Three profound lessons I learned in 2017
This year was a brutal teacher. It gives me only some relief to know that 2017 was as much of shit show for everybody else as it was for me, but mostly it leaves me wondering. Curious. Eager to know: What is this all about? Why is this stuff happening now? What's next?
One of my favorite illustrators, mary purdy (@drawnbymary) described spending most of this year "feeling like I was being dragged behind a garbage truck by my hair." Needless to say, this resonates deeply. Still, I’m leaving 2017 feeling hopeful and determined. All of this feels mystic. Cosmically predetermined. Shit is really hitting the fan and we are alive, right now, to witness it. We can watch the house burn or we can look for water. I am leaving this year in awe that I have the incredible opportunity to make a difference in this lifetime. To heal some of the hurt that's got us to where we are now. I can use whatever resources, skills, and talents I have to change the course of the future of humanity.
That's a pretty big deal.
I feel hopeful because I realize that my survival is a matter of fact. if I could survive this year (which I did!), then I can survive the next. Even if the blows get more brutal, I'll fight back, just like I did before. I got through some of my life’s most difficult experiences without the wisdom and strength that I gained from surviving them! It's a fact: I’m more prepared now than I ever was. I can be confident in my capacity to overcome even the biggest of obstacles because I'm here. I'm still here. I have already proven to myself that I can.
2017 taught me a lot, and I’m challenging myself to really sit with these lessons and carry them with me into the New Year. It’s important to me to reflect on the wisdom that I am fortunate enough to encounter so that it stays close by, for easy access when I need it. I like to think that every experience I have — good and bad — serves a greater purpose. I have made a decision that my life isn't just about me. My life, my victories, and my lessons matter to a great number of people. What I am able to accomplish impacts what other people are able to accomplish. What I am able to survive informs what others are able to survive. In this great Universe in which we are all connected, I am making a decision to view my life in the context of a greater whole. As such, I know that "my" wisdom isn’t really mine, it’s all of ours. It’s my responsibility to hear it, to share it, and to implement it as best I can.
Here are three profound lessons I learned in 2017:
I may not always be able to control what happens to me and around me, but I can always control how I respond.
This lesson is, really, about what it means to be free. As a person in pursuit of freedom, I feel compelled to understand what freedom really means. For me, freedom is about being in control of my human experience. It’s about being self-determining. It’s about writing my own story instead of letting someone else narrate my life. This year I learned that I am more powerful than I could have ever imagined. I saved my father's life. I fought for my relationship and won. I called impossible things to me and they came. This year I really understood: I have a hand in everything happening around me. Buddhism teaches that we are inseparable from our environment, and, as such, we always have the power to affect positive change. In the face of violence, hatred, injustice, sickness, death, war, our perspective can be the most powerful medicine in the room.
Nature is the greatest teacher.
Nature reminds me of what’s real. Nature has no ego. It only has consciousness. Nature understands its connection to the whole. Everything in nature functions in cycles of life and death, without resistance. We have so much to learn from nature. We have so much to gain from paying close attention to the planet. For me, marveling at the Earth is a spiritual practice. When I see mountains, and rivers, and stretches of ancient trees with roots I can run laps around — incredible, impossible feats of soil and water and fire and rock — I am reminded that we are a family. We are (quite literally) related to one another. Plants have the power to nourish and heal my body. It can’t be a coincidence. I hope I am eternally struck by how privileged I am to be alive, to be a citizen of this beautiful Earth. This year, I heard a calling to protect it as a matter of protecting myself. When I understand that I am connected to everything and everyone around me, I am compelled to be kinder, to act with intention, to celebrate and respect myself, the Earth, and all of its inhabitants.
(As I write this, I’m sitting in the brightest room in the house. There are two big windows facing the street. It’s the first snow of winter. The plants are still alive miraculously. They almost look like children, peeking out of the window to observe a parade down below. The thought makes me smile. And then, I see that in fact, the plants are all leaning towards the window. They’re leaning towards the light. As is the way of gratitude, as I reflect on what a beautiful and generous teacher the Earth is, it blesses me with more wisdom. What a profound message: Lean towards the light. Allow yourself to be pulled towards hope, towards courage, towards compassion. Pursue, as a matter of your survival, that which nourishes and sustains you. I see you 2017. Bonus lesson, for the win!)
Being brave doesn’t mean being fearless.
It means being terrified and doing it anyway. This year, I did it afraid. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda has a book called “Hope is a Decision.” When I first heard of it, I felt like I had received a powerful cosmic message from the Universe. Hope is a decision! Of course. I felt like a light had been turned on inside of my brain. Everything is a decision. Optimism. Courage. Confidence. All of these positive attributes we “hope to one day” acquire are, quite simply, immediately available to us, at all times. All we have to do is make a decision to embody them. We have to decide to be hopeful, to be courageous, to believe that we can do the impossible. We can't wait to feel brave. To feel ready. We have to pursue our dreams and desires despite how terrifying it is. We have to stop waiting to feel "unafraid." We have to decide to envision positive outcomes, knowing that simply doing so makes those outcomes more likely! It is, I think, what most people mean these days when they say "magic." We build our best lives by deciding to believe that we can win every battle, and then fighting like hell, even if we are afraid.
I am grateful to be learning. I am tickled to think about the juicy lessons that next year will bring. Every year, in celebration of my solar return (on New Year's Eve), I set an intention for the upcoming year.
This year, my intention is to remember that I am powerful.
I intend to win over the forces that try to convince me otherwise.
I intend to greet obstacles and challenges joyfully, trusting that they push me in the direction of my best self.
I intend to call myself back from the edge of hopelessness; to not allow myself to be defeated.
I intend to stay present in what is real: My infinite capacity. My unlimited potential. My inherent ability to call upon my power at any moment, and use it for good.