For the past few years, I’ve chosen a word to carry with me into the coming new year. A word that I could use to help me focus my goals and center my thoughts. A word that could help me bring more intention to my daily life and refinement to my year as a whole.
Last year, I chose two words! (You can read that post, here.)
This year, though, I’m going to do something different.
I’m not choosing a word. I’m not setting goals. I’m not reaching for what’s next. I’m not focusing on how to make myself better. I’m focusing on how I’m being made, right now.
I think goals are amazing, and my love for words is rivaled only by my love for food, so the problem is not with the things themselves; the problem is that I’ve discovered some things about myself over the past year about how I use my inspiring words and goals as a form of distraction. I use them as a way to control. I use them as a way to stay in my head, and out of my heart.
Here is what I’ve come to know about myself.
I’m embarrassed by virtually everything I’ve ever said and done. It’s hard for me not to look back on past conversations and wish I had said things differently, or look back on past experiences and not wish I had chosen differently. I regret all the opportunities I’ve missed and all the mistakes I’ve made. I feel as though I should know more by now. Accomplished more. Be farther in my career (what’s that?), and a generally more developed human being. I feel as thought I should have traveled more, experienced more, DONE more.
I look backwards from a place of shame, which means I look forward from a place of anxiety. And I skip right over the here and now.
So I evaluate and set goals and pick words and do all I can to become the best version of myself. But the version of myself I’m trying to become isn’t my best. Because It’s conceived from my worst.
Setting goals and choosing a word to focus on has become a way for me to not really see myself. It’s become a way of distracting myself from doing the hard word to just be all in, right here, right now. I can’t change the past, but I can face it (and learn from it). I can’t control the future, but I can see it for what it is. Now. The future is literally being made second by second, minute by minute. It is not something we construct and control.
It is something we live.
And so I’m shifting my focus away from big picture goals that aim to control details and yes to simply making the next right decision.
I know a lot of what I am saying flies in the face of intentional living. Of day planners and vision boards and living our “best” lives. But the thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I already have the tools inside of me to live my best life. My best life is the life that is right in front of me.
But living my life gets lost in all the thinking and attempts at control.
Making plans for yourself and your life is important, as long as you can step away from those plans and back into the life you’re currently living. And that’s my problem. I try to jump right to the end. I live in a perpetual state of “lets just get there and pretend here doesn’t exist.”
And so for right now, I just really need to be right here.
At some point, you just have to start living the life that is in front of you. I could tinker with the details until I’m blue in the face. Or I can throw out the script and open my eyes and ears and hands and heart and start responding – not reacting – to what is in front of me. I can’t control everything, and (especially in this season of raising little ones), the irrational attempt to execute goals and plans with even the smallest amount of control just leads to frustration, anxiety, and yes – anger.
I think my lesson for the coming year is to just be here, in my actual life. Not the life that I regret from a few years ago. Not the life I’m hoping to lead in a few years. The life that is living and breathing and moving right in front of me.
The other day I was in the kitchen, making breakfast. I spend a great deal of time cooking and have always said that I “love to cook.” But it dawned on me, what do I really enjoy about the cooking process? Mostly, I just love to eat well. Up until this point, I think I would have said that I enjoyed cooking purely for the end result. I enjoyed what I produced.
But that morning, I was mindlessly whisking eggs as I had done a hundred other times before when it occurred to me to notice what I was really doing.
I looked. I paid attention. Not with just my thoughts, with my whole being.
I noticed how rhythmic and soothing it was to see the eggs swirl in the bowl. To see what was once several, individual eggs become one, glossy new thing. I noticed the sound of the whisk making the tsk tsk tsk sound as it swirled around the bowl. I noticed my hands. I felt them moving in one, long, continuous motion. I heard the hiss of the eggs, hitting the hot skillet. I saw the waves of eggs that were once raw, form into an ocean of something vast a new. Something edible. Something nutritious. Something that tasted of seas salt and earth, heat and metal. Something that would sustain my kids and I until our next meal.
I noticed my enjoyment. Not of just the end result. Of the whole process.
I noticed that it wasn’t just about a result anymore. It was about allowing myself to be fully alive in that moment. Fully human. Fully myself – A woman with senses that can taste and see and hear and smell and feel. A woman who is so much more than a head with ideas and goals and plans. A woman made up of so much more than thoughts that float, detached from a body, a spirit. I am emotions and experience and physical touch and taste and smell. I am heart and soul. I am, moment by moment, building a life.
Will I see it?
I too, was once raw.
I too, am being formed into an ocean of something vast, and new.
Wisdom is not only speculative, but also practical: that is to say, it is ‘lived.’ And unless one ‘lives’ it, one cannot ‘have’ it. It is not only speculative but creative. It is expressed in living signs and symbols. It proceeds, then, not merely from knowledge about ultimate values but from an actual possession and awareness of these values as incorporated in one’s own existence.
From “Baptism in the Forest: Wisdom and Initiation in William Faulkner,” 1967
PS I heard someone say that looking back on your past with a good natured sense of embarrassment is a good sign, because it shows that you’ve grown. I’m learning to look back and see all the things I would do differently not with a sense of shame, but with the understanding that this means things are as they should be. I’m not the same person I used to be. I would in fact choose to do things differently if I could go back and do them again. And this is important. It means I’ve grown. It means, I’m growing.