive days I’ve practiced. And yet, so much is missing from the story of the winning streak.
How much self-hatred, self-flagellation, and negative self-talk is needed to create the winning streak of days? What about the fear that fuels the belief that we cannot take a day off from our endeavors? Where did the idea originate to glorify pushing past sickness, exhaustion, to ignore all the signs from our body in order to shoot like a arrow towards our goal?
I propose a different scenario. What if we changed the measure of our success to include the possibility of failure, since absolutely all data point to the fact that, whatever it is we mean to start, we will absolutely fuck it up, at least once?
I used to think that the point of meditation was to keep the mind’s eye focused on the bull’s eye of the chosen object of meditation. Whether the breath, an image, a mantra--the meditation was only as good as my ability to stay unwaveringly focused for the duration of the practice.
Turns out, that’s not the point of meditation at all. It’s a given that the mind will wander--that’s the nature of the mind: to think, to explore, to wander. The point of meditation is not how well we stick to the chosen goal: the point of meditation is the kindness with which we bring ourselves back to the chosen task after we’ve wandered. Meditation isn’t about being a rigid taskmaster with ourselves; it’s about developing kindness, compassion, and understanding for ourselves.
The muscles that tell us that we need to be better at all the things don’t need strengthening. We don’t need more practice feeling bad about ourselves and berating ourselves for not achieving our vision. We do need a lot more practice generating kindness and compassion. And, during a meditation session, if the mind wanders 5, 10, 50 times, that’s as many fresh chances we have to practice being kind to ourselves.
The more the mind wanders, the more we have the opportunity to engender love and compassion for ourselves.
What if we could be as sweet, kind, and tender towards ourselves as we try to accomplish new goals as we would be with an infant or a puppy that we’re trying to teach new skills to: applauding every tiny milestone, calming every fear, encouraging through every struggle, heaping love and understanding over the whole process.
Because doing new things is hard. Practicing new skills is hard. We understand that an infant or a puppy isn’t going to get it right from the beginning. Because they are tender and new, right? We don’t expect them to be perfect from the get-to. Yet we expect perfection from ourselves.
Because we look big and strong and we’ve been around the block and we have some form of experience. Because we’ve absorbed the messages of a culture that wants us to feel like we’re never good enough because the less we believe in ourselves, the more likely we are to buy into the solution they have to sell.
We fail to understand how soft and tender we really are. We are being made new every second. Our cells are constantly dying off and being born. Our bodies, our Selves, that feel so solid and enduring, really only offer the illusion of permanence. Each fresh breath is a chance to start over. To begin again. To make a fresh start.
So, as you crack open your new planners, sketch out new routines and rituals for 2018, build in the expectation that you will fuck it up. And know that it’s ok. Understand that you are tender and soft as a puppy and need gentle coaxing and encouragement more than you need the rod of discipline. Resolve to be exquisitely kind to yourself. To applaud even the tiniest milestones. To encourage yourself through every aspect of the process.
The word encourage has at its center the word cor, which is Latin for heart. Be tender and kind to your heart. Exercise its ability to generate compassion and kindness when you fail. Flex its muscles of faith and cheerleading and understanding.
Because the routines, the rituals, the planners--all of them will fall away, eventually. Change is the only constant in life. Decay is inherent in all compounded things. It may sound grim, but it’s a joyful thought: there isn’t a single thing you’ll need to do forever. All of it will change and flow through different iterations. But one thing that you can cultivate daily, hourly, will stay with you until your last grateful breath: your ability to offer kindness and compassion, to embody the love that you are.
Offer yourself the grace of a fresh start--one, five times, fifty times a day. Make your goal to be unfailingly tender with yourself. Bring yourself back to the task with exquisite kindness. Make the success of any new enterprise the measure of compassion you offer yourself. Plan to be kind.
Pema Chodron wrote that without loving kindness for ourselves it is difficult, if not impossible, to genuinely feel it for others. This world needs all the genuine love and compassion it can get. Our care for the world starts with our care for our Selves. Start a revolution in your heart. Set 2018 ablaze with love--one fuck-up at a time.
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Want to make some serious plans to be kind to yourself in 2018? Join my Sacred Self-Care Circle, which starts on January 16th. It's a 6-month online group coaching experience rooted in the principles of yoga, Ayurveda, and yoga therapy. It's designed to help you implement some real-world, personalized strategies to reclaim your true nature of balance, peace, and ease. Read more about it over here.