Integrating Self-Compassion into the New Year

For most of us, the New Year is a time filled with hope and new possibilities. It is a chance to both do and be something different with the expectation of a better outcome. However, for the majority of us, it usually doesn’t take long for this hope to turn into discouragement. We discover, once again, that change is hard. Without the proper preparation, support, space, readiness, and willingness to let go of old patterns, our resolutions to do things differently quickly fall back into our old habits and routines. We become disappointed in ourselves and lose hope that our lives can actually change. When our expectations and reality don’t meet, it is easy to feel like we have failed. And more than having failed, we feel like we ARE failures.

I didn’t make any resolutions for the new year, but I did take the opportunity of a fresh start to begin my meditation practice again (which fell off in December), to re-start my daily gratitude journal, and to return to doing daily lessons in ‘A Course in Miracles’. It took only a few days into the new year to feel completely overwhelmed with the task of doing each of these things on a daily basis. I was also trying to more regularly update my blog, read, and continue to make my healthy meals. I felt like there were too many articles to read, too many podcasts to be listened to, too many e-mails to be written, too many dishes to wash, and not enough time to do this all. I would find myself at midnight racing to do my meditation, brush my teeth, write in my journal, read my daily lesson, and try to fit in a few pages of reading.

When I opened up my journal on December 31, I found a little worm, very much alive, on the page I had last written in. It had emerged from its cocoon on the opposite page. I sat in my bed, dumbstruck at the sight of this creature in my precious book. When did it make its home in my collection of thoughts and why was I just finding out about it now? A worm did not feel like a welcoming greeting for a new year! I saw that I had made it to January 28th last year before I abandoned my written gratitude practice, and that the year before, I had made it to January 25th. Here I was again, with a new opportunity to try. (Third time’s the charm?)

Committing to do something every single day is a very challenging task. Too much of life is not under our control. There will be plenty of days when we feel so overwhelmed with things that need to be done, that we can not do the things we had hoped to do. There will be days that we are too sick or too exhausted to complete our goals. What we must remember is that life is an act of balance. Nothing magical will happen when we stick to a diet or exercise plan for 30 days in a row, or manage to meditate or write in a gratitude journal for 365 straight days. Our goals and intentions help us keep to a better path, but life will always present us with challenges and obstacles that don’t allow OUR way. We will fall down, or be lead astray at times. These fluctuations are a necessary part of balance. It is in our getting back up that we reunite with it. We can only do OUR best, in any given moment, given the ever-changing circumstances around us.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding and beneficial things we can learn is the art of self-forgiveness. Perfection is never possible. It only brings pain and punishment. When we learn to become softer and more gentle with ourselves, we can extend these same qualities to those around us. In doing so, we help to free each other. We allow space to open to what is, instead of what or how we think things (or ourselves, or others) should be. We begin to release ourselves from our chains in exchange for broader sight. A Course in Miracles says, “Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success”. We our often not our own best judges. What we can learn to do, however, is become our own best friend.

Real and lasting change requires time and consistent practice. Mistakes are a necessary part of practice, as is course-correcting. Nothing in life is linear. If we train ourselves to focus on the things we DID do, instead of the things we failed to do, we will create momentum for further change. Focusing on the things we were not able to do only mires us in despair and guilt. They keep us stuck. Likewise, focusing on what was good in our day, and not what was bad, trains us to collect more of the good. Over time, what we collect acquires roots. We can choose to cultivate a garden of beautiful flowers, or one of weeds.

The start of a new calendar year is just an arbitrary, man-made date. The truth is that we are always being offered a new beginning. Every morning, we are given the opportunity for a fresh start. We are also given one with every new hour and with every new breath. We can learn that with each conscious fully released exhale, we can completely begin anew with the next inhale. Every time we follow a full cycle of breath, or close our eyes and take a minute to breathe deeply and allow ourselves to be fully in the present moment with no pressures, expectations, or to-do lists weighing on us, we are allowing ourselves the opportunity to stop and start again, to infuse our lives with more peace moment by moment, to re-wire our old thoughts and patterns, and to allow space for the things we desire more of.

May you always remember that you have the capability and the right to begin again.

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What do all Great Spiritual, Thought-Changing Methods Have in Common?

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” -Harriet Tubman

Our lives are ruled by our subconscious minds. Beneath our conscious, rational mind, a program of long held patterns of thought, beliefs, and behavior that were fully developed by the age of 7 runs continuously in the background. For most of us, these learned patterns are limiting and fear-based, and they hold us back from living the lives we were destined to live. They hold us back from our potential.
No matter how aware we become of our behavior, we will not be able to actually change our experience in the world until we learn to reprogram this extremely powerful subconscious mind. Otherwise, we will continually fall back into our old habits and ways of being and remained trapped and stuck. We will resort to blaming others and not empower ourselves.
Fortunately, today there are a number of methods to help us examine our thought, behavior, and belief patterns and shift them to ones that release us from our self-created suffering. They range from courses that are designed to take over a year of daily practice (A Course in Miracles), to a brilliant method of inquiry consisting of the same four questions that can be applied to any thought that is causing one to suffer (Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’ http://thework.com/en).

While each form of spiritual psychotherapy or thought changing program has its own specific form, content, and method, I have noticed many commonalities between them.

1) At their core, each of these methods holds the belief that only love is real. All else is illusion.

2) Fear is the opposite of love.

3) The ego tries every possible method of keeping us in a fear-based state, which generates anger, depression, sadness, and violence. It does not want us to know the truth that only the love you have given and the love you have received is real because then it would lose all of its power. Marianne Williamson says, “The ego both tempts us to do stupid things and then punishes us severely for having done so. It is suspicious at best and vicious at worst.”

4) Suffering brings awareness. It gives us an opportunity to examine our minds and our beliefs and allows us to see that most of our thoughts are not true. We are not seeing accurately. We are creating our own suffering.

5) Forgiveness brings great peace. “A Course in Miracles” says that you can have either a grievance or a miracle. You can’t have both. Forgiveness allows us to be in an open state where we can receive miracles as expressions of love.

6) Only the present exists. There is no past. The past only exists in our memories which are influenced by our long held patterns. They are colored. They are an illusion.

7) The breath allows us to experience the present moment. In nearly every language, the word “breath” is also the same word for “spirit”. Connecting with the breath allows a connection with the spirit. The breath is also a link between the body and the mind.

8) Believing comes before seeing. Our thoughts create our reality. Perception precedes form.

9) Each method involves disciplined practice. This practice can come in the form of meditation, or in a specific form of study. “A Course in Miracles” consists of 365 days of lessons, as well as a huge volume of text. Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’ consists of a “Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet”, four simple questions, and a turn-around. Discipline creates accountability and repetition.

10) The morning is the optimal time for practice. This is when the mind is most fresh and open to new impressions, unencumbered by the stress and events of the day. It also allows the entire day to practice.

I highly recommend a disciplined, spiritual practice for bringing more freedom, ease, and peace into your life. When we change ourselves, it has an effect on those around us, creating a ripple effect into the world. The world will begin to heal when the collective consciousness is brought to a higher level.