December 31st is a time for New Year’s Resolutions. The end of January is the time a lot of people abandon them. Many factors may be involved: the goal was too broad, too unrealistic, or the time wasn’t right to make the change. Sometimes, resolutions are abandoned because we didn’t stick with them, and starting over again feels like a failure. Starting over forces us to admit that we didn’t follow through, for whatever reason, and now we are back at square one. Bummer.
We can view having to start over again as evidence of our personal failings, but there are plenty of negative thoughts to go along with that mindset. For example: “I couldn’t keep up;” or “I just wasn’t motivated enough;” or “I wasn’t any good anyway.” Negative thoughts lead to negative moods. But what if we change our perspective? We could think of starting over as a new opportunity, or a new beginning. A chance to try again, using the knowledge we have gained. This definition opens us to hope, and a willingness to move forward. See the difference?
Meditation gives us a daily opportunity to practice starting over. We actually expect the mind to wander and get distracted. Then we get to let go of the thoughts, without judgment or negativity, and start over. As many times as it takes. You can see that meditation also allows us to view starting over with acceptance and neutrality. Translated into real life, meditation helps us to view ourselves and others with those same qualities. As Sharon Salzberg, one of my favorite meditation teachers, said: “Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome.” Luckily, life is full of new beginnings. If your resolutions aren’t going the way you intended, view it as a great opportunity to start again. As many times as it takes.
In young children, we recognize developmental milestones, noticing each stage of their growth. But we certainly don’t stop changing once we become adults. I first learned about Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development in psych 101, I think, and have revisited it at other times in training. He describes development through an entire life, not just through childhood. You may want to look up the stages, they are really interesting if you haven’t read them in a while, but I’ll remind you that the last stage is Ego Integrity vs. Despair. This is given an age range of 65 and up. This represents the looking back phase. The theory is, we will either recognize that we have lived a full and rich life and be content, or regret mistakes or things not accomplished and feel despair.
I have met seniors in both categories, but I have met younger people struggling with these same issues. As we age, we know our time is growing shorter, but when we’re younger it feels as if there will always be tomorrow to change. Change careers, become a better person, spend time with our loved ones or doing things we enjoy, there will always be more time. But that may not be true. We can never be sure how long we will have, since we are not marked with an expiration date. If I were told I had only x amount of days left, I believe I would make some changes in the way I’m living. But why am I not making those changes now? Why aren’t you?
How can we live so we grow more contented, to face our final years with integrity, knowing we have fulfilled our purpose? One way is to live with intention. This can be as simple as acknowledging each morning that you intend to live with purpose. Another way is to spend time in reflection, or writing in a journal. Review the choices that have been made in the past few days or weeks, and find a sense of whether they are enhancing or detracting from your purpose. Perhaps you’ll notice places you are stagnant, and recognize that not choosing may later be cause for regret. The new year brings a clean slate. Choose to live with integrity, and there will never be cause for despair.
This post is in honor of my husband’s grandfather, who passed away on Saturday. He truly exemplified living with purpose, and will be greatly missed.