Lark Ascending: Let this new year be one of contentment (column)
December 19, 2017
This past week I received a Christmas gift from my friend Leigh – a delicious holiday nut brittle, and a pair of ski socks embroidered with "Carpe the F— out of this Diem!" I laughed at the socks and promptly ate all of the nut brittle.
Like many people, I think, I tend to do some mulling at the end of the year; taking stock of life on these dark winter mornings when the sun is still not up even at 7 am, considering how I would like to move forward into the future.
Carpe Diem! Seize the Day! I love the passion and urgency of that Call to Arms. It demands an answer to the question: What if you just had this one day? What would you do?
Alas, my immediate reaction to this is: If I SERIOUSLY just had one day? It would probably be spent in an orgy of self-gratification: making love, drinking that 40th anniversary bottle of Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, swimming naked. Topped off with a blazing Viking funeral.
Fortunately for me, and for most of us, the situation is less urgent. Still, whether short or long, our time on this planet is finite. The end of one year and the beginning of the next seems like a good time to consider what we want to make of this one precious lifetime.
The great yogic philosopher Sri Patanjali, whose Yoga Sutras were written somewhere between 200-300 AD, observed that human beings tend to spend a good deal of time suffering. He proposed that this is because, in our fear and vanity,
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we stubbornly cling to inaccurate perceptions of the world and of who we are.
The best approach to a satisfying life? Remove the blinders of ignorance. Stop fooling ourselves or trying to be something we are not. Stop trying to control others, or the world around us, to make them fit our notions of how things should be. For Patanjali, this is the work of a lifetime — one that pays off with contentment, joy, and even bliss.
How does an average person, with a gargantuan Christmas to-do list, Holiday cards to address, text messages beeping about family gatherings and a boyfriend teetering precariously on a 12 foot ladder hanging Christmas lights, approach this question of simultaneously "letting go" while creating a life of intention?
The great opportunity is where you are. So wrote the naturalist John Burroughs. When life is not going exactly as I want, it is always alluring to imagine what life would be like somewhere else! But ultimately YOU always go with you, and the impulse to re-discover a more satisfying "you", with more interesting things to accomplish somewhere else, becomes a disappointing illusion. "You are always nearer to the divine and the true sources of your power than you think," said Burroughs. Realizing that, in both good times and bad times, this means "right here, now " feels like a path to contentment.
Make peace with your adversaries. There is really nothing more draining, nothing that leads more insidiously to a nagging sense of our own short-comings than being in a state of conflict – with friends, family members, colleagues at work, ex-romantic partners. The current political climate fuels these conflicts, which is why most of us are so exhausted. In the past few months my family seems to have made the unspoken joint decision to stop sacrificing our love and connection to each other on the alter of our political beliefs. They watch FOX News and I read the New York Times, and we are just going to let it go at that.
Allow your best to be enough. I have spent a good part of my working life in sales, where whatever you do is never enough. This creates a constant perception of personal inadequacy. More recently I, like many people I know, have felt overwhelmed by the turmoil in the world, and our own seemingly puny ability to make things better. My fury at the lack of access to affordable healthcare in this country led me to a job at the Community Care Clinic. And though I am only one person in one job, I can also choose to see this as a moment of grace, an opportunity to do my best at something that is meaningful. And that is enough.
Is this what I really look like? If you are over 50 you know what I mean by this question. And the answer is: Yes. I don't know if a horror of wrinkles is what Patanjali meant when he said our suffering is linked to our inability to see ourselves clearly, but it could have been. Yes, if you've made it this far, the years will probably show. And it's OK.
Love is all that matters. Though it may take most of a lifetime, as it did for a slow-learner like me, there is no greater sense of gratitude than to be with a person who, knowing all your faults, still sees you as the shining star that you yourself would never dare to perceive.
Make room for Grace. Even thought I would like to evolve to a place of greater contentment and acceptance, I recognize that you can not determine or insist that bliss or joy show up on demand. All you can do is stay alert for their appearance, nurture the soil so that they might grow and blossom in your heart.
In my life, grace is stepping outside my door and being still enough to the hear the flitter and bounce of chickadees from tree to tree; sitting down for a quiet moment in front of the ancient comfort of fire on the hearth on a dark winter morning; listening to my oldest niece confiding in me about a trip she dreams of taking to the Far East, where I had my first big adventures as a young woman; putting down my to-do list and sliding into a lazy morning of conversation, laughter, chiding, and tenderness with Alan, the person I love the most.
I cannot make these moments of grace happen, but I can learn to do better at recognizing them and making room for them in my life and in my heart.
Is one lifetime enough? This year, we can try to make it so.
Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge.
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