“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 21: Pre New-Year's Resolve, Part One

At the end of December, if you're like me, you give some thought to what you might want to accomplish in the coming year and what might need to change if you're really going to do it.  Over the years, I've made the usual resolutions--finish the writing project, do more yoga --but sometimes these lists lack a certain, I don't know, sense of humor.  And, apart from anything else, they're so Me-ish.   They're all about what I believe I should be doing because my identity is wrapped up in being a writer and being healthy and semi-youthful (the latter of which gives me the energy to work long hours and wake up early to meditate and make art) but not the how and the why that contribute to states of being like happiness and clarity and peace of mind.

The problem with these New Year's resolutions is that most of them don't speak to the spirit behind the intention, the feeling we get when we create a new daily practice or recommit to one that is underway.  I've "finished" stories and essays and book projects, adhered to fitness routines, etc., but the books were never as done as I'd wished when I made these goals (i.e., they did not sell at auction, become instant bestsellers, get made into movies, and give me enough income to retire to the South of France, and ultimately, give me more free time, which is what I want more than anything) and I still have to trick myself into going to the gym by wearing a running bra and tank top under my clothes, even if my silhouette looks a little, ah, squashed, and putting great books on my I-Pod and denying myself a chance to listen to them outside of the Elliptical.  (For the record, Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens, and State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, were my gym buddies of 2011.)

Okay, what we're really talking about is the feeling we get when we do something that a) we really, truly need to do, like make art or bread or take good care of our bodies and b) the uber-goal that links all the individual ones.

I think that the uber-goal needs to come from a deeper place than whatever it is that fuels our ambitions.  It can't just be about whatever is good for our egos.  Having said that, I think egos get a bad rep in the world for being shallow, but they are helpful little guys who start our engines.  But I think what needs to be fueling the engine has to give us something that sustains us when--to belabor a labored analogy--the car breaks down, or when the outer world does not reward us for being so, like, totally awesome.

In other words, if you want to be a good writer or sculptor or photographer, you have to like doing this weird thing, even when, by the lights of the world, you have failed, and even when, by your own standards of that morning, you have truly and profoundly sucked at it.  You just have to like the way you feel sometime during or after the wrestling match with images, the workout or yoga class, and you would have to still want to do it even if a little future-reading genie came down and told you that you will never, no matter how hard you try, earn enough from your writing to retire to the South of France or be fit enough to catch your dog in the woods or do a headstand without the help of the wall.

For 2012 I have, as usual, a long list of things I hope to accomplish.  First and foremost, I plan to keep up with the daily meditation and see this blog project through, whatever it morphs into, even after Day 108 (if you are new to this blog, see Day One: Why 108 Days?) because I like doing it and it's fun and it's so NOT like anything I ever would have imagined I'd do, even as of a few months ago, that it feels daring and not at-all like homework, even though, on the surface, it sure sounds like it.

Project 2: I am excited about revising my novel, which is set in France, a place I love so much, and experimenting with point of view.  I'm hoping to lure in a certain editor whose work I admire.

Project 3: I have been plugging away at some travel essays set mostly in France and India and also at home, in the States, and I've published some of them already, so it feels natural to plan to write more and send some out to journals and I'm inspired to do so.  I kept journals on these trips and they have stuff in them I can use.

Project 4: I have a new camera and I'm excited to take better pictures.  In the past, a good picture for me just meant that everyone had a head, and no werewolf eyes.  Now that I'm writing this blog, my standards have gone up a bit.  And it's fun to work in a new medium.  And above all, it's really fun and inspiring to learn something new, to be a beginner at something.

My other goal is to do more yoga.  When the grading got crazy after Thanksgiving, I stopped going to my Monday night class.  But hey, tomorrow I have a yoga date with my friend, Rebecca.  And next week I can go back to class.  I'm on my way!

But what means more to me than all of this is to spend every single day with Zoe, because I don't know how much time she has left, and to get the most out of our daily walks in the woods and the mornings we co-exist in my writing & meditation & yoga studio.  She did her usual doggy meditation on the balcony this morning (see Blog 10: Can Meditation Alter Your (Dog's) Brain) while I did mine, and now she's napping on the rug.  When I share our mornings together like this--both of us meditating, then me writing while she naps--I am truly happy. 

I think really my overall uber-goal is mindfulness.  To continue on the path I started some years ago when I decided it was not a good thing to put my purse on my car and drive off.  Mindfulness, to me, means being fully here when I do whatever I'm doing--writing, communing with Zoe, having a conversation.  I can only get there in writing when I turn off the second-tier chatter.  Mindfulness is kind of a cliché and you might find a better word.  Focus.  Concentration.  An awareness of the present.  Ultimately, whatever we call it, when I'm in that state I am writing something only I could write, no one else, because it's mine and it's true.  And when I am in this state of mind, I spend less time second-guessing myself.

Another way of talking about this is to say that if your one overarching goal is to be true to who you are and to stop fighting with yourself so much--to find peace of mind, seek what the Buddhists call "right livelihood," learn to be happier in your daily life even as you try to change it--you'll infuse all the other ambitions and projects with this spirit.  And then it almost won't matter what the outcome is, but chances are, the outcome will be a reflection of the spirit you brought to the process, and it will surprise you.

For tomorrow's blog, Pre-New Year's Resolve, Part Two, I'll write about getting ready and clearing the field, preparing for change, getting rid of clutter, and some good things I stumbled upon, reading-wise, that helped me this summer before I began the first 108 Days.  But now it's time for me to run around the yard with Zoe, do a work-out, eat lunch, and clean up the mess that is my office on campus. 

The landscape I dream about in the South of France: setting for much of my novel
Good day, gentle readers, good day.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful!
    Thanks for this delightful opus.

    Undoubtedly you are familiar with "The Miracles of Mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh. Back in 1991 this little book propelled me into a new life-changing direction...
    ...not sure that I'd equate mindfulness with focus though. To me, somehow, focus connotes more conscious effort than I would associate with mindfulness. How about "being in the zone". Of course, when you are in the zone you generally have reached it after many hours of practice. Yet, when you are "there" it seems to have been reached effortlessly.

    Happy New Year to you and Kerry - and a healthy new year to Zoe!!!