New Thoughts for the New Year

There is so much good writing out there, and it seems like everyone was inspired to write at the end of the year. Here are some excerpts from some of the favorite posts I read.

Life Isn’t a Calendar, by Jenna McGuiggan, a writer, editor, and creativity coach. You can find her over at The Word Cellar.

The calendar days are tidy squares lined up in orderly rows, everything numbered to provide a false sense of linearity. It tricks us into thinking life is this way. Choose a word, set an intention, make a goal. Move forward, declare DSC_0044accomplishment. Make another list and tick it off step-by-step. But life is not a calendar or a list or a ladder you can climb rung-by-rung. Life is the ebb and flow of ocean tides, the sunlight and dappled shadow of forest paths, the contrast of white snow on evergreen boughs. Life is the overcast sky of winter that blurs the line between day and night, and the long June days when golden light seeps well into the night. Life is now. It’s the driveway that needs shoveling, the dishes that need washing. It’s the candles you light, the books you read, the tea you drink, the people you kiss. It’s the lists you make and the ones you forget. One step forward, two steps back, and three to the side for good measure.

In three days I’ll turn the page to another year, but I’ll know that this is just one way of keeping time. There are other ways to make sense of things, to pay attention to what matters.

The Art of Letting Go, by Lisa Lorden Myers, an author and fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue sufferer who works passionately to help others cope with chronic illness.

It’s funny how determination and will power can be so difficult to apply to the goal of doing less, instead of doing more.  We may know how to commit ourselves to goals and work to achieve them, but can we have similar determination to rest and to heal?  Can our will power be devoted to “letting go”?  Perhaps the New Year is a time to re-focus ourselves less on doing, and more onbeing.

Healing requires no resolutions—it requires only that we live each day the best way we know how, listening to our bodies, and nurturing our souls.

The Top Ten Resolutions Nobody Will Keep from Toni Bernard, author of How to Be Sick and Psychology Today blogger.

Every year I torture myself by making New Year’s Resolutions that I don’t keep. So, as a public service, in order to save you the trouble of letting yourself down yet again, I offer the Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions that Nobody Will Keep:

(she lists 10, so be sure and read the whole article, but my personal favorite is #9)

Number 9: I will maintain a positive attitude.

I learned from another Psychology Today writer that this is known in the therapeutic trade (of which I’m not a member) as “the tyranny of positive thinking.” Hurray! It’s okay not to always be positive. I think I’ll toss this resolution out straight away.

I had the privilege of interviewing Toni last year. You can read it here.

Rilke Always Says It Best, posted on Barbara Storey’s blog, Storeylines: One Person, Many Lives

And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious and great things.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

I hope the first week of 2013 treated you well!

Open

Photo by Tom Haymes via Flickr (cc)

Photo by Tom Haymes via Flickr (cc)

So many people have already posted their word for the year, and as usual, I’m a few steps behind. Oh well. My word for the upcoming year is Open. Greg actually suggested the word to me. He said, “What about the word open?” and I immediately said, “Nah…”  There I was shooting down an idea before I really thought about it. Not very open of me. And here’s another interesting tidbit. I finally decided that Open was going to be my word. Then today I clicked on Ali Edward’s Word of the Year blog, and she had just announced that her word for 2013 is Open. I felt a little deflated. She took my word! But that’s okay. I’m sure there’s enough space (openness) in the world for us both to have the same word.

I’m sure my word will take on lots of new meanings over the course of the year, but here are a few of the things I’m hoping I can do:

Open to possibilities. I tend to get locked down in my thinking…not being able to see there may be many paths, many ways of doing things, if I’m only open to seeing things in a new way. I also think I may be on the brink of some changes in my professional life, and I want to be open to seeing that there may be many ways I can share my talents.

Open  to taking risks. I’m quite risk aversive. I  have to push myself to try new things. My worry brain is always telling me to play it safe. I really don’t have anything in mind when I think about risks, but we’ll see what happens. I may surprise myself and do something crazy.

Open myself up to people. I used to be painfully shy–not so much anymore, but I’m still a through-and-through introvert. I don’t let too many people really get to know me. And if I do, it takes a long time. I can work at a place for years and barely make a dent in getting to know my coworkers. I want to make a conscious effort to change this and share more of myself with others. I need to make a few more friends, too. It’s kind of  hard to find friends when you’re fifty.

I’m excited about the word Open. It’s a noun. It’s a verb. It’s an adjective. It’s a Superword!

The very word itself implies adaptation and flexibility, two things I need more of in my life.

And in the spirit of flexibility, any variation on the word open is okay. I like the word openness, too. Here’s a great quote I found on Good Reads.

Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” ― Tony Schwartz

Crossing the Great Divide

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I made this video a few weeks ago but have been waiting for the perfect time to share it. Well, there really is no perfect time, but the start of a New Year comes pretty close.

My inspiration comes from two sources.

One is this quote:

Religion is like a multi-colored lantern. Each of us looks through a different piece of glass, but the light is always there.” –Mohammed Naquib, a 20th-century Egyptian politician and author.

The other is a line I heard while listening to a podcast. Jean Houston talked about “crossing the great divide of otherness.” These two quotes intermingled in my mind and this is what emerged.

We let so much divide us.

Who we love.

What we believe.

Where we came from.

We put things into categories:

Good and Bad

Right and Wrong

Black and White

Categorizing is part of what makes us human. It means we can think.

But sometimes this kind of thinking can get us into trouble.

People don’t fit into neat and tidy categories.

Human beings defy categories because we are:

Complex

Textured

Messy

Broken

Whole

We need to drop the categories, that make us feel so adrift and alone.

Let’s cross the great divide of otherness,

and realize that we are more alike than different.

All we need to do is look up

to see that we’re all connected.

No matter what part of the glass you look through,

The light is always there.

May the light sustain you,

guide you,

and give you courage.

Share the warmth.

Some Favorite Blog Pictures from 2012

A big part of the fun of this blog has been working with Greg on the images. He’s such a great photographer. I keep thinking I’ll learn to take my own pictures, but then I wonder why?  I can be the director and tell him what I want and voila, I get it! So here are some of my favorite photos he’s taken for my blog this year.

Larry loves to dream, big or small, it doesn't matter

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Hearts Set Free

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Getting Organized

There’s nothing that signifies the start of a new project for me like a trip to Staples to gather needed supplies. I got a cool notebook with all different kinds of pages (project planner pages, to-do list pages, etc.) that you can move around to different sections. I also got some multi-colored pens. Fun! So far, I’m keeping a short, daily diary in one section, and I have a list of possible blog post ideas in another.

I felt elated after I wrote my Just Five Minutes blog post on Day 2. For those of you who didn’t read it, my husband and son challenged me to write the post in five minutes. I tend to obsess about every word and make things harder than they need to be. It was scary to press the publish button, knowing that it wasn’t perfect, but it was freeing, too.

The rest of the week was a little more up-and-down. I felt bogged down with work and just getting my usual things done. I found I put off meditation (one of my goals for the week) until the very end of the day. It seemed I was rushing to get it in, just so I could cross it off my to-do list. Probably not the best way to approach it. I took my short walking breaks (another goal) more days than not. I do a lot of sitting at my job and have chronic neck and back pain (despite two surgeries and countless hours of PT). The walk breaks are important self-care activites. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for me it’s an accomplishment to make myself take a break rather than keep plowing through my day despite pain.

The scientist part of me decided I should have some baseline data to work with–to know where I’m starting in terms of my level of self-compassion. I took this self-compassion test on Dr. Kristin Neff’s site (she’s the author of Self-Compassion, which I’ve been devouring.) I don’t know why I was surprised, but I didn’t score too well. I also tried one of the techniques from her book, which turned out to be pretty powerful. That will be a separate blog post, coming soon!

I realize I’m not sharing anything super inspiring in this post. But I will try to be self-compassionate and tell myself that every blog post does not have to be a literary masterpiece.

Let the Project Begin

via flicker, vvonstruen

In exactly one month, on February 1, 2012, I will turn 50 years old. If I had to pick one word to describe my life so far, it would be “tortured”. Okay, that sounds a little melodramatic. What I mean is this– I’m never satisfied with myself. I frequently think I haven’t accomplished enough. I easily become overwhelmed with emotions that I feel I have too little control over. I’m sensitive to the point that it’s painful. I’m prone to despair, alternating with diffuse anxiety. And to top it all off, I don’t have a lot of fun in my life–mostly of my own choosing. When I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I skipped the chapter on fun.

Oh, and by the way, I’m a psychologist. There’s more than a little shame that comes from thinking that all of my training and experience should have made me a bit less of a mess by now.

Let me also tell you I’m a self-help book junkie. I remember reading The Power of Positive Thinking after finding it on my grandmother’s bookshelf at the age of twelve. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I am usually reading about three psychology books at once, and I’ve written a few, as well. Most of the books I’ve written have been on shyness and social anxiety, issues that have been quite personal for me.

Last summer I came across a blog, The Shyness Project, which was a one-year project that the author and my now friend Brittany, undertook to overcome her crippling shyness. She said she’d never been successful at following through with her goals before because she tried to undertake too many things at once. So she asked herself, if she could choose only one goal to focus on in the coming year, what would it be? For her, without a doubt, she knew it was her shyness that was holding her back. Brittany’s blog and project has been a huge success, and she’s an inspiration to me.

As 2012 approached, I asked myself a similar question. Where should I focus my energy? I blog at Psychology Today about shyness (and will continue to do so), but it’s not as much of a personal problem for me now. Despite my quiet temperament, I can do what I need and want to do.

Well, the title of this blog gives it away. I decided that focusing on increasing self-compassion would be the most important thing I could do to ensure that when I turn 51, I’m not still describing myself as “tortured”.

I don’t have this project all figured out, and I guess that’s at least part of the point. And I feel a little selfish and even indulgent for starting this. Hey, there are starving people in China and I’m going to spend a year trying to like myself more. But it’s thoughts like those that I’m talking about. Not nice.

In one of the books that I’m going to use as a resource, Self-Compassion, author Kristin Neff opens the first chapter with this quote:

“This kind of compulsive concern with ‘I, me and mine’ isn’t the same as loving ourselves…Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion, and understanding within that are simply part of being alive.”  –Sharon Salzberg, The Force of Kindness

I’ve always believed we learn from each other’s stories. I’d be honored to have you join me in my journey, and share your comments, thoughts and feelings along the way.

To be notified of new posts, head on over to my Self-Compassion Project Facebook page and click “Like”. (It’s also on the sidebar, but no one ever sees it there.)