Mantras for 2022

What words encircle your consciousness this year?

Maybe you don’t roll with words?  What ideas, feelings, sounds, or other sensations, then? 

When you get still, where does your energy settle, and what aspirations arise?

I share some of mine here; I’d love to read some of yours in the comments!

“Stop Shoulding All Over Yourself”

As I get older, I reach for larger, stronger mental shovels to evict certain voices from my mind.  “New Year’s resolutions are useless, don’t bother” (see evidence to the contrary). “Get up early and write in the morning, it’s the only way.”  Do this, do that, think this, feel that.  I’ve internalized enough societal standards and constraints, some helpful, many not.  Every year of adulthood also solidifies my own core values and goals, which themselves drive me forcefully—not enough, never enough, must be better, always more.  In the end all the ‘Shoulds’, both external and internal, can feel heavy.  I know who I am, I know what’s important to me.  I’m a lifelong learner.  I progress because it’s my nature.  I do what I need to do and I’m good at it; I am enough.

Competence and Confidence

So many recurring challenges—this past year especially, but just generally in life, right?  When I look back only at the past weeks or months, it’s too easy to judge myself harshly and wonder, am I really enough?  Look at all the mistakes I keep making, over and again!  But when I breathe slowly and deeply, looking back farther on the long arc of learning, I see unequivocal progress.  “If it’s important, it will be repeated,” they always told us in medical school.  Life lessons always seem to come around again just when I need them.  With every iteration, when I can be fully present, tame my feral emotions, and call forth skills already learned, my ability deepens, even shines.  Every such instance prepares me for the next trial.  This is the benefit of mid-life: seeing clear evidence of advancing competence, and feeling the confidence to own it.

Transform the Story

The first and most important lesson I learned from coaching was to recognize the stories I tell.  All of our perceptions are, in very large proportion, formed in advance by our past experiences, biases, and expectations.  “Reality”, how we make meaning, is far more subjective than we realize (ha!) or admit, and I’m convinced that most human conflict arises when we deny awareness and acceptance of this.  I’ve gotten pretty good at noticing and moderating the stories I tell in new and low stakes encounters.  But in longstanding, intimate relationships and high stakes situations, I am often still chained to my deep, often negative, and ultimately self-defeating stories.  Ironically they are stories about others which, when I’m honest, are actually projections of my own concealed wounds.  How fascinating…and worthy of the work to disassemble, to free myself and my loved ones from these abstract cages of invented being.

Lightly, Lightly, Ever Lightly

*deep breath*

It’s all so much, this work, this drive, this constant striving in potential and possibility.  There is a role and a place for the Shoulds; the challenges all make me stronger; and the old stories all served a purpose once.  To grow is to shed, break, and deconstruct, and also to synthesize, integrate, and reform, ad infinitum.  It can and does often feel pretty heavy.  But now, this year, I choose lightness instead.  I have only this one life, yes, and it is finite.  There is only so much I can do…  And that’s still a lot, and I’m still young yet!  I’ got time, I’ got this; and even if I don’t, damn, I’ve done a fair bit already.  If it all ended today, of course I would have serious regrets.  And I’ve done my best; I’ve never stopped trying.  What more could I ask of myself?

Any and every moment can carry all hope, could make or break everything (really?), and could have nothing to do with anything–who knows in that moment?  I’m learning and doing every day anyway; why apply unnecessary pressure?  No, I’d rather have more fun in this time that I have.  So I’ll keep doing what needs doing.  I just don’t have to take it all (or myself) so damn seriously.

Oh and ODOMOBaaT, of course.  That just goes without saying.

Moderate

Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui

This is my appeal for us all in 2022.

In thought, emotion, habit, word, attitude, and consumption, may we all exercise disciplined, quiet, and humble moderation.

May we breathe deeply and observe ourselves kindly. 

May we reflect on our automatic responses, however briefly, seeking understanding and grace, for ourselves as well as others.

May we practice self-compassion, in order to offer it also to others.

May we recognize the myriad inherent ‘both-and’ paradoxes of life, embrace them, and even laugh freely, mirthfully, at the complex, absurd, tragic, and natural beauty of it all.  Between apparently stark and irreconcilably opposing poles, where is the Transformational Third Way?  I intend to seek this path more in the coming year.

Give the A.

Rule #6.

Hold space.

Pause.

ODOMOBaaT.

Make important decisions when you absolutely have to; before then, take your time.  Take a breath and ask yourself, do I have to decide right this minute?  How can I make the most of the interim?

Stand in possibility and connection.  It is always possible to connect.

It’s all so much easier said than done, and I’m aggravated humbled every day at how my walk lags so far behind my talk.  And yet, every breath I am given is another opportunity to try (*sigh*).  All this talk is my genuine effort to nudge myself toward my highest and best.  When I come to the end, assuming I’m given a moment to look back, I hope I can honestly say I did my best, and be okay with it.  Come to think of it, why wait until then?  Why not ask every day?  Every encounter?  With any given breath?

I want to die at peace, whenever and however it happens.  So I commit to living in peace as much as possible.  And even (especially?) this aspiration needs a moderate approach (cue cosmic laughter)!

Happy New Year, friends. 

May 2022 bring us all a little closer to one another’s best selves.

ODOMOBaaT.

On the Shoulders of Others

I had some original thoughts this week, my friends. A few were quite profound and moving. But I am too tired to expound on any of them in time to post. So I will share here the words of two of my favorite writers, as they express similar ideas eloquently and effectively.

The world is driven too much right now by cortisol and dopamine–threat and addiction, respectively, in a nutshell. We need more serotonin (joy, well-being, confidence), and especially more oxytocin (love, connection).

Watch Simon Sinek’s talk on EDSOC: Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Cortisol. He speaks in terms of companies; but expand the application to your own life–your family, your community, your school–any tribe in which you claim membership.

How do you lead, even without a designated title?

The anecdote below is attributed to Elizabeth Gilbert, as shared by my friend on Facebook. I have not vetted it, though it sounds like EG’s voice. If she is not the author, and you know who it is, please correct me. Regardless, I wholeheartedly endorse the sentiment.

What will you do differently when you claim you rightful place as ‘the light’?

Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated with one another, with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.

But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom.”Folks,” he said, “I know you have had a rough day and you are frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here is what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight, just leave them with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I will open the window and throw your troubles in the water.”

It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who had been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?Oh, he was serious.

At the next stop, just as promised, the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.

We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it is extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.

But what if you are the light? What if you are the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?. That’s what this bus driver taught me, that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy influencer. He was a bus driver, one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.

When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name.

No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated, one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river.

I’m slowly cultivating a friendship with a lovely couple in Appalachia, an hour at a time, once a month, over Zoom. Jay and I met in Ozan Varol‘s now defunct online Inner Circle. We three, Jay, Janet, and I, meet on video to exchange ideas and opinions from different positions on political, racial, national, and generational spectra. We agreed wholeheartedly today that bridging the world’s divides begins with conversations like ours, between engaged individuals, founded on mutual respect, curiosity, and patience. Healing Through Connection, indeed.

Onward, friends, ODOMOBaaT.