“A sunrise is God’s way of saying, ‘Let’s start again.”–Todd Stocker
Before typing this, I spent nearly 2 ½ hours trying to decide the best way to begin writing. I looked at photo ideas, quotes, inspirational readings, ideas I have saved on a document, and so forth . . . all the usual starting points for me. I would start typing, then moments later, delete all the words. Type, delete, repeat. My mind was filled with a revolving door of thoughts as I reflected upon the new year and all the possibilities it held. No matter the number of do-overs, this repeatedly blank document likewise remained an opportunity for a new start–full of the hope and promise that exploring an idea through writing offers, and the enhanced understanding that comes with it.
As we close the saga that was 2020, I can say with confidence that it was certainly a year like no other. While it began, full of hope and promise, it quickly spiraled out of control globally, nationally, professionally, and personally. Often, when it seemed the year could not get any worse, 2020 somehow managed to throw more curve balls than a record breaking MLB pitcher. In fact, it seems to me that 2020 pitched a no-hitter of a game.
As a lifelong learner, one of the reasons I write is to increase my own understanding. The process of writing slows down my thoughts, and reduces my emotions which can cloud my thinking. Writing also coaxes my analytical brain to engage more with the world rather than my intuitive/sensitivity center that, from decades of training, extends from me like antenna–seeking, searching, and constantly evaluating the temperament of a room, situation, and people. While this so-called sensitivity is a pretty handy awareness to have, especially as an educator, it can unfortunately become overwhelmed by the feelings, energy, and attitudes of others, short-circuiting my emotional center and nearly shutting down my brain, filling me with overwhelming negative feelings and stories.
Writing is not the only way in which I tap into my logical brain. As an educator, I must also remain centered in logic, task-analysis, and effective communication. While I use my sensitivity skills to help navigate the world of middle school students, parents, and coworkers, I have trained myself to not react nor take situations personally. I am not implying that I am perfect, rather that my professional and creative self have more in common with one another than private me.
When left alone with my own thoughts, I am often given over to emotional waves. This was especially true during 2020. Far too often this past year, I slipped into the stories and/or negativities that seemed to be surrounding me on all sides. Therefore, one of my hopes for 2021 is a greater sense of equanimity, no matter my circumstance or setting, and I can’t help but think I am not the only one feeling this way.
I am reminded of a former yoga instructor who once warned students of the danger of attaching to and/or becoming our negative thoughts. He gave the illustration that if we nourished our body with good food in order to maintain a healthy body, why shouldn’t we feed our brain positive thoughts and ideas. Therefore, when this recollection randomly entered my mind, as I sat at my kitchen table trying to tease out the precise writing idea floating just outside the periphery of my thinking, I began to look around my kitchen.
Due to the holidays, my kitchen was filled with foods that we normally do not keep on hand. In fact, there was so much excess, as I glanced around, that food was visible on the top of my fridge and counter–something that is normally a no-no for me. Those foods were as lovely to the eye as on the tongue, but they lacked any real nutritional value. These were foods, my body reminded me throughout the holiday season, that did not keep me feeling full for very long, and they created cravings I typically don’t experience. Additionally, I found that these same foods also tended to generate a sense of fatigue and/or lethargy; and yet, my brain kept telling me to consume more of those delectable special sweets, salty-snacks, and other rich treats. Each time I overindulged, which I did on several occasions, my mind would spin into negative thoughts about myself, my food choices, and lack of willpower–which was so silly since all of the foods were truly special occasion foods only made and eaten in this quantity one time per year.
In fact, by January, most, if not all, of the treats will be out of the house, and we will return to a more healthy, sustainable way of eating, but it supports my point. 2020 was like the sweets and junk food in my house for the holidays, it continually served up an abundance of low-quality fodder wrapped in bright screens, attention-seeking sound-bites, and eye catching headlines promising “breaking news” that was mostly devoid of any positive and fulfilling sustenance. One sad, frustrating, or anger-inducing event after another kept emotions running high while nutrient-rich content was as hard to find as fresh produce at a local convenient mart.
If 2020 has taught me anything, it is that change is inevitable and ongoing, but no matter the change, I have a choice with what I nourish my mind and how I choose to react to change. While I am unable to rid the world of “junk,” as I can in the kitchen of my own home, I can fuel my mind at the start of each day, as I do for my writing, by spending a bit of time in quiet reflection and devotion, with an open heart and mind, and a prayer that Divine Providence will fortify me throughout the day with those positive morning messages, providing with a greater sense of equanimity in all situations.
“Happiness is not the absence of problems; it’s the ability to deal with them.”–Steve Maraboli
2021 is like this once blank document, an opportunity for each of us to start again. Of course, the new year starts with much of the baggage of this past year, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the ability to deal with it and learn to better understand it. Just as a new black document each week offers me a choice as to what I idea or thought I choose to focus my attention, each of us likewise has a choice of where we focus our attention and how we react to each problem or challenge that may occur. Equanimity of mind seems to me like happiness–everyone wants it, but we wouldn’t know either one without the opposite extreme.
May the blank page of 2021 serve as a reminder that life is about progress, not perfection. Let us remember that nature does not create a storm without an end. We may not always feel happy, or remain in a state of equanimity, but we can choose what we nourish our thoughts with. May we say goodbye to poisoning our minds with discord, disharmony, and dissension–even if the storms of 2020 continue into the new year. Instead, may we focus on what we can control: our thoughts, our prayers, and our actions/reactions. 2020 is done, and 2021 has just begun. It’s an opportunity for a new start– even if only on the personal level.
“And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”–Revelation 21:5