Monday, January 07, 2008

A Bigger, Smaller Life

Well, it's another new year, and another chance to make some changes. I, along with many others apparently, don't really like the word "resolution," but I also am not a big fan of the word "goal." I seem to have trouble reaching "goals," as I seem to set up some sort of mental block when I call something a "goal." So instead, I will just say that I have some intentions for this year for the way I would like to conduct my daily life. I love the beginning of a new year, and it always makes me want to clean out my closets and organize my desk. The Christmas holidays, delightful as they are, create some manner of mess and chaos by their very nature, and when I take down my Christmas decorations each year, never before New Year's Day but usually soon after, that's when I begin to have the urge to start fresh. I put away the old stuff, and clean the areas where it was, and put out the normal things that have been tucked away for the holidays, and for me that process is a turning point every year.

This year, I really want it to be different. I bought a copy of Eat Pray Love and began reading it on New Year's Day. In fact, I spent a good five hours that day reading it, sitting in my new wonderful "Reading Chair" as I have christened it, purchased as an anniversary gift and placed in my bedroom specifically for the purpose of reading, meditating, praying, just for ME. I could not put the book down - that is the longest time I've spent reading at one stretch in a very long time. I had already determined some things I wanted to change, and the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, apparently has struggled with many of the same demons that plague me, and so I immediately identified with her. With the constant feeling that my mind will not be quiet and still, ever - that I don't even know HOW to MAKE it be quiet and still, no matter how much I want it to be. That I feel I must hang onto and direct and control much of what goes on around me in order to feel secure. Yeah, she has a great passage about that, and a conversation with a guy from Texas that she meets in an ashram in India.

One of the things that I have gleaned from the book is something she says to herself - "I refuse to harbor negative emotions." It's a mantra of sorts, for her, and I have claimed it for myself. I am a veritable marina for negative thoughts, if you will, and I allow them to rule over me to a disturbing degree. But I have employed this little simple mantra a few times recently, and it's amazing how well it works. I even sort of added a visualization that I have a heavy wool coat draped over my shoulders, very uncomfortably, and as I say the words to myself, I mentally shrug the coat off and it falls to the ground and I walk away from it.

Now, I'm not into yoga or eastern philosophy or anything weird - don't be alarmed. But I do think that sometimes we need something tangible to help us rein in our wild and crazy minds, and if it works, it works. So, if you think I'm weird, well . . . I refuse to harbor negative thoughts. So ship out, buddy . . .

My main intention for this year is just about trying to cultivate, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, "a bigger, smaller life." I want to try out the "less is more" theory of life. Less stress, less drama, less activity, less busyness, less social stuff, maybe even less people in my life. To paraphrase from a favorite movie, I want a small but valuable life (You've Got Mail). I live my life with a husband and a son who do not suffer from the affliction of worry and anxiety about things, and who both have the wisdom to say no when they don't feel like doing something, and to say yes to things that they enjoy.

This is a tall order, I know, but it's what I crave, what I need, what I think I must have if this last quarter or so of my life is to have any meaning. I have set an intention to spend more time doing things that stimulate my mind, bring me enjoyment and personal satisfaction, and to pay attention to my long-neglected inner artist. And much less time doing things that waste time, such as mindless internet surfing (some surfing is good but I do a lot of surfing of entertainment sites and junk that just fills my mind with crap, if you will), and less time doing things that I don't really want to do.

Another intention is to have less on my calendar, and to choose with more careful thought how I spend the precious hours of every day. I have for so many years let life choose for me how my time is spent, and I would like to change that. I feel like I'm always waiting for life to happen, for something big that's just around that next corner that's going to make it all fall into place and be my utopian life that I envision, but in the meantime, my REAL life is rushing by way too fast. I don't know how to be PRESENT, in the NOW. I am always wishing and hoping on the future and mourning on the past, and in the meantime I am missing the NOW. So my intention is to learn to be present in my now. Daily. This is going to be a learning process, I know, so obviously it isn't going to just happen. Today is one of those days where I have let worry and anxiety about the future cloud up my day and steal it away from me. But, baby steps.

And I guess my final intention is just to try to always be aware that I can choose - choose how I spend my money, what I eat, how I spend my time, who I spend it with, what I watch and read and whether I exercise or don't. None of those things are chosen for me, for the most part, and so if I don't like them, I have the power to choose differently. And I cannot point the blame anywhere but at myself if I am not happy with the choice I make. I just must make another choice. God has given me free will, but he also has given me access to his wisdom and power and guidance so that as I freely choose, I can also choose wisely. And when I don't, he forgives me, and I must learn to forgive myself.