It’s hard to leave that with which we’re familiar — places, lovers, careers — or just calendar years, as we will soon do, relearning how to write the right date on simple forms.
In colder months, the call to let go and leave behind gets louder and louder. Sometimes, we have no choice but to heed that call — but not before checking out whether we’re simply caught up in boredom, wanting things to be different than they are, not appreciating all the stark beauty that is our eternal travel companion.
To me, December carries anticipation of awkward holiday gatherings — the awkward describing how I feel in the midst of families celebrating each other, having not had a family for most of my life. I feel that familiar pull to dwell on that which has gone less than magically in my life — the losses and my insufficient responses to them, the healing paths or pleasure trips or books I think I should have taken or written.
This is when I’m thankful for modern psychology for making me remember I’m not alone. As Martin Seligman (the father of positive psychology) writes:
For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.
I’ve written here before about my own gratitude practice. Every single day, I write what is working well in my life, what I’m grateful for, what surprises and blessings have come my way without any effort on my part — or as a culmination of months of behind-the-scenes activity. I review my gratitude at the end of the year, taking stock of forgotten goodness, and list out who I need to forgive (hint: I’m always at the top of the list)
It’s only after I view my life through the lens of appreciation that I get clear on what I am ready to walk away from.
You can bet I’ll be doing this end-of-the-year ritual in the coming weeks, dear reader, so we can start 2016 poised for greatness. And by great, I mean full-throttle living, along the lines of Elizabeth Gilbert’s wisdom in her recent book Big Magic: “Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” We are here for such a short time together, and there’s no better way to do this life than to live it and feel it, in all its variations and hues.
I have wonderful things planned for us in 2016, some of which I’m wrapping in a pretty bow, and can’t quite yet share with you.
But (shameless pitch here), I promise you that every night, at our beautiful retreat in Mexico in February. I will ask you “what went well today and why.” Because Seligman promises that doing so will result in our being “less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.” Appreciation creates happiness. And happiness creates the space to let go of things that are just helping to get by.
I’ll leave you with a “found poem”taken entirely from an interview Ysaye Barnwell held on National Public Radio about her decision to leave Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all-women’s African American acapella group she had been part of since 1979.
The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. – Albert Camus
Don’t know how my people survived.
I was beginning to struggle.
It’s always tied to what I’m traveling to,
with how to do everything.
And the reason I’m traveling?
To Play with Time.
And the people you meet!
Now was that time