I first heard the idea of picking a word for the year in a Twitter post from Daniel Collinsworth, open-hearted and brave author of the blog Metta Drum, in which he said “I have chosen a life theme for 2012. I will talk about it in my final blog post of 2011, near the end of this month. Do you have one too?”
I thought about it, and posted this response, (tl;dr: my word is retreat). Then Hannah Marcotti, the sparkly, joyful, magical author of Hannah’s Harvest posted about her word. She explains that this practice, selecting a guiding word, “replaces the resolutions, goals, plans. A guiding word is what you look to when you feel lost, uncertain how to move forward. A guiding word puts action into your world, it lights the fire under your purpose. A guiding word is a gift to yourself for the New Year.”
And since I picked my word, I have been getting messages from the Universe that this is good, this is the right word. First was my “Heart Advice: Quote of the Week” email from Pema Chödrön, (not directly from her, but rather a teaching selected from one of her books published by Shambhala Publications–you can subscribe to the email here), “Not Too Loose, Not Too Tight.” This is one of my favorite teachings from Pema, one that I need to hear over and over. Here’s the exact quote:
My middle way and your middle way are not the same middle way. For instance, my style is to be casual and soft-edged and laid-back. For me to do what usually would be called a strict practice is still pretty relaxed, because I do it in a relaxed way. So strict practice is good for me. But perhaps you are much more militant and precise. Maybe you tend toward being tight, so you might need to find out what it means to practice in a relaxed, loose way. Everyone practices in order to find out for him- or herself personally how to be balanced, how to be not too tight and not too loose. No one else can tell you. You just have to find out for yourself.
I’ll repeat that last bit, for me as much as for anyone else reading: “Everyone practices in order to find out for him- or herself personally how to be balanced, how to be not too tight and not too loose. No one else can tell you. You just have to find out for yourself.” This is at the heart of why I picked the word retreat.
I push to get more done, make improvements, keep working, harder, faster, better–but this is too tight. I burn out from this way of being, and I slip into sickness, exhaustion, numbness, and depression–and this is too loose. I need to learn what balance is, where the middle way is for me. I need to stop using other people’s measures, external criteria for what is enough, for who I should be and what I should do. I need to stop looking outside myself for validation, acceptance, permission, and love. I need to get still and quiet, practice and pray and meditate and listen, learn to love myself, to be content.
And then on zenhabits.net, Leo Babauta posted “Quashing the Self-Improvement Urge.” The link came to me just as I was caught up in all the end of year reviews and goal setting ideas I was seeing online, printing out and bookmarking, planning to add more to an already over-scheduled, overdone, overwrought list of must do, should do, have to–caught up in trying to improve myself.
This post felt like Leo had written it just for me, was speaking directly to me, and it had all the power of the Universe behind it. Leo asks, what if instead of constantly trying to improve ourselves, we “learned to be happy with ourselves?”
Would that be horrible, if we were just content and didn’t need to better ourselves every minute of every week? Would we be lazy slobs, or would we instead be happy, and in being happy do things that make us happy rather than make us better? And in being happy, perhaps we would show others how to be happy? And crazy as it might sound, maybe we’d start a little mini-revolution of happiness, so that people wouldn’t feel so inadequate, or need to spend every dime on products, or spend all their time on self-improvement.
A revolution of contentment.
Leo goes on to say, “Realize that you are already perfect. You are there. You can breathe a sigh of relief.”
For so long, I tried to skip ahead, jump past or ignore my self-hate, tried to find and do my “great work” in spite of it. I really thought this would work. But as long as I don’t value and love myself, I cannot generate anything of great value or love. As long as I smash myself to bits, obsess about food and use it to numb out and cover up the pain, there is no clear path for the wisdom, no kindness. It’s like a dancer living in a house with a hoarder–no clear path, no space, no air, no room, and a real chance that if she tries to dance, someone will get hurt.
And finally, working with questions from “The Comfort Queen’s Guide to Life” by Jennifer Louden, considering the difference between pleasure (a short term fix) and happiness (something true and lasting), I uncover the conflicts in my life. For example: pleasure is eating food, but happiness is being healthy, and pleasure is being loved, known, and adored, but happiness is loving, knowing, and adoring myself.
These are the things I need to work on, figure out, sit with, love, accept, and let go. I’ve tried to short cut the process, tried to live the life while leaving myself behind. This is why retreat–repair, rest, rehab, reflection–is my word for the next year. 2012: the end of the world as I know it.