Review, assess, evaluate, recalibrate…For most of my adult life, I had a tradition of intention setting for the New Year. A contemplation and looking back on how the previous year went, and looking to manifest my hopes going forward. But this time of pandemic has been different. I have been distracted by so much covid uncertainty, by intense online productivity, and rushing to meet deadlines for the projects we created, that space for contemplation and reflection was hard to find. It felt like we on team TRF were constantly busy, near constantly zooming, and rushing to keep abreast of thousands of essential details that make our programming possible.
I didn’t realize the extent of my distraction until we finally took off the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I didn’t realize how much of my free time had become filled with what I now recognize as vigilant and urgent habits. I love reading. I love knowing about the world around me and the world at large. I love feeling connected and having agency in this wide world. And reading to stay up to date can be exciting and pleasurable— in moderation.
In the quiet of a real week off, I finally noticed how I was scanning with vigilance for the most urgent stories, the issues I wanted to stay abreast of, the issues I wordlessly felt I needed to worry about, and if I had the time, take effective action for. I know, some of you immediately recognize the hubris of such an idealized activist notion. In all modesty, I say, I was raised in a family where personal accomplishment to “lift up” our people, and having a “torch passed” to me was deeply ingrained. Still, this habit of vigilant scanning for urgency looks very much like the limiting attention habits that circumscribe survivors of trauma.
As TRF got busier this last year, and the discussion about political bubbles grew, I gave up reading and posting on my personal social media. I deleted the apps from my phone and was happy to trust our marketing department do a great job with TRF social media. But my news reading habits continued unabated. I would start and end each day with hours full of NYTimes, New Yorker, LATimes, Atlantic, etc.
So how to review, assess, evaluate, recalibrate, and restore the embodied awareness that I practice and teach? Noticing is always my first step. Recognizing how much I rush was eye opening. And then slowing down to notice, or noticing what my system was doing as it slowed down. I noticed I was holding my breath as I read, my chest and shoulders tightening, sense of missing or forgetting something, sleep deprived compulsive searching for new stories, the underlying sensation of needing to rush forward, tenseness of frustration and urgency, and the sometimes heaviness and surrender of boredom. I noticed how often scary and fatiguing the past year was, and how much underlying fears and anxieties can manifest as “brain fog”.
Somehow, that gave me the space to notice what I have been longing for, but not finding time for. The stacks of interesting books on my bedstand. My guitar that has been collecting dust. My sparse and sporadic journal entries. My blink and you’ll miss it yoga practice. And my diminishing energy and zest for life outside work.
So, for the past week, I stopped reading the news. I moved the apps to the back end of my devices. I found space and permission to be curious about what it would be like to do something besides read all the news. To be curious about what else I might be drawn to, or drawn back to. I was even curious about what it would be like to just “waste time”. I accepted the bonus peace and down time of covid canceled family gatherings. I slept in. I ran myself a hot bath and lit candles. I did a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. I wrote in my journal. I started reading some of my many unread books. I watched some movies and a baking show. I went for some distanced walks with friends. I baked cookies. I explored new music and made a fun playlist. I gave myself some space to be sad about not being a high achieving super human, and started thinking about how to be a little different in this still uncertain time.
And slowly, I began to feel more fully in my body in the present time. It feels more spacious. There is more space for gratitude. There is more space for a heartfelt yes, or a heartfelt no. There is more space for dreams in my sleep. There is more space for slower meals. There is more space for stretching and balancing. There is more space for inner listening.
I want to maintain some of this spaciousness in this New Year. I want to keep noticing when I’m breathing and when I’m holding my breath. Noticing when I’m doing what feels good and when I’m doing what feels vigilant. I want to be present enough to notice when unneeded urgency creeps in. I will keep noticing and breathing. I hope I will be more present, more fully engaged, more open to creative possibilities and opportunities for healing connection and collaboration.
My invitation to you for this New Year is to notice too. I invite you to hold the gentle intention of noticing your breathing, your rhythms of the day, your ways of being engaged with the world, and how present you can be. How present can you be?
Much love, strength, courage, connection and joy in this New Year!