Quit smoking, get fit, spend more time with the family. Lose weight, get out of debt, quit drinking. Get more creative, be more productive, set better goals or no goals, do what you love, make X number of sales, win that promotion.
A list of earnest pledges we make at the start of a fresh new year could go on and on.
The gyms will be packed for a few weeks, cigarette sales will go down, and nicotine patch or gum sales will go up. Couples gaze lovingly at one another as they agree to spend more time together as a family, have sit-down dinners on Sundays, or stop using their credit cards and pay off some debt.
How many resolutions will stick?
Some will, especially for those of us who have made serious life changes before. But many more won’t.
Making changes is hard, and developing new, better habits or dropping bad ones can seem impossible. Armed with will power and conviction, many stay the course for a few days, weeks, or months, but then life happens. Stress or the safety of the known kicks in. We lose our way not because we can’t do it or because we’re weak but because it’s hard for anyone to change the way we do things.
Some of us haven’t made any particular resolutions, but we’re struggling.
I know at least half a dozen people who are starting the year with challenges. Some of them are simply that: challenging.
A new, unexpected baby in an already large family is difficult, no doubt about it. Even when the surprise baby is much loved and welcomed, parenthood is no picnic, and it’s especially hard when both parents work.
Others are some of the most difficult issues anyone will ever face. Someone else I know recently lost her father, and another friend lost her mother. Then there’s a struggling marriage already threatening to fall apart that was dealt the death blow when one side confessed to an affair. Divorce? Don’t divorce? Is forgiveness possible? Will counseling help?
Resolutions to improve ourselves in some way are hard during the best of times, and when people are barely staying afloat in a sea of hurt, anger, pain, and loss, they’re next to impossible to keep.
But whether you’re in a relatively stable situation or feeling like your life is falling apart—or somewhere in between—there’s one important thing you should do for yourself before anything else.
Inside all of us, way deep inside, there’s a place that’s calm no matter what kind of storm is raging. Some call it our center, others call it innate compassion or Buddha nature, and still others call it the Holy Spirit. There are all sorts of ways to refer to who and what we are underneath our layers of suffering.
Sit still, just for a moment. Breathe in slowly to a silent count of three. Then breathe out in the same way. Feel the air fill your lungs, feel it leaving. Breathe in and breathe out, three times. Pay attention only to your breath.
When we do this regularly, during calm times or to get calm during a stressful time, we’re better able to feel the difference between the strong emotions we feel in one part of ourselves and the deep, still pool of calm that is always within us. We’re more aware, more mindful of everything at that moment.
If you’re not already familiar with the idea of mindful breathing or awareness and don’t quite get it, that’s OK. But when we practice breathing like this on a regular basis and paying attention to our inner selves, we start to find our inner peace. We know, beyond a doubt, that it’s there, even if it’s buried under a few feet or miles of emotions that constantly vie for our attention.
Peace is within us. It’s always there. We just have to find it.
Have you ever gazed at a beautiful sunset, a gorgeous sunrise, or an ocean or mountain scene and felt a sense of peace come over you? Maybe it’s an elderly couple holding hands, clearly in love, or a little child helping someone in need that brings you a sense of quiet joy and knowledge that all is well in the world. In that moment, you feel peaceful.
But that peaceful feeling isn’t coming in from the outside. It’s already in you. The sight of something you think of as peaceful makes you forget all about your feelings that were closer to the surface, emotions that can make the water muddy. When the water clears, even if just for a moment, inner peace is what you feel.
Mindful breathing and meditation are great ways to get in touch with our inner, peaceful selves. But maybe walking or running is what works for you. Maybe you pray, whether it’s formal with specific prayers or you just have a good old-fashioned talk with God or Universe or Higher Power. Maybe a warm, scented bath with candles is what you do to shake off your troubles or problems and get in touch with the real you.
No matter how you do it, regularly finding your peace carries over into all areas of your life.
For me, I handle potentially stressful situations, like driving, much better than I used to because I consciously focus on my inner peace. And because of my mindful driving practice, I’m able to feel compassionate or indifferent toward drivers who might otherwise get me rolling my eyes, at best, and flipping a finger or cursing, at worst. I’m better equipped to deal with delays, snowy or icy roads, or even a 13-mile, bumper-to-bumper trip with a crying cat in the back seat that took over three hours.
If we have peace, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish, whether it’s sticking with our resolutions, making it through another hard day, or finding solutions for seemingly unsolvable problems.
If we make inner peace our focus, we’ll know how to find it when we’re craving that cigarette or beer or second piece of cake. And we’ll know that the urge will pass soon enough if we just wait a few moments or occupy ourselves until we forget about it.
Or maybe we’ll realize that not feeling like walking, running, or going to the gym is just that: a feeling. If it’s time to exercise, why let an emotion stop us from sticking to our schedule?
Our inner selves, our peaceful, calm inner selves want us to care for ourselves; it’s just our fears or worries or other emotions that stop us.
Or maybe, if we really think about it, we’re not ready to quit X bad habit and take up Y good habit. If we’re calm, if we’re able to focus on our inner peace, we may realize that we have to make preparations.
Maybe you’re better off quitting smoking slowly, for example, by decreasing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day over a period of time. Maybe you need to talk with your doctor, read some information on what to expect, or find out how others have quit smoking. Maybe you need to stock up on low-calorie nibbles to replace the cigarettes or join a support group. Maybe you’re just not ready.
But if you aren’t able to get still, peaceful, and calm and allow yourself some time to truly understand yourself, you might not know what you need to reach your goals or kick a habit.
And the same applies to those of us who are suffering. What do you need? What will help you grieve and, at the same time, function at work or as a parent?
What do you need from your partner to make your marriage work? What does he or she need? What are you willing to give? What are the options or what needs might you have that you can’t really put into words? How or where can you learn? Are both of you willing and able to commit to healing the marriage? What can you do for yourself to heal you?
Life is always changing us or, as we learn and realize new things, we realize we need to make some changes.
I don’t believe our core inner selves change much, way down deep. Change is about how we do things. It’s not us that changes, it’s how we see things, what we learn, how we communicate, and how we relate to the world and others, including ourselves, that changes.
I’ve made many, many changes over the course of my life, and you know what? I’m not a different person—I’m more me. As I peel off layers of suffering, layers of anger or fear or worry or shame or self-doubt and what-have-you, the bright shiny new me has been emerging.
But every change requires effort, self-knowledge, and sometimes pain. Pain of hurt or loss or pain of failure. And change wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t know, deep down, that I’m always me. The “real” or true me. The inner peace of me way down deep under any suffering or the temporary highs of happiness.
Make peace your goal for 2012. Find your peace, find your center, get in touch with you.
If you make inner peace your focus, you’ll be better able to know what you need to stick with those resolutions or adjust them, make new ones, or drop them altogether. And you’ll know what you need to get through a tough time, whether it’s a loss you have no control over or one that you might be able to influence.
No matter what your goals or struggles are in 2012, I wish you all the best. I’m working on a couple of new personal peace projects and developing some new routines or habits though I haven’t made any formal resolutions, and I’ll share them some time soon.
Until then, peace.
Comments are always welcome.