My words for 2017 were Simplicity, Power, and Forgiveness. As always, I had endless opportunities to explore each one, when I remembered to. I went long stretches without including these three in my awareness or in direct experience. When I recalled my intentions, however, examples of each were everywhere around me, either by their application or by their absence.
As I knew it would be, Power was absolutely the issue of the day.
Sorry if you were expecting some new insight. I can only confirm that what wise teachers have said for millennia is true: there is no real power except what we each possess innately, and there is a power that exists among and between us too, which I call interdependence (a word from 2016). How we use that power is up to us, and even under duress we have the option of exercising our unique agency. This doesn't have to be reserved for big conflicts among groups, like what happened in Charlottesville last summer. It can also be accessed under boringly mundane situations, like when I was sick last winter and could only function in the most basic, simple ways.
It was in that brief illness that I saw the power of Simplicity, and throughout the year I witnessed many instances of how I often needlessly complicate things, which reduces my power. Feeling overwhelmed by too much to do, too many ideas, hopelessly juggling everything in the hope that somehow everything will work perfectly -- this is neither reasonable nor effective. It weakens my actions and renders my good intentions moot. It makes me feel like giving up. The simplest remedy I know, one I keep rediscovering, is The Pause. Pausing adds a little gap wherein I can drop the extra effort or the added plans and concepts and sense what's immediate and essential. On a larger scale, of course we all need to "live simply so that others may simply live." Yet untangling from the many ways I participate in unjust economies and human interchange systems is not easy. When I can pause, I find freedom in the gap, and can make better decisions about what to participate in, and how.
When I don't remember to pause and give space to present moment reality, I mess up or I miss the mark because my aim is off (a classic definition of "sin"), or I'm just not there as my life unfolds. That's where Forgiveness begins. In researching forgiveness and what it means, I was reminded of the wonderful work of the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley. Their website is an incredible resource, where I found several helpful articles about forgiveness, like Eight Essentials When Forgiving. GGSC not only provides instructions about mindful practices on myriad topics and issues, but also includes the reasoning behind the practice, the evidence for why it works, and the sources of that evidence. The forgiveness practices are long-term and intensive, because forgiveness isn't easy, and it's a process, not a destination. It's important to remember that forgiveness is for the one extending mercy, not for the one who is being forgiven. Jack Kornfield explains this with a powerfully moving story in this short video, also from the GGSC website.
I was able to forgive a lot this year, and I feel pretty good about that. The good feeling isn't pride or satisfaction with "self-improvement." It just feels good to forgive someone, even myself. Letting myself off the hook, lowering the bar, radically accepting my many flaws and screw-ups allows me to also do this with others. Forgiveness doesn't eliminate the need for accountability or consequence, it just dissolves the weight of whatever burden one has been carrying, and the sticky ties one has to the person one is forgiving. Forgiveness is liberation.
Thus it was a big year full of big changes, consistent practice, and continuous learning. 2018 is shaping up to be even more so, and to navigate whatever it will bring I have again chosen three guiding words:
What arises for you as you read these words? My next blog post will be an examination of each one, and why I chose them.
In the meantime, I'll be busy spreading the word about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class (starts on January 28!), Alexander Technique lessons, and Qigong practice. I'll use the simple power of forgiveness as I share.
The Light in me honors the Light in you.