Here we are in the last week of the year. I suspect 2020 will exit our lives leaving a tremendous sigh for us all in its wake. Historically this is when I share an annual ritual of reflecting on the year while allowing projections for the new year to set a trajectory. This exercise I’ve done with family, friends and community for years. It can be done in a writing format, a doodle of events, a collage or painting. Whatever expresses how the landscape of your inner journey took physical form. It’s an incredibly fulfilling exercise that always leaves me feeling rich in experience and grateful for this walk on the earth. (If you would like an in-depth description of the exercise, including a meditation that goes with it, check out this blog from two years ago.) That being said, this new year upon us, I feel, is inviting a different twist than the usual projection, since times of uncertainty are still prominent...
2020 has forced almost everyone into isolation of various degrees. A term to some people is quite foreign and scary. It forced us to reflect on life at large, our intimacy with it and our intimacy with ourselves. When the question of “how are we in the world?” is answered with “not well, individually or as a global people.” The next prompt must be “what can we do?” Most of our conversations touch on the pandemic, which can be exhausting and depressing. There has never been a time more important to be still, but this stillness doesn't have to feel vacuous and debilitating. We need to know more ways to explore the qualities of life that are not conditional on external forces.
Who have we become in the world and to ourselves? Have we forgotten who we are in our hearts and let circumstance govern our emotional health? The economic times over the last ten years has made life relatively comfortable for many. When we’re comfortable we tend to coast easy street and avoid deeper inquiries when they arise. Who wants to stir the pot when all seems well? All of a sudden there is no one escaping the challenges of the times, which tends to awaken personal pain as if we never experienced it.
I had a dream that I was interviewing a woman who had come on retreat with me to Ireland for the purpose of this letter. She is a psychiatric nurse, and I wanted to tap into the mental and emotional climate she faced daily. We went to this new Tibetan cafe. It was outdoors and had vibrant red fabric walls that separated three rooms and blew gently in the wind. Open skies and definitely not Toronto winter. It felt like an inviting temple, packed with the warm smiles of open hearts. There was indeed no COVID-19 protocols in place but I reminded myself it was a dream, and continued with my interview.
The conversation with my friend regarding the weight on mental health in the world left me raw and sad. What are we missing? How can we help ourselves and one another? One of the things we spoke of in the dream was to build our resiliency muscle. One of the best practices for this is to learn to be okay with how things are. This doesn’t mean we need to like the unfolding or even accept it. Just not let it under our skin or spend precious energy fighting what we have no control over. When we become stuck by circumstance, it takes over the very fibre of our being and we lose the bigger picture.
Pema Chodron shares that our obstacles are not our enemies. They are our friends because they show us where we’re stuck and that can lead to an open conversation on the relationship we have with ourself. We are all feeling a cacophony of emotions these days and guess what? They all belong. We have every right to be sad, lonely, agitated, angry, lost, confused, inspired, blissed out and funny. Recognize whatever arises, smile, hug yourself, let it go. Don't add to it. It just is. And all this too shall pass.
Although my projections for coming years had always been influenced by inner quests, planning where to be in the world for teachings remained pretty certain. 2021’s projections may be less influenced by where and what, and instead on how to best embrace the days.
Perhaps 2021 should be posed in questions, as an open invite to unfold where we curiously await.. Instead of feeling the need for answers or plans, let's create questions. What practices can we sharpen? How can we expand our meditation? How can we build resilience? How can we make someone laugh, including ourselves? Where will life's little treasures be hidden? What hurdles will come to teach us? Where will we meet our best selves? What will make our bodies stronger and more agile? What will make our brains sharper and our spirit awaken? How can we de-stress? How can we lighten the burden of another? What will crack our hearts open so that light may enter? How can we help heal this great great earth? The mystery lies in the questions. At this moment the canvas is empty and it belongs to you. Colour it as you will.
Wishing you a world of joy and resiliency for a new year, wherever you need it. Thank you for being part of this community.
With love, a lotus and a smile
While I was writing this letter, I received an email from a friend who is the director of a new program called PEaCE. Program for Ethics and Care Ecologies. A 17 member team of diverse health professionals that deliver resiliency support, spiritual care, end of life care and family and health care teams. They are indeed inspiring and have useful tips for building resiliency and self care through these Covid days. This is a great example of how the Universe works. I dreamt a question. The answer unfolded to explore building resiliency. Then while writing, receive an email from a mindful professional offering tools on the very subject. Love it!! Visit PEaCE