With the holidays behind us, overindulgence leaving our clothes feeling a little tighter, and a new year underway, we eagerly await what lies ahead. This year I have chosen to forgo the customary list of resolutions for one guiding principle instead—I will work towards removing the word blame from my vocabulary, and hopefully, my actions. Blame, by its very nature, is a dysfunctional word because it implies that we can in some way control the behavior and actions of others. It’s a powerless word that more often than not, traps us in a state of victimization.
2014 was by far the most difficult, but ironically, best year of my life—A tumultuous year in which I finally sought professional help for the physical and sexual abuse from my childhood, and for a violent rape that occurred during my adolescence. After almost four decades of blaming others, and asking why did this happen to me, I realized that I had been asking the wrong question all along. What I should be asking is what can I learn from pain and tragedy? In essence, I was stuck in what was no longer, and as a result, it was impossible for me to entertain what might be. I think Marilyn Monroe, whose beauty often overshadowed her business acumen and her way with words, said it best: “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
We are all dealt our cards in this life, but what we often fail to acknowledge is that our trump card is only revealed to us when we stand knee deep in chaotic turmoil, in those times when it feels like our world is crumbling around us. Instinctively, we put our head down and do whatever we can to bury, deny, and avoid the discomfort we are in. It’s a timing thing—we can’t force it to run its course; it just has to run its course. The discomfort of the disequilibrium can feel unbearable, and it can arrive at the least opportune times in our life. As Alan Watts says, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
If I’ve learned anything this past year, it’s about learning to do the opposite to what my comfort zone brain is whispering to me. Instead of turning away when things appear to be coming apart in my life, this is the time when I need to be extra attentive, a time to be present and seriously take stock of what this undoing has opened in me. We typically look at pain as something to be suppressed; when in fact, it is a direct channel to something that does not sit right with us in our soul. By adopting this new way of looking at pain and sadness, instead of a tragedy, it becomes an opportunity, or even a gift that has unearthed a lesson inside me.
As it’s been said, “Wherever you go, there you are,” so the sooner you make peace with the fact that you are not just the “driver” but also the “passenger”, the sooner you’ll be spending less time escaping from your life and more time living it. My life has become less about distancing myself from painful memories, and more about making space for those memories to ride beside me like wise and faithful passengers. Our pain comes from wanting and expecting things to be different than they are. By acknowledging, “what is”, I am given a choice. I can learn to make space for it, thereby lessening the friction in my life, or invite something else into my life to take its place—Either way, I am fully present to where I am right now.
As the playwright George Bernard Shaw pointed out: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” I can’t imagine a more beautiful, life-affirming way to begin not just the New Year, but every day of my life. So, in the absence of any resolutions for the year ahead, I will remind myself of these three questions to help govern my actions.
1. How can I make space in my life?
In this, I begin to let go of any negativity I might have about possessions, even people, or myself. If I really believe, as George Bernard Shaw said that I can “create” the life I want, then that means I have permission to leave more space for the people and things that nourish my soul.
2. How can I live in solutions not in complaints?
It was Shannon Alder who said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing that solutions don’t come from individuals, but rather experiences.” I believe that complaining is the lowest form of communication, and it inevitably fosters more complaining. Far too often I look to others for the solution that lies within the experience inside me.
3. How can I build bridges and tear down walls?
Compassion lies in connection because it reminds us that deep down, all every person longs for is to be seen, to be heard. No matter where I am, commuting on the subway, passing a homeless person on the corner, or even standing in line waiting for my coffee, I have the opportunity to reach out and connect with somebody.
I’d like to leave you with the words of Albert Schweitzer. “In everybody’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle our inner fire.”