Thinking About What Was, Is and May Be

dog being fully present in the snow

“Behind the facade of the familiar, strange things await us.” ~ John O’Donohue

Over my Christmas break, I did a year-end ritual that I found in the book “The Not So Big Life” by Sarah Susanka. There were twenty-eight questions to help me dig away at what went on over the past year, plus three questions about the future. It took me about eight hours to ponder and answer all the prompts.

The intention of the exercise wasn’t to create goals or resolutions for 2017. It was more like recording what felt right and what felt wrong about 2016 — what patterns I felt stuck in that I’d like to watch out for and change, and what habits I’d rather have instead.

Now, after all that work, I’ve put everything I wrote away. Next year at this same time, I’ll go through the entire ritual of answering the questions all over again. And at that time, I’ll look at what I wrote this year and see if any of the things I hoped for or planned to change have in some way progressed, been fully realized or been forgotten about.

Mississippi River overflow

As Susanka explains it, the idea is just to plant the seed in the subconscious and let that part of my brain work on it. Of course things don’t happen if you don’t do anything at all. In “The Not So Big Life,” the reader is told that they need to create a good environment for the seeds to grow in:

  • Good Soil – slow down a bit
  • Water – be fully present in your life
  • Sun – regular meditation to open yourself up to discovering who and what you truly are

I’m adding one other basic element to my list — Air — in the form of yoga. That seems fitting since focusing on the breath is so important in yoga practice. Up to now, I’ve had a hard time sticking with doing yoga. I get bored and have never felt the joy that so many people seem to find with the practice. But I have found that my aging body appreciates the gentle stretching, strength and balance work. When I stop, my aches and pains get worse and I’m more prone to injuries. Thus I’m back to doing downward facing dog and crow, telling myself I’ll just do it for ten minutes — an obvious trick but it works.

dog chewing on sticks

The real challenge will start tomorrow, when I return to my regular work schedule. My bad habits start whispering in my ear as soon as I get home from work, “Poor Maery, you’ve had a rotten day. You’re exhausted. Here have ten cookies and a bottle of beer. Let me help you onto the couch where you can lose yourself in Netflixland.”

You’d think it would be easy to stop doing things that you know aren’t good for you in the long run — the things that you regret and beat yourself up for a few minutes after the initial reward is over.

But it’s not easy, is it?

If it was, we wouldn’t have programs like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous, or pay trainers to harass us into doing three more bench presses. We wouldn’t buy self-help book after self-help book and try diet and exercise programs galore or seek spiritual enlightenment in every nook and cranny.

I want this time to be different. Of course, I always want that. But it never is different. It seems like every year, I repeat my mantra of change.

two dogs, fully present

Perhaps the problem has been that the changes I’ve sought haven’t been deep enough. What does losing ten pounds, writing every day, decluttering my house really get me? What deeper desire is behind those things?

I want to feel better – have more energy, feel more at peace, have a different attitude towards food and life. I can be pretty uncaring and mean with myself (well, and probably with other people too — sorry). I want to be kinder.

Writing every day… I kind of do that already, but I’m not enjoying it. And I’m not enjoying it because I’m too worried about the end result. I’m writing to do something with it rather than just enjoying playing with form and expression.

Decluttering my house is really about breathing room and relieving anxiety. It’s about not rushing around in the morning because I forgot to make my lunch or I’ve got my work things spread out between a couple different bags or rooms. It’s about the fact that my eyes get hung up on things that are out of place or messy and it blows my mind into distraction and panic. It’s an ugly thing…

two dogs

I think there is one thing I can do that will help with all of these things — add the water element — be fully present in your life.

As I walk the dogs, read a book, or make coffee, I’ve been noticing how frequently I’m thinking about what I’m going to do next. When I catch myself doing this, I pull myself back until I’m staying completely with what I’m doing now. I think that if I can do this one thing, everything else I want to change will fall into place.

I know, that’s a big over-simplification, but it already feels like this small change is making a difference. Every time I draw myself back into where I am, what I’m doing, and who I am right now, I feel more alive. And I’m pretty sure a person functions better when they are awake and aware than when they are tossing in their sleep.

dog in the snow



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  1. I too find being more present helpful and I have grown so much over the past 6 months almost forced into doing just that. I will be going through some end of the year rituals to look back and plant some seeds going into 2017….wishing you a wonderful New Year!

  2. I can so relate to the need of gentle stretching for the aging body. I recently found six or seven stretches one can do before you even get out of bed. I’ve just started so we’ll see if it helps. Anything is better than nothing. Enjoy reading about your end of year rituals and will look forward to the update next year when you review! Always enjoy your writing!

  3. You are such a wonderful inspiration. Just reading your post made me feel more hopeful about the year ahead. Particularly appreciate you sharing the concrete things you’re doing. And also the book recommendation. I checked in out from the library the other day and plan on starting it this week.

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