“We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure.” ~Pema Chodron
At the start of every year, many of us take an accounting of the past year and spend time thinking about what intentions we may have for the coming year. This year, I have no illusions that 2017 will be soft, that my goals will be achieved easily, or that the path will be without bumps. But I have seen that I have it in me to keep going on my journey, following my passions, going for my dreams, and that if I fall, I will get up, brush myself off, and eventually get back onto the path. This shift in my perspective is a result of challenges I’ve faced over the past two years and the life lessons embedded in these opportunities..
At the start of 2015, I was enthusiastic, energized, and hopeful about creating new intentions and following them (See my blog, Happy New Year! What Will You Dream Into Reality This Year?). Early in the year, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel with completion of my first book expected by the end of the year, I was accepted as a regular contributor to Huffington Post, and my radio program was already into its third year, with many great guests lined up for the future months. However, as happens to many of us, the year may start off with a lot of energy and momentum, but there are often obstacles that can easily sideline us and cause us to lose our focus or, even give up. New Year’s resolutions rarely last into February. Perhaps, your resolutions have already fallen by the wayside in mid-January.
For me, I found myself on an uphill climb in early spring of that year. Life happened. The road became very rough and progressively rockier as the year went on, starting with the challenge of severe tendonitis in both wrists, making writing my book and my blogs much more difficult and physically painful. Even working to keep the bills paid, which requires a lot of report writing, was challenging because of the wrist pain when using the computer.
Then, things went from bad to much worse, and I ran straight into a large boulder on the path. My dear dad fell in late spring, and he spent four months fighting a losing battle until his ninety-three year-old body gave up the good fight. I was close with my dad and, so, this process, along with his death, was devastating to me. It took every bit of my focus to just keep putting one foot in front of the other for my daily responsibilities, never mind any enthusiasm or energy to follow my dreams. At that point, I learned in a very real way that we can plan all we want, but, ultimately, we aren’t in control of what life hands us. Pausing and taking care of myself helped me to find some peace of mind, as the year came to a close.
At the start of 2016, I wrote about my hope for a softer easier year, as I began to get back on my feet. (See my blog, Why It’s So Important to Allow Time for ‘The Pause’ in Life.) My enthusiasm returned. In fact, keeping focus on my dreams as much as possible is what reignited that flame inside of me, allowing me to, once again feel joy. It gave my life purpose and meaning, in spite of the storms and sadness. But 2016 turned out to be anything but soft and easy, although, thankfully not as devastating as 2015. The year brought continued losses and great disappointments, as well as increased stress and anger in the world. Luckily, I remembered to take those pauses. This has gone a long way toward helping me to live my passion in spite of the less-than-perfect circumstances.
As we are already moving forward into a new year and a new world, here are 6 Tips for remaining focused on following your dreams and passions, based on these lessons:
1. Don’t make “resolutions.” As I mentioned, most resolutions end up in the junk heap by February 1 (or earlier). Instead, think about what it is you would really love to do in your life that would create more meaning and joy. Consider what small, realistic steps you can take to follow that passion. Then, make the decision to take those steps. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve shelved it because you fear you might fail or you worry what others might think? Perhaps, you’ve already tried and you ran into obstacles and found it too difficult to keep going, so you gave up. Remove that something from the shelf, dust it off, and take one small step toward that dream…and then another and another. If not now, when? Perhaps you don’t have a clear dream, but know you want to find more meaning by helping people or animals. Check out what volunteer opportunities are in your community. There is a whole range of activities that can make big differences in other people’s and animals’ lives, which in turn, will create a greater feeling of meaning in your own life. Helping to feed the homeless, volunteering in nursing homes or in an animal shelter, or becoming more politically active in your community are just a few of those meaningful activities. Do you feel the desire to express yourself more creatively? Take a writing or painting class, or just begin to take the risk of putting your thoughts onto paper through words, drawings, or paintings. Take these steps because it feels good, not because you’ve made a “resolution.”
2. Don’t expect a smooth or straight path in pursuing your dreams. We can’t predict what life will bring. Don’t count on having the weather always cooperate or the events of the world or in your own life to always be up-lifting. It’s a given that you will be occasionally knocked off track. My experiences over the past two years, in particular, have taught me that we have it within us to keep going toward our dreams, even if we get sidelined for a period of time by unpredictable events. When the journey has reached a slower, up-hill point in the road, and the atmosphere appears dark, focusing on our passions fans the flame of hope inside of us, making it grow stronger, so that it will warm us and light our way. This, in turn, gives us the energy and the joy to keep going. Sometimes the turns in the road actually lead us to new opportunities or provide us with the raw material to use for our creative expression. Keep your eyes open for these cracks “where the light gets in,” as Leonard Cohen sang. For example, I use my experiences, “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” as material for my writing. As Kathy Sparrow, founder of Writing on Your Edge, has told me, “Everything can be re-purposed.” I think that even applies to adversity.
3. Know when to pause. We need to take breaks, even when everything appears to be going well, but especially when they’re not. “When I give up [the] need for urgency and say, ‘No, this can wait,’” wrote Terry Hershey in The Power of Pause: Becoming More by Doing Less, “I can do so because I know that I have value apart from the externals of life. I have the permission just to be, to embrace the sacred present.” Make time to sit still and be without judgment no matter what’s happening around you. “If we can hold to each breath in order to track this unlit pathway, we will be taken into the sanctuary of our unshakable, indivisible, brilliantly sane, undying, and loving heart,” wrote the Buddhist nun, Thanisarra, in her essay, The Descent. “And it is this true heart that will save us.” One powerful way of finding this stillness is through mindfulness meditation, by sitting still and focusing attention on your breathing or on a word, just noticing thoughts that pop into your mind and letting them drift by. There have been many research studies finding that just 20 minutes per day of meditation (five minutes per day is powerful, but more is even better) has tremendous health benefits and is extremely beneficial in improving mood. If you have difficulty quieting your mind and finding that place of stillness, Eckhart Tolle, describes an easy way to start the process in his book, Stillness Speaks. “Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your awareness rest upon it…how still they are, how deeply rooted in Being.” When you connect with nature in this way, it will help you to become still, Tolle explains, and it can then lead to a longer meditation practice. It is through our stillness that we discover our strength and regain peacefulness in the midst of storms.
4. Make time for joy. Taking pauses to do what brings us joy in this moment is extremely powerful for keeping us centered and increasing our enthusiasm. Creating moments of joy is vital, no matter how gloomy things might appear. When I recently posed the question, “What brings you joy?” to the global visually impaired community through the social media app, Vorail.com, the answers I received back consisted of many universal recommendations for creating more joy in our lives. Here are a few: spend time with like-minded positive people and build strong, supportive, and loving relationships; spend time with children; exercise regularly and eat healthy food; play or listen to music or engage in other forms of creative expression (as per Tip #1, you might find your life passion/dream in this activity); have stimulating and enlightening discussions; and have gratitude. This brings us to the next “un-resolution” tip.
5. Spend time feeling grateful for what you have. Having gratitude for what we have and looking for the silver linings in the less-than-ideal situations bring us feelings of optimism, peace, and enthusiasm to keep us on this trek as a peaceful warrior. When experiencing gratitude, wrote author and speaker, Dr. Deepak Chopra, in his article, 3 Essential Practices for Gratitude, “You embrace the wisdom of uncertainty and you sense yourself as a field of infinite possibilities. Gratitude is a fullness of heart that moves you from limitation and fear to expansion and love.” All of this, the ups and downs, the ebb and flow, the dark and light — this is the adventure we call life, and having gratitude for this adventure, and all that it consists of, allows the darkness to be the catalyst for making the light that much brighter.
6. Don’t run from your pain or the pain of others. Running away from pain only gives it more power to grow, so that it becomes much larger and scarier, when it finally catches up with us (which it always does), and causes even more suffering. “Sticking with uncertainty is how we relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears,” wrote Pema Chodron in her book, Comfortable With Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. Go back to “unresolution” Tip #3 and make time to be still, to slow down your thinking, judging, and worrying. When we do this, we can actually heal our pain and have the compassion to help to ease the suffering of our friends and neighbors, giving our own life more meaning. Wrote Tolle, “Whenever you deeply accept this moment as it is — no matter what form it takes — you are still, you are at peace.” And, when accepting this moment, rather than numbing it, “You become aligned with the power and intelligence of Life itself. Only then can you become an agent for positive change in the world.” Unleashing our creativity, following our passions, and making the world a better place, require some level of discomfort. By putting ourselves out there, in spite of the discomfort, risking disappointment and acknowledging our own dark moments and the pain of the world, our dreams can blossom, we can experience true happiness within, and we can help to construct a more peaceful world. “Without mud you cannot have lotus flowers,” wrote the world-renowned speaker, teacher, and author, Thich Nhat Hanh.
Although 2017 might not be a soft and easy year for us with all that is happening in the world, we have the power to survive the stress, taking what we’ve learned, thus far, and putting it to use to create more meaning in our lives and more peace and healing in the world. “We will…need everything learnt from our spiritual practice,” wrote Thanisarra. “Practice is preparation for when real challenge arises.” If there is any time that we need to use the wisdom we’ve accumulated through our own self-exploration, meditation, and through lessons from our teachers, this is the time. And “together, we will get through this,” Thanisarra assures us.
Originally published at medium.com