Whether your resolutions are cruising right along or rapidly growing stale, this simple tip can free you from stuck-ness and open up a world of possibility.
I’m always so stoked for New Year’s. Not for the fireworks, or the epic board games, or the bubbly. It’s because this is the one time of year that our society collectively gives everyone permission to start fresh. Together, we celebrate "beginning again."
Most of us feel some degree of excitement and renewal – the hopeful act of turning over a new leaf, and the blank slate of possibility that arrives with it. It’s interesting, however, that for the most part, we’ve all engaged in this tradition of giving ourselves exactly ONE annual opportunity to begin again. C'mon...that's hardly sufficient for us imperfect humans :)
This is one of the things I’ve learned to deeply appreciate about meditation. Through practice, you discover that every moment, every breath is an invitation to begin again. You can choose in each moment how you’re going to show up and how you’re going to live out that specific moment. Kind or unkind, present or absent. In the words of teacher Sharon Salzberg:
“The amazing gift of being alive is that no matter what, you can always begin again.”
Now that’s hopeful.
Ryan and I attended a retreat at Great Vow Monastery this past fall, and one of the themes they repeated over and over was “begin again.” We would meditate for 8+ hours each day – we’d get drowsy, angry, sad, hungry, physically uncomfortable (like REALLY) and our minds would wander to Timbuktu and back. And yet, we were warmly encouraged to “begin again.”
What liberating permission to give ourselves. Why not carry this into our everyday life? Not just once per year. But moment after moment.
Make a mistake? Begin again. Get bristly with your spouse? Begin again. Overeat? Begin again. Skip your morning meditation? Begin again. Haven’t even thought about your resolutions and it’s January 23rd? No prob - you got this! Begin again.
This doesn’t mean get sloppy and keep a liberal stack of “get out jail free” cards on the counter. It's still important to hold your resolutions gently, just be careful not to get rigid about them.
This reminds me of learning to ski growing up in Montana. I was five-ish years old when I first strapped on those awkward planks and waddled up the hill in my poofy snow suit like a starfish. I remember my mom, about 15 yards down the hill, rosy-cheeked and smiling as she hollered, "BEND YOUR KNEES honey!!!" This was how I began every run....with the reminder to bend my knees. It helped me keep my balance, it made the bumps a lot less jarring, and I was closer to the ground (even at five) so when I fell, it was less scary. I could bounce right back up, brush off the snow, and begin again.
My daily meditation practice, in many ways, offers this same friendly reminder to "bend my knees" in life. This is especially helpful when it comes to my resolutions (and personal goals, in general), which I tend to go after with a rigid tenacity. When I stumble off track, it hurts, and takes awhile to recover. The daily practice of sitting on a cushion helps keep my mind flexible, makes me more resilient, and takes some of the shock out of challenging situations. Besides, it's a great exercise in bending the knees. ;)
Meditating every day also helps me see things more clearly, just as they are. Back to skiing – when you're rigid, unbalanced, and staring down at your toes, you only see the potentially threatening, white onslaught of snow rushing toward your feet. When you learn to bend your knees a little, you may find more ease as you go, and you might even look up to enjoy the scenery....feel the rush of the wind, notice the sparkle of the snow. Maybe even let out a "WHOOOEEEEE!" Meditation helps me recognize my mind's tendency to fixate on perceived "threats" or "challenges ahead," most of which cause endless worry and anxiety. It's important to look out for skiers below, but you're on the hill for a reason, so why not enjoy the ride?
In summary, I won’t pretend to know how your resolutions unfold. Maybe they’re like Kristi Yamaguchi’s triple lutz (speaking of knee bends). Crisp, perfectly executed, graceful. If so, bravo! This is simply an invitation to explore the possibility of beginning again, whenever you choose to – each year, each month, each day.....maybe even each moment.
To send you on your way, here are four reasons why meditation can make a big difference as you embark on this journey of beginning again...
First, simply making time for meditation is always an act of self-love and kindness, even if it doesn’t feel like it at time. The more you sit, the more you practice letting go of distractions and coming back to natural presence. You nourish your relationship with yourself, and you're more likely to accept your imperfections and give yourself permission to begin again.
Second, each time you meditate, you exercise your “begin again” brain muscle by redirecting your attention back into the present moment when your mind wanders. Learning to gently acknowledge that you went off track and bringing yourself back to center with a sense of kindness and acceptance is a transferrable skill that you can apply in your life. This flexibility brings a sense of “lightness” to both your practice and daily experience that helps thaw the rigid tendencies and opens up more room for forgiveness and possibility. If you'd like to try out a mini practice here, listen to this 9-Minute Guided Meditation with Joseph Goldstein (from the 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics app).
Third, as you practice acceptance and forgiveness for your own faults, it becomes easier to forgive others for theirs, directly benefiting your relationships. Feeling frustrated or irritated by other people's shortcomings can be exhausting and sure as heck doesn't fill your cup. Whether its a co-worker, a partner, or your kids, learning to apply the "begin again" mindset internally will transfer externally and can make for healthier, easier, and more fulfilling relationships.
Lastly, a central attitude that is cultivated in meditation is that of “letting go” or “letting be”. We tend to unconsciously cling to our mistakes and failures and we end up carrying around quite a bit of emotional baggage from not meeting expectations (primarily, our own). This habit does not serve us. In fact, the clinging itself creates negative energy that will likely attract more mishaps and negativity. Our dear friend and yoga teacher Emily often says in her classes, “Ask yourself – what are you carrying in your mind or heart that is no longer serving you? Give yourself permission to let it go.”
Then bend those knees, and begin again.
About the Author
Rena is a meditation instructor, writer, and designer and has been practicing meditation and mindfulness for eleven years. Her studies began in college at the University of Redlands Meditation Room, one of the first "contemplative classrooms” in the country, where she studied meditation alongside her degrees in business and graphic design. She worked as a health coach for a Portland-based wellness organization, and spent six years developing her coaching and meditation skills through her work in the nonprofit sector.
Rena is currently studying positive neuroplasticity with Dr. Rick Hanson, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, and is pursuing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification through the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.