It’s a bright sunny morning here in Rome and, thankfully, not too terribly hot. Over the last month, I’ve been engaging in a renewed program of incorporating daily walks as a part of my self-care management.
Now, I don’t mean just taking a walk down the road to the neighbourhood grocery store. I mean taking a proper walk of between 1-3 hours (dependent upon weather and time).
Back in 2008 when I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my body was in its most unhealthy state. I had gained a tremendous amount of weight as I could barely get up due to my fatigue and the pain was unbearable. I simply didn’t see how I could get my body to move and to go about life as usual. Not only that, the drastic changes in both my weight and overall health had been devastating to my self-concept and self-esteem.
You see, just prior to beginning my journey to becoming a therapist, I worked as a personal trainer and fitness instructor. I prided myself on my level of strength and stamina. I prided myself on my little need for sleep (of course, I was in my twenties) and was content with the way my body functioned.
Enter fibromyalgia…and the pictured changed. I was in misery. It took me almost a year after my diagnosis (2009) to figure out a strategy to get my body and life back together.
I didn’t want to be a walking pharmacy anymore, dragging around a heavy frame that was only becoming heavier and making my symptoms worse.
I decided that I would walk…even if it was the last thing I wanted to do. I knew that I would be in misery if I attempted to join an exercise program and I don’t believe in dieting.
Most importantly, I knew that walking was still something I could do. It hadn’t been taken away from me.
I started out with small goals, solicited some friends to join me, and began a 10 minute walk program. That’s right. Ten whole minutes. Early in the morning, a couple of times per week, we would meet up and walk together for 10 whole minutes. Eventually, we increased the time and frequency, and even (gasp) began a jog/walk program. 😉
Fast-forward five years and here I am, walking for hours. My body has benefited tremendously from the small decision I made back in 2009. The simple decision to walk. I take one medication for my illness as opposed to several that I had been taking back in 2008.
You see, we can spend our time trying to find the right medication(s). We can go from doctor to doctor. We can bemoan our circumstances and ask ‘why me?’ forever or, at least, until our last breath. None of that really will change anything in the end if we don’t look at how we can take control over our bodies ourselves and lives.
Don’t just leave it up to the latest pill you can pop. Don’t just give up and say ‘what’s done is done’. Don’t just decide that you are unlucky or fated to living your life in a way that is displeasing to you.
Decide that you can change it. Decide that you can control it. It’s your body and your illness. Decide how you want to live with it…happily.
“There is no magic drug against fibromyalgia and, in my opinion, there will never be. Psychotherapists don’t work miracles, but psychotherapy can help and, in a few cases, turn people with fibromyalgia into nonpatients. Drugs may help, but patients don’t like them,” said investigator Winfried Häuser, MD, from Technische Universität München in Germany, who has published widely on fibromyalgia.
“Aerobic exercise is the most effective weapon we have; healthy people profit from continuous physical exercise, and so do patients with fibromyalgia,” he explained.
Dr. Häuser presented an overview of research on fibromyalgia treatment here at the European League Against Rheumatism Congress 2014.
Work-in-progress, started November 3,2011, acrylic
These words by Nina Ellis-Hervey were important for me to hear today, especially as I have been dealing with managing my body and my illness. Sometimes I do feel like giving up and feel like I am alone in my struggle to reclaim my life from the grips of my illness.
Although Nina’s words are geared towards those struggling with weight issues, I believe that they are powerful word useful for all people who may be struggling with any illness, physically or mentally, that may cause daily struggle with your body.
“…I am living life day by day and trying to do everything that way…I am trying to keep in touch with family, with my friends… I have a million and one stressors in my life. And in the past, those stressors made me eat, made me gain weight.
And so now you can see how all that stress could cause me want to want to relapse, to go back to not working out, to go back to not taking care of myself. But that’s not an option. It’s not an option anymore…
It doesn’t matter what excuse you have. You only have one life. You only have one body. And nobody can take care of it, but you. Nobody is going to be responsible for it, but you. And so for me, everyday is a struggle… The battle never ends. This is for the rest of my life.
For the rest of my life, I am going to have to think about where I came from and where I don’t want to go back to. For the rest of my life, I am going to have to think about the foods I put in my body…
I have to always think ahead…I have always prepare myself…and unfortunately, it is a repercussion of my past…and not wanting to go back there…not wanting to even ever let myself go like in the past. I will never do that again.
I owe this to me…You owe it to yourself… It gets to a point that you cannot even listen to outside people. What they have to say is irrelevant…
Your journey is your own…It is not just happy-go-lucky every day for me. I am not just kicking the breeze and skipping through the flowers and the grass.
Some days are hard for me. But when I get back in it, I remember what I am in it for. Adjusting to the new you, it is rough. Everybody is going to grieve the old you…
Anything you do carries. It carries some kind of baggage behind it. I can choose to look as my baggage as negative, or I can choose to let it motivate me to try and to at least do my best…”
Below is the video of Nina. Again, it is dealing with her own struggles regarding weight. So, watch it if you feel it is relevant to you. In any case, the over all message is a possitive one.
The other day my sister, Michelle, posted the following to my Facebook page:
“Why are you skinny people doing this to yourselves??? I thought insanity was designed for overweight individuals???”
As you might imagine, the “insanity” to which she referred is the Insanity Workoutexercise program by Beachbody and led by Shaun T. Nine days ago, I decided to take the 8 week challenge and have been reporting my progress to friends and family via Facebook. I am happy to say that I have completed each day thus far and intend to continue so doing.
Now, back to my sister’s comment.
You see, she is right. I am not overweight and thus it would seem that I would have no just cause to take on such a workout program. Right?
FIBROMYALGIA (Photo credit: *SHESHELL*)
I decided to take on the Insanity Challenge, because I wanted to prove two points to myself:
1. I can achieve a high level of fitness as a person with fibromyalgia; and
2. I can take care of my body as I choose to without fearing input from others.
A world of secrets…
Back in 2008 when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my body had been changing rapidly. As I wrote in my recent posts, I had gain a significant amount of weight in only a couple of years. You see, before I started graduate school, I worked as a personal trainer and fitness instructor from 2002 to 2004. That period of my life was one in which I experienced a high boost to my body image. I was strong and healthy.
My weight then was higher than what it is now, but it was never a concern to me. My major concerns: strength and endurance. And if there is one thing that I have lamented greatly since having fibromyalgia was the loss of my physical strength and endurance.
With my weight gain came real health concerns, such as being warned about my blood pressure and having some other health issues being labeled as “due to excess weight.”
“If you had 5 minutes…,” collage with magazine and cardstock by Diedré M. Blake, (2010)
It was frustrating to find myself in that state and feeling that I couldn’t do anything physically about it…like exercise in the way that I had in the past. I was too tired. I felt too much pain. There was a bigger issue though…
As many of you know, I am an art therapist and counselor. I specialize in the treatment of eating disorders. This area of specialization developed from my second year internship and subsequent job. So, why would working within this area create a problem for me? Simply this…
How does a therapist embark upon a health improvement that would mean significant weight loss while reinforcing to her clients that their desire to lose weight was unhealthy?
For a long time, I did not have an answer. I worked in a place where there were strict rules on how food could be discussed and what foods could be eaten. Discussion of weight loss, weight loss programs, and diets was forbidden. This is not to say that these rules were always followed.
Also, there seems to be a very strange expectation, i.e. that all Black women are happy with being overweight. I write this because of various experiences I had while trying to manage my weight issues. The most memorable of these was an experience I had with an older White female nutritionist who worked at a local hospital.
I was given a referral to visit this nutritionist because both myself and my doctor believed that it would be good for me to have professional advice on how to safely and slowly lose my excess weight through diet, since exercise was proving difficult for me. At that time I was about 50 pounds overweight.
I sat with the lady and stated my reasons for coming to see her. From her lips came the following response:
“But you’re Black! Why would you want to lose weight? Aren’t all Black women a bit fatter that everyone else? Aren’t you people use to being like that?”
Now, some may believe that I am exaggerating…but I kid you not. Those were her exact words that are engraved upon my heart and mind. I was in disbelief.
There I was seeking help to lose the weight that was causing me severe health problems…and there was that lady telling me that I didn’t need to lose the weight because of my skin colour. Huh?
So, I realized that I had to do it on my own. I decided to take matters into my own hands as I wrote in my previous post. The thing was that at work, although I had explained to some that I was planning to lose weight, there was apparently discomfort that I had made such a choice.
Moreover, I did not discuss just how much weight I intended to lose, because that was no one else’s business except for me and my doctor. Looking back, perhaps it would have been better if I had simply stated a number, even though I did not have a number in mind.
The world in which I worked during that time became closed. I watched as people stared at me with curious and suspicious eyes. I listened as people made side comments about me. I answered as people kept asking me, “haven’t you lost enough now?” or “why are you still losing weight?”
And then there were the painful rumours regarding eating disorders and even my sexuality. It was a truly discouraging time. I often felt alone; and between having fibromyalgia and being the only Black clinician on staff as well as the only art therapist, I often felt misunderstood.
My studio space became a place of refuge during the last year of my weight loss. I watched as people, who were once willing to speak with me or were friendly with me, stop interacting with me. And, in all honesty, the decision to move to Italy came at the right time as who I had been no longer was. The new person did not fit in with my old world.
So, why have I written about this or about anything else?
Because it was time. Especially as a counselor specializing in eating disorders. You see, even counselors are human. 😉 Even we struggle with our bodies, including food concerns, weight and body image.
It is a strange paradox about the world of psychology. As a counselor you are expected to help others in overcoming their problems. At the same time, however, it is seemingly frowned upon by peers if you have problems of your own.
This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006
some of us feel that there is a need to be invincible. That there is a need to hide what hurts us, to hide our struggles, to hide our true selves. We walk about attempting to be the tabula rasa (blank slate) for everyone, including our peers…and it just doesn’t work.
There is a reason why…
many of us, who were once bright and shining candles, finally burnout.
There is always a reason why…
I write about this, as well as the previous blog post, to write the truth about a topic for which I held tremendous fear: my weight loss.
I write because I believe that it is the job a therapist to be human and to show his or her client that there is always a path to be found out of the difficulties of life, not just via book lessons but through setting the example by how we live our own lives and how we take care of ourselves.
“True Mirror Image,” photography by Dolores Juhas (2010). Copyright (c) Dolores Juhas. All Rights Reserved.
So what happened after March 2009?
I decided enough was enough. I was sick, tired, self-pitying, angry at the world and at myself, and just generally feeling that I was inadequate that my existence was quite pointless.
I wasn’t able to participate fully in either my personal or professional live. It was hard. When I looked in the mirror, the image smiling back at me was still sad. I decided then that neither Fibromyalgia nor my mind nor my surrounding was going to stop me from finding a way to live.
I decided to become more natural with my medication, finding ways to decrease the amount of medications that I had to take. It took consulting with my doctors and taking time to research, but it was worth it.
I temporarily joined a Fibromyalgia Support Group (though I did not always find it supportive, especially when it came to improving my physical health).
I began to speak out more about my needs and take steps at work to make sure that others understood the nature of my illness.
Waiting, photography by April Rivers (Fall, 2010)
After almost two years of doing this work, I found myself a bit more than 70 pounds lighter. My blood pressure which was unreasonably high was lower. My body that I could barely move most days began to move more. My mind was less foggy. I began to wake up to many realities of which I was not aware.
And finally, I became aware of something that I knew to be psychologically true…but never imagine I would ever experience. I became aware of the fact that people were angry about my changes.
I had to deal with rumours about my weight loss, i.e. how I lost weight, for whom I lost weight.
Of course, when you go from a larger size to a smaller size, you need new clothes. I was fortunate to receive some vintage clothing from April’s grandmother, which were more fitted to my figure. Wearing these clothing turned into gossip that I was trying to attract men…even though these people knew that I was married and highly committed to my marriage.
“The Revenge of Pride,” photography by Dolores Juhas (2010). Copyright (c) Dolores Juhas. All Rights Reserved.
There was also a humorous side to all of this (actually, I found the rumours humorous too). I discovered that suddenly people felt more comfortable giving me compliments. I even had someone say that they were surprised by how good I was looking lately.
Suddenly, too, many people were ready to chime in on my general appearance: how I should look, what I should wear, what my weight should be.
I guess you could say that losing the weight brought me both joy and distress. I was happy to be free from some of the physical difficulties posed by my weight gain…but I was equally distressed by the growing hostilities coming from various parts of my life. Still, I do not regret it.
I cut my hair and moved to Rome, which brought on a whole host of other issues, of which you can read about in earlier postings in my blog.
Until Next Time,
P.S. Check out School Psychologist and Professor Nina Ellis-Hervey regarding mind and body well-being. Link to her website here. Also visit her YouTube site “BeautifulBrownBabyDol“…You won’t regret it.
Disclaimer:The following thoughts are simply my own. I do not and cannot speak on behalf of any particular group. These thoughts also address issues concerning weight fluctuations and its impact on self-esteem. If this type of topic causes discomfort, please do not continue reading. It took me a great deal of time to decide to address this issue…and thus, I do not do so lightly. I only hope to share some of the experiences in my life journey that have brought me to this point of whom I am, i.e. a person I love most dearly.
Since childhood I understood something quite clear about the value of hair as a woman. Perhaps it would be better to state, “as a Black woman.”
I understood that the relationship I would have with my hair would be one of constant struggle. I watched my mother, my sisters, aunts, and friends go through the battle of having to straighten their hair. Not only that, some even went to task of getting weaves, whether by sewing or glueing. All in an effort to have that ever-coveted “long, flowing, hair.” I didn’t understand it then, and it some ways I still don’t.
I only knew that,between my mother’s desire for me to grow my hair long and society’s expectation for me not to look androgynous, I could not cut my hair. Well…that was until I turned 15. 😉 What changed?
Acrylic on canvas, 9X12, 1998
Well, I began to embrace my sexuality.
While still living in Jamaica, at the age of 11, I knew that I was “different.” I write “different,” because at that time, I did not know the word “lesbian.” After all, I grew up in a highly patriarchal and homophobic society, and had beenand attending all-girls Catholic school for some years as well as living in a convent–even though that last point might make you wonder how I hadn’t learned the word. But enough kidding around. Seriously, I had no idea. I simply knew that I liked girls better than boys.
At the age of 13, I did have a pseudo-boyfriend…I suppose because it was expected of me. Still, I didn’t feel the expected spark or any type of magical feeling when I thought of or spoke with him. Of course, that would all change after I moved to America and met my first girlfriend at the age 15.
You see, when I moved to Florida, I was still struggling with my relationship with God/the Universe and my growing understanding that I was “different” (a.k.a lesbian). I spent time studying with the Jehovah Witness, the Mormons, and even the Moonies–yeah, I was that serious! ;).
I wrote letters to Catholic organizations, and even received a heartwarming pamphlet called “Pastoral Care for the Homosexual,” which basically told me that God/the Universe didn’t hate me, I just needed to remain celibate for the remainder of my life. Right.
After lots of studying, writing, many tears, I decided that these Christian religions had it all wrong. I believed, rightfully so, that God/the Universe doesn’t make any mistakes…and God/the Universe surely didn’t make one by creating me. So, I cut my hair…
Wait…I know it may seem like a leap. But you see, I was ready to claim my sexuality. I was ready to shed the heterosexual norm that had been dominating my existence up until that point.
You see, I had somehow zoomed my way through Cass’ Sexual Orientation Identity Formation Model: going from identity confusion to identity pride. I cut my hair, donned some flannel (see above picture), bought Melissa Etheridge cassettes/CDs, learned Indigo Girls songs on my guitar, started pointing out every lesbian I could to my mother, cut out every article I could find about lesbians and/or lesbian life, signed up with various Youth LGBT organizations, and even began volunteering at L.U.C.H.A (an HIV/AIDS Care Centre). You get the picture.
With my decision to walk away from my Catholic/Christian faith, I no longer felt the need to pander to societal expectations. I didn’t have to concern myself with what it meant to be a “woman” or even a “Black woman” per se, because it seemed to have very little to do with me. I had simply to work on creating me, a “me” not bound by any restrictions of heterosexual society. In essence, I became a social” nomad, without a sense of belongingness.
At that young age, I hardly saw images of lesbians beyond the famous ones, singers and politicians. I didn’t see images of young lesbians like myself. If anything I understood that the lesbian community had long modeled itself on the heterosexual community, i.e. of having dominant/submissive role relationships a.k.a butch/femme. Of course, please understand, that that was in 90’s and also my exposure to the LGBQT community was very limited prior to going to university.
So, what does any of this have to do with weight?
Well, the reality was (is) that in my household “long hair” was not the only concern, “being thin” was too.
References to how thin someone was or should be was a constant in my life growing up. Furthermore, I happened to be the tallest girl in the family as well as the thinnest (a result of both nature and nurture).
My weight was constantly observed and lauded (alongside my academic achievements). It is no wonder that there was and still is such a huge distance between my sisters and myself.
Being thin, however, had its advantages for me being a young lesbian. I wore masculine clothing with ease. I could look and was androgynous when I chose. I was more able to attract the attention of other young lesbians (whether out or not). In other words, I had chosen to externalize my sexuality in the most obvious way.
Again, this refers to that time and I am not saying that sexuality can only be externalized by dressing androgynously.
Then something happened.
At the age of 17, I entered Stanford University. In a span of a year, I watched my hair grow by the miracle of extensions (braids), my academic abilities plummet, my weight increased by double digits, and my overall self-esteem shatter in fragments so microscopic that I was certain that I would never recover those pieces (which ended up working out okay after all…because that wasn’t actually self-esteem).
I returned home at a weight that I consider to be still below average. I was hardly overweight. The result of this gain, however, was the gift of my being signed up to take personal training sessions at a local gym. I went once or twice to appease the powers that be. Then I did the next best thing: I ran away.
Well, not really. I simply chose to spend a good portion of my summer vacation away from home. And I continued that practice all throughout college.
“Is This Your Weapon?” Acrylic on Canvas Board, 18X24, 1997
Interestingly enough, it was also at that time (after coming out to my mother on a cross-country road trip from California to Florida) that I decided to keep my extensions and try giving the heterosexual dating thing a try once again. And I did…to spectacular failure.
Many, many awful things happened that are best left undiscussed at this point.
The result was that by the time I returned to being true to myself, the damage that I had inflicted upon my body was quite severe. Thus, in the span of three years, I had gained upwards of 60 pounds and the number kept climbing up to and beyond graduation.
Letting Go of/Creating The Image
I wore braids until mid-October 1999. I was living in Berlin at the time and my study abroad program had travelled for the weekend to Weimar to visit the city as well as to see the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and the Bauhaus School of Art and Architecture. It was during that trip that I decided to remove my braids and let my semi-formed loc’s embrace the air and light of day. 🙂
It was the best feeling in the world, i.e. letting go of something that was not naturally a part of myself.
My hair had grown long enough for me to be able to manage it and I was excited to see what it would do and how it would grow.
After graduating, as I stated before, my weight had already taken on a life of its own. I failed to take responsibility for it, using it instead as an emotional shield to warn people away from me. I decided then that I would do whatever it took to return to a healthy physical state.
Just as in my teenage years, I felt I had the freedom then to reinvent myself. And it would not be the last time.
In 2002, with the help of my eldest sister, I started working at fitness club. First, I started just as a desk attendant, but was happy to take tips from the trainers and also to have free use of the equipment.
In time, I became a personal trainer, fitness instructor, and a spokesperson for the fitness club. I became a fitter and healthier version of my former self. I was neither the thin/fragile-looking teenager, nor was I the heavy/tired-looking college student.
2004 I entered graduate school with my hair, body, sexuality, and self-esteem intact. How I would leave it…that would be another thing.
All the discipline that I had learned while working as a trainer were tossed to the wayside and replaced with the discipline of study and working full-time to make ends meet. My long-time girlfriend from Florida had moved with me to Boston and our relationship grew further apart the more I worked and studied…until it finally dissolved.
In 2006 I graduated, and was elated to find myself already employed and dating the woman who would later become my life-partner, April. My health was steadily deteriorating just as steadily as my hair was growing. Finally in 2008, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia; and April and I married. It should have been the happiest day of my life. It wasn’t.
The night before my wedding had found me in the hospital, barely able to move, and suffering unbelievable amounts of pain. My wedding day was a medicated fog tinged with worries about the final details and dealing with family concerns. My weight too had been skyrocketing. Eventually by March 2009, I would reach my highest weight ever…193. What happened next would change my entire life…
I would love to say that what I have woken to is all wonderful, and that my time away has been restorative. The truth is, opening my eyes has meant having to see those parts of myself that are pretty, well…you know, dark. I am not saying, something like “Oh, woe is me!” Heck no!
What I am saying is that I recognize that I have been slowly chipping away at all the good that I have worked so hard to achieve over the last few years. And what exactly the point of that is, I do not know. It is, however, exactly what I have been doing. I have allowed my health to deteriorate, my weight to gain, my physical appearance to become disheveled, my thoughts to shift to black, my creativity to be stifled. And why?
Was it depression? Possibly…okay, probably. But why? Was I missing home for the first time in my life? Possibly…okay, probably. Was I feeling lonely and wishing that I could meet someone special? Possibly…I refuse to say probably here, because I prefer denial on this topic. The point is, today, I looked in the mirror and found myself asking the same question I had asked myself upon my arrival to Rome two years ago… That’s right, it’s been two years since I started this romance with the Eternal City. The question was: Who are you? The image in the mirror did not reflect anyone I knew, or wanted to know. I wanted to hide myself from myself…and then I thought, Why hide? This is simply another step on the path to who are becoming. Perhaps that is a bit too zen…For me, however, it worked and it is still working. So, I have come to a decision to charge of my life from this point forward. At this point, you are probably thinking How, D?
Well, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Imagine if everyone knew just how to make their lives better, wouldn’t that be great? Well, I certainly don’t know how all the steps that I shall need to take in order to take charge of my life, but there are ten (yes, 10) resolutions to which I have come.
Okay, so I know that one should normally make resolutions at the start of the year. That’s that whole New Year’s Resolution thing. Got it. Since, however, I have always tended to like keeping an open mind about the future, I’ve never really seriously made resolutions for the near year…and I don’t think I ever will. Making resolution for the end of the year seems to be something that I can handle more easily… It’s a bit more…short-term. I mean, I have only two and a half month’s to get these ten resolutions together or stick to them as the case may be.
So what are they? Well, first I have say that I plan to give a weekly update on my progress in maintaining the resolutions. Ten resolutions in ten weeks…I can dig it, can you? 😉
By the way, any support on achieving all of these would be lovely!
I am not a believer in making resolutions for the new year.
I actually believe that making resolutions can negatively impact one’s self-esteem. Take one of the classic new year’s resolution, i.e. the I-am-going-to-start-going-to-the-gym-and-go-on-a-diet-and lose-a-bunch-of-weight-by-such-and-such-date… typically, this is a resolution that is often abandoned… Why? Well, the reasons given are many I am sure.
In my opinion, we abandon these resolutions as we are confronted by the “realities” of living our lives and our core selves. Suddenly, the gung-ho daily visits to gym begin to diminish as work becomes too stressful and/or tiring… and the diet that was so rigidly kept to is given up for the little occasions that pop-up, involving dining out with friends, and even the amount of weight desired to be lost may be adjusted. What was a goal of 10lbs becomes 5lbs. You get the idea.
Why might this become a negative experience? Well, if the resolution is not fulfilled, the resulting self-message may be “I am incapable of following through with my plans” or “I’ll never achieve my goals” or “I am a failure.” This does not mean that everyone experiences things in this way or that these types of resolutions never succeed. There is a reason, however, for the continued popularity of the new year’s diet resolution.
Truly, my point is not to hyper-focus on dieting, although issues involving eating and self-esteem are areas of professional interest to me. New year’s resolutions, regardless of their nature, can become problematic, because they can lead to negative self-talk, and thus lowered self-esteem, if they are not completed.
A New Year…
As we begin 2012, I wonder what it would be like for everyone to imagine that this new year is simply a continuation of last year… That is, that nothing magical occurred as we shifted from the 31st of December 2011 to the 1st of January 2012. No magical fairy came by as the clock struck midnight and imbued us with both the determination and the ability to immediately make drastic (or even simple) changes in our lives. 😉 That nothing really happened except that today became yesterday and tomorrow became today…
What do you think would change for you in the way you acted, thought, and organized your life? Would there actually be any difference in how you thought and felt about yourself between December 30th to December 31st and December 31st and January 1st?
Beginning a new year is not a magic wand that fixes everything… It cannot be. It cannot erase whatever past you have lived or present you are living. It is simply a marker that informs you that 12 months of your life has gone by. It is simply a tool for you to ask yourself, “What have I accomplished in the last 12 months and over the course of my life?” and perhaps more importantly, “Given my history and my present, what path am I taking and is it leading me to where I want to be?”
Improve Upon the Attitude…
Ideally, it would be great if everyone would ask themselves the above questions regularly. Unfortunately, it seems to me that we sometimes wait until the end of the year to begin actively thinking about what, we believe, needs to be different in our lives… and then we make a list about it in the form of resolutions–and declare that we will change our ways this year!
… And of course, we do the same thing the next year… I imagine with many of the same resolutions from the previous year (perhaps 1oth time brings the charm, who knows? :))
In essence, the task of completing these listed resolutions can become daunting and self-defeating. Afterall, resolutions are typically actions that challenge us in some way. For example, perhaps there is…
something you want to do that you have never done
somewhere you want to go that you have never been
the task losing that extra weight and starting that gym program
the task of getting over that relationship(s) that has been haunting you
getting a better, more emotionally and financially rewarding job
going back to school
starting a family
making up with your family
finding “the one”
unburdening yourself of your emotional baggage
Whatever is included on the list, whether pleasant or unpleasant, it still means taking responsibility for taking immediate action to make a change in your life (ideally to improve that life). Not only that, it means that once one task is accomplished, there may be still a long list awaiting you to be tackled. In my opinion this can feel overwhelming, especially when, you know, “life” starts kicking into full gear and we are out of the holiday mode.
So, what am I suggesting? Am I suggesting not to set goals for the new year? No, I am suggesting simply that you spend the time, instead, acknowledging what you have done well in the past year and looking at the new year as an opportunity to build upon your accomplishments. Resolutions truly focus on the negative. They focus on what is not, i.e.
what you are not doing or have not been doing
what you”ought” to have been doing
who you are not or who you have never been
where you are not or where you have never been
what you have not resolved
what you have not accomplished
And honestly, how good does it feel to focus on the negative? Wouldn’t it feel better to make a Last Year’s List of Accomplishments?
Wouldn’t it feel better to celebrate what you have been doing well and how you have made positive changes within yourself and your relationships?
Just How Strong…
When we focus on our strengths, we generally feel better about ourselves and our ability to be effective within our lives. So, I say make a list of your strengths, your accomplishments in all aspects of life: career, health, relationships, finances, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically…
You could even make a timeline of your accomplishments, reviewing the last year (2011) or even the last 5 or 10 years. Once you do this, not only will you have a visual record of what you have been doing to make your life worthwhile, but you will also have a clearer sense of the path that you are taking towards achieving any already established life goal(s)… or if you don’t have one yet, then one may emerge from the process.
I imagine that many of us know, intrinsically, what it is that we want out of our lives. Some of us are focused on achieving a specific goal in one aspect of life (e.g. career), others of us are focused on multiple areas or are entirely holistic in our approach to our lives and have an overall goal for living. Whatever your approach, think now about what you want truly out of your life… No, really, ask yourself:
When all is said and done, what type of life will I want to have lead? What do I want out of this life?
Listen to the answer that comes and take that answer as your motivator for how to engage the world around you each day in this new year. Trust me, if you become resolved within your overall goal for living, the steps to take to move your life forward will come naturally… You don’t have to worry about making a list of demands that you may not be able to meet, because they are not aligned with where you are now and where you are trying to go in the future.
Best of regards for 2012!
Until Next Time,
P. S. Some quotes to kick start the new year:
“A friend of mine drinks a lot of whiskey and is concened about how this will affect his path. Thich Naht Hahn replied: ‘Thats OK if he drinks mindfully, he will realise what it is doing, and will gradualy stop drinking'”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
“One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. he did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha’s gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower…. To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh (Peace Is Every Step)
“What we are comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is this creation of our mind.”
– The Buddha
“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”
– Joan Didion
“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein
“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change
the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can
change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”