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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Tis the season

'Tis the season... but the season to what, exactly? To be jolly, that's all?

To me, the Holidays, the New Year, and the approaching Winter are much more than that. They represent the ideal time to reflect on the past year and to plan for the next. To rethink my priorities. This is the time I sit down to reassess... my life.

Granted, the choice of doing this now is kind of arbitrary. This yearly exercise does not need to happen at this particular moment; and it probably doesn't need to be performed on a precise yearly basis. It could probably be done every 6 months or every 2 years, with the same results.

But to me, the whole atmosphere of celebration/gatherings, along with generalized over consumption, followed by the anticlimax that a cold, Canadian Winter can bring about, constitute the perfect moment to work on my own personal "end of year report".

Let's examine the headers of this "report" more closely.

'Tis the season to rethink STUFF

Ah, the ubiquitous "stuff". We long for it. We accumulate it. We desire more of it. Yet it fails abysmally to create lasting satisfaction.

Another drawback: none of us, even the most well-off, can have it all. Think about it for a moment. If you listed everything that you want to own (for example, I would love to own the most exhaustive, sophisticated, luxurious wine cellar - and, while we're at it, I would love to hire all possible employees/servants), how much money would it amount to? Corollary question: assuming you were to acquire it all... how content would you feel? More importantly: for how long?

Stuff is a constant source of frustration. There is never enough. It always ends up being too expensive (especially if you're looking for quality - and who isn't?) Then it either requires specific maintenance (even if it was just the cleaning of it), or it falls apart faster than you can pronounce "credit card statement". Most of the time, the positive effect on your mood simply is very ephemeral. Truth is, no matter how intense the initial high, we rather quickly take things for granted.

How to get all we want? How to maintain the "high" that comes with getting new things? And on the other side of the medal: what sacrifices are we making in order to acquire this and that?

As I was pondering this on my way back from the running apparel store (another personal weakness of mine), where I had been intensely frustrated by the fact that I couldn't possibly afford everything they sell there (because yes, I would buy the whole contents of the store if I could), I read the following quotation on Facebook: "Someone else is happy with less than you have". How silly am I to let all that stuff upset me, I thought. I don't need all those running clothes, sneakers and accessories. I have a healthy body, two good legs and a good heart; what else do I need?

In the past months I have tried to apply the notion of "Less is more" to my life in a more consistent way. One implication of this new frame of mind is that I have started to get rid of stuff. Of a lot of stuff. What I am discovering with marvel is that getting rid of stuff feels as good as acquiring new stuff. Especially when you give it to someone who really needs it and who will appreciate it fully.

As bag after bag of stuff leaves my house, I am amazed (or should I say appalled) at how much stuff we keep for no obvious reason. (Need I mention I am in no way a hoarder.) What's wrong with us that we need to surround ourselves with more and more objects all the time? What deeper need are we trying to fulfill?

In the same vein we seem to need to surround ourselves with constant stimulation. There's not a moment of boredom to be had (too scary, maybe?) How about noticing, for once, the sound or the sight of nature? How about paying attention to the fact that we are alive and breathing, here and now? For that you need nothing else than your senses, and some stillness...

'Tis the season to rethink RELATIONSHIPS

I won't say much about this one because you know more than anyone else what relationships you might have been neglecting, and which ones you have been giving too much importance to. Who do you really connect with? Who do you want to connect with more? Who would you love to reconnect with? Take a step in that direction. It's never too late to make a change for the best. You can at least try.

'Tis the season to rethink HOW YOU TREAT YOURSELF

What have you done for yourself that you genuinely enjoy, and that is truly good for you (as opposed to some kind of compensation or addiction)? Have you denied feeling tired, bored, stressed or depressed? Have you been putting junk in your body, unconvincingly trying to persuade yourself that it was actual food? Have you been eating to the point where it made you feel yucky? (Yes, there can be too much of a good thing - I realized that an hour after gulping down an eight-ounce steak... ugh.) Have you been denying the vehicle that carries you through life, your own body, what it needs most (fresh air, exercise, or the pleasure that comes from singing, dancing, making love)? Have you tried to excessively please others, stepping on your own needs and wants in the process?

'Tis the season to rethink your ROLE IN THE WORLD

What would you like to have changed when you leave this planet? Can we, as adults, afford to be here only to go to work, look after our immediate family and closest friends, and to enjoy ourselves? Don't we each have a role to play in improving this world, even if it was just a little bit? Don't we need to each take some responsibility for the state this world is in? What do you do to educate, inspire, make better? Do you put your foot down when something seems wrong, or do you just shrug? How do you use your own unique passions and talents to make a change for the best, no matter how humble the contribution?

'Tis the season to make PLANS

What have you achieved this year? Think hard. There must be something. Doesn't matter if you haven't reached your goal 100% yet. If you've been working toward it, and making progress, take some time to appreciate your efforts and your accomplishments. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your "new life" happen overnight. But if you've made some positive changes, acknowledge them. Pick one that you are particularly proud of, and celebrate. Find friends or family members or a loved one to celebrate with you. It's too easy to disregard our improvement as insignificant a posteriori. How hard did you work to lose those 10 pounds? To drink less? To lower your debt? Be happy about it!

Of course that is only the first step. The second is as exciting: now is time to make plans for the new year. Where will 2013 take you? We are not talking about distant, idealized resolutions, but rather about realistic goals. And how are you going to reach those goals? What are your baby steps going to be? On  a daily basis? Write it down, starting with the big picture goal and working your way down to the small daily actions.


And for this one I will pass the torch to philosopher Alan Watts:

(If you enjoy this, search for more by Alan Watts on YouTube. My friendly advice.)

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