The creation of my New Year’s mantra takes up a good part of my thinking at year’s end.
My mantra isn’t exactly a resolution, meant to result in a matrix on my frig telling me how many pushups or squats I’ve done for the week. My intention for the new year lends a flavor to the next 365 days. It grounds me in a directed effort. And it occasionally helps push me through some of the more obstructionist points of each week.
Some past mantras turned out super. The one of 2016 — “Life begins compassionately at the end of your comfort zone,” got me into slug tossing and hip replacing. It helped fuel the effort to sell most of our belongings and set out on a round-the world trip.
That ten-word mantra morphed into a one-word mnemonic — fearlessness, which I used often and widely. When I felt myself knee-deep in stuff in the basement, the bare electric light bulb casting an eerie glow over the boxes I’d set to throw objects into, I’d turn to my one-word memory tool.
I’d pick up a screwdriver that belonged to my father when he was a television repairman, pause, weighing the emotions, the memories, the value, the necessity of that one object. It would be the simple word, “fearlessness,” that would spur me to place it at the bottom of the giveaway box and move to the next object. It took fearlessness to learn I could give the tool away without losing my father’s memory.
Fearlessness — a great resolution.
Being fearless became an apt resolve for that phase of my life and it fit well with the next 12 months of 2017. It accompanied us when we signed up to volunteer with international refugees in Greece and students in Tanzania, and to see some of those sights not in one’s own backyard — the Egyptian pyramids, Greek Parthenon, and Tanzanian safari.
Last year, we still didn’t make it around the world. Emotionally, we couldn’t. We needed to return to find a place we could call home. I wonder. If we held in our hand a written decree of our objective, would it have helped move us along that continuum? Could we have circum-navagated the world as we hoped? Based on the strength of what we did accomplish with the mantra of fearlessness, I think so.
My resolution proved valuable in ’16 and ’17. This year, I’m ready for a new pledge.
Writing a new mantra is a challenge.
In writing the words which structure my next 52 weeks, I recognize a few characteristics necessary for my success.
1. The plan needs to be fully engaged. It needs to be about something desired and obsessed. Could I Ignore all political hot-button conversations; answer “yes” to all questions asked by my spouse; smile during all waking hours spent with my colleagues?
2. The objective requires both simplicity and complexity. It has to be simple enough to say, “I did it!” but complex enough to really push oneself to that completion stage. It’s one thing to travel to India, but could I visit all of the Krishna temples on the east coast of India.
3. The intent requires stretching. No need to work hard to accommodate something not really new or different or difficult. Set the bar high to work hard and achieve a real reward. Sure, a diet is one thing, but can I manage a fully formed plan to better my health?
I futzed with this mantra question all week as I prepared for the end of one year and the beginning of another. In addition to the criteria above, I wondered what action I can take that offers patience and consideration, thought as well as empathy? And what provides the potential for affecting others and myself on both a short- and long-term basis?
My answer: mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future,” according to Psychology Today.
I stood on the doorstep to the concept of mindfulness once, some years ago, when I was interested in Buddhism. I lacked focus, I was unable to be fully engaged in activities, and I had a limited capacity to deal with adverse events. I made progress on other aspects and felt adequate as a human — I didn’t worry much about the future, nor did I regret the past, and I stopped feeling great concern with my self-esteem.
The clincher: I did not meditate alone. Though all mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation, I felt the five minutes (recommended time to begin this practice) to sit still and clear my mind was really long time to be quiet. I tried. I sat on a cushion on the floor, my legs crossed in a lotus position. I listened to my breath and five minutes later, I looked around. And I created one of many excuses to rise and do something else.
I am not alone in my lack of meditative practice nor are my excuses unique. While I engaged in parts of Buddhist dharma (and still do) I let the mindfulness part pass.
Now, I’m ready.
Testing out a new mantra.
Yesterday a friend called to talk about a local issue in our small city. She and I agree on the end result but disagree on the process.
I felt myself settle the small of my back into the sofa and put my legs up on the ottoman. I heard myself take a breath in and out and then, instead of offering a thought, I listened to what she said. I complemented her on what she had done, made a suggestion about what she could include, and we ended it on agreement. It wasn’t a perfect interraction — I could do more, but I was present in that conversation. I was mindful.
“Odd!” I thought.
“Comforting?” I mused.
“Ready,” I decided.
My mantra for 2018: Be mindful.
Where this mantra, i.e., resolution, will take me, I’m not certain. Will it be wild? Winsome? Wearying? I already know “I’m fearless”. If the experience starts at something akin to tossingmslugs and ends at an area beyond the pyramids, I can handle it.
I will begin with my five minutes of meditation tomorrow, January 1, 2018.
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Judy O Haselhoef, a social artist who writes, travels, and authored “GIVE & TAKE: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti,” blogs regularly at her website, www.JOHaselhoef.com.
Copyright @2017: If you’d like to use any part of it (up to 200 words), please give full attribution and this website, www.JOHaselhoef.com.