Deepen your relationships in the New Year
New year, new lease on life?
In past years I have written New Year’s posts about incremental goal setting, and even about celebrating the New Year to come rather than dreading it, but this coming year feels different (or maybe it’s the end of the current, tumultuous year). For me, there is less of an emphasis on outward cause and manifestation and more of an awareness of the inner process of both. Maybe you are feeling something similar. For all the ways the world is failing right now I am drawn to bringing my energy inward and asking how I can be the best Jen Murphy I can be rather than railing at the powers that be to fix their mess. Not that railing doesn’t have it’s place; it certainly does. That’s just not what is intuitive to me right now.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want in this coming year: more of this, less of that, but most of all to be comfortable in my own skin—all of it. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with myself in an existential crisis kind of way. I quite like who I am and what I do in the world. It’s more of a nagging feeling that I’m just skimming the surface of many levels of my life. Like a deepening is in order.
Spiritual materialism is not the answer
Usually when I feel this kind of urge I immediately turn to spirituality as the remedy. If I’m feeling like I need to go deeper, it’s about delving into the farthest recesses of the soul and plucking out some new part of myself, right? Some discovery that as it clicks into place in the incomplete jigsaw puzzle of my self will make me feel “more” or “better”? This time, spirituality (or should I say, spiritual materialism) is not the answer. I may feel the need to deepen my meditation practice, my commitment to my Buddhist vows, and my yoga practice, but the overall flavor of this yearning is not for discovering something hidden deep inside me that some spiritual practice or another is going to uncover. It is not something that I am going to gain. Rather, it is the process of cultivating what is already there.
Honest and engaging relationship is
On pondering how to go about this, one word keeps coming to me: relationship. In order to deepen who I am as a person and deepen my engagement with the world, I must develop the relationship I have with myself and with the world in all its myriad facets. Being honest and straightforward seems like a logical first step. As I look at the areas of my life in which I’m not engaging as fully as I could be, I understand that I am not seeing and recognizing the reality at hand. I hide from truths I don’t really want to know, skip over things that really are important, and most of all I cover up my own light because it scares me. (Wow, that was a deep public confession.)
Honesty in practice
Take, for example, my relationship to self-employment. I have two businesses right now that both need to grow in order to thrive (and for me to thrive as well). I know exactly what to do to grow them; it’s called marketing and self-promotion. Yet I will spend all of my time and physical resources doing anything but that. Of course I would love to experience the outer manifestation of marketing myself and reaping the rewards of the resultant increase in business. But that’s never going to happen unless I work on my relationship to self-promotion. At present I hate it. I get a queasy feeling in my stomach whenever I think about having to do it. It’s a chore. It feels fake. But why am I so critical about my own self-promotion yet hold a double standard for others where it’s okay (and even good) for them to self-promote? In the past I have pushed this whole mess out of my consciousness and just ignored it. But now is the time to face my reality and deepen my understanding. Understanding of what has been, the possibility of what may come, and especially what is right now.
Be gentle with yourself
This can be a harsh reality. At least I find it usually is. Not only am I seeing my own short-comings clearly, but I’m also seeing overwhelming possibilities. How do I deal with this? The best way is by being gentle with myself and others around whatever comes up. Not that that’s an easy task. It may be difficult to pull my head out of the sand, but maintaining an air of gentleness as I blink against the too-bright sunlight is sometimes even more difficult. One of the first ways we forsake this gentleness is with judgement. I might not like the reality I’m bumping up against in this newfound era of honesty, but it only does me harm to judge myself about what I’m getting to know. In our society we are taught not taught to be gentle with oursselves and to be hyper-critical. “No pain, no gain,” the modern interpretation of the Protestant Work Ethic, and Success and Achievement in both work and play as the measuring sticks for our worth don’t leave much room for gentleness. So we have to keep reminding ourselves, sometimes in every moment, to be gentle in accepting who we are. Then we can think about doing something about it. Then and only then.
I’m not saying that if you indulge in this process of deepening the relationship to yourself, being honest and straightforward, and being gentle with yourself you will instantly become the “best” version of yourself and realize all of your goals—although it could happen. But it will help you become more comfortable in your own skin, and you just might become more satisfied with your life over time.
May you all have a cheerful and satisfying New Year!
(published in Elephant Journal 12/30/11)