Only a few more days till Christmas, and that thinks me. I guess we all find ourselves looking back over the past year at such a time, reflecting on those things we did well, and perhaps feeling a little remorseful at the memory of things we either didn’t do well, or didn’t do at all, or, worse, did do and now wish we hadn’t.
However, if you’re anything like me, you might look too hard at the latter, and therein lies our mistake. I don’t have any language to explain the human tendency for self-flagellation, nor do I understand why it is just the way we are. I don’t know why a person will list all the things that went wrong before being able to locate anything that went well. I think it is just in our culture to feel inadequate to life’s vagaries, to feel harmed or disappointed or let down. It takes absolutely no inner work to moan and a lot of inner work to shine the sunshine on the past. It’s like a big pile of dirty laundry on top of sparkling gems when we can only see the dirty laundry.
Some of us are naturally positive about everything, but these folk are rare among us. Some love the misery and make it their friend. Many go through life wishing things were different but make do anyway with pained expressions and the inevitable results of holding on to sadness manifesting themselves in sore backs and sleeplessness. And then there are folk like me who learn through reading that it is okay to feel sad, or disappointed or let down as long as I don’t stay there. Oh, blimey, you mean I have a choice? Yes, indeedy.
Feelings come unbidden. They just come, but they come for a purpose. Fight or flight, fear, sadness, revulsion, all are responses to whatever we face whenever we face them. Some folk push said feelings away but in my experience, they don’t go far. They lurk in the wings only to rise again in greater strength. Sitting with those feelings is uncomfortable at best, and speaking them out even more so. We don’t want to admit such ‘adverse’ feelings to anyone for fear of appearing weird, or ungrateful or just plain miserable. Someone, in other words, to be avoided in the street. ‘Don’t ask her how she is, for goodness sake or you’ll be stuck for days in her grumbling!’ Ever said that? I have.
I get that nobody wants to be so defined. What most of us do is pretend, even to ourselves, that our lives are all we hoped they would be, which is nonsense. So, let’s start right there and move on – not away – but on. Let’s take a wander back through the past year, with a clean sheet of paper and a pen. Let’s list all the things we achieved, however small, that made us proud. Was I kind to that grumbly woman? Did I listen and encourage, make her feel better? Did I make a difficult decision, one I didn’t really want to make, for someone else’s benefit? Did I write a letter to a person who I know to be housebound and lonely? Did I make a decision to do something differently and did I take action? In an escalating situation, did I bring some calm? Did I do what I said I would do that day? Did I climb that hill, make that call, welcome that neighbour who irritates the bejabers out of me, help that friend take down her ghastly overweight curtains and then hang the horrors up again after cleaning? Did I stop and sit with someone to say what I admire in them when I really had to dig deep to find anything at all? Did I suggest sharing a journey when all I wanted was to be alone? Did I do something fun with my kids on a rainy cold afternoon?
You make your own list. I have and it took me ages but once I got through the dirty laundry, I found the sparkly gems. However, there is one proviso to this list writing, and that is there must be no could-have-done-better thoughts flitting about. Chuck them out. Take a mental broom, affix a small cute gnome to the handle, pop a cheery song in his mouth and have him take the business end to the rubbish. Picture the loft of your mind as an airy light, dust-free place. Open the dormers and let the sky in. Feel the new breeze on your face.
And now……..begin again.
‘Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’ Rumi