Even though I don’t really do New Years’ resolutions, I enjoy it as a milestone. I particularly like the opportunity it gives for reminiscing about the past year, and looking forward to the year ahead. Normally, I cultivate a present-focus: I try to remain aware of what is happening now, rather than worrying or anticipating the future, or regretting or gloating about the past. But from time to time, I let myself indulge in a bout of unapologetic nostalgia for the year that has passed, as well as a bit of daydreaming about the year to come.
I hope you find some time in the midst of your celebrations to spend a few minutes in contemplation of what has gone by, and what will come ahead.
Hey, not all of these can be deep and profound. I enjoy me some food, but breakfast holds a special place in my heart. Pancakes in particular have all the important aspects of comfort food: sweetness, softness, warmth, and a backing store of wonderful childhood memories. I was fortunate enough this morning to have a breakfast date with my wife at Kerbey Lane Cafe, and it reminded me: pancakes rule!
It’s Christmas Eve, traditionally a time to celebrate peace on Earth, so it may seem a bit strange to be grateful for conflict. But conflict has taught me many valuable lessons over the years, and sometimes it is the toughest teachers to whom we owe the greatest debt.
I was raised in a house which prized the appearance of peace above all. My parents disagreed via icy silences and held their discussions–I assume they held discussions–behind closed doors, out of sight of my sister and me. I rarely heard raised voices between my parents; their expressed anger was only toward us kids.
Unfortunately, that led me to believe that the only correct way to deal with conflict was to bury it, which meant that, when my first marriage hit its inevitable rough patch, I was wholly unprepared to deal with it in an adult manner. When I got engaged a second time, I swore not to make the same mistakes, and my fiancée and I went into counseling before we actually said our vows. It was the best thing that we ever could have done.
I had always been a good listener; now I learned to be a good communicator, to express even uncomfortable thoughts in a way that allowed for a resolution. Rather than attacking and putting my partner on the defensive, or suppressing my feelings until I exploded, I learned that I could safely express pain and even anger without it being the end of the relationship. That lesson lasted all of about a year. I had to take a few refresher courses over the years to keep my skills honed.
One of the tools I’ve found most valuable is my aikido training. On the mat, we practice reacting to attacks with equanimity, neither shrinking from the aggression nor reacting aggressively in kind. That same mental stance is valuable in my day to day life far more than any martial application would be. And the key ingredient, the sine qua non of our practice, is that one person has to agree to attack, to provide the aggressive energy that allows the defender to deal evenly and safely with the attack.
So on this silent night, with the family readying ourselves for a day of laughing and arguing and sniping and hugging tomorrow, I am grateful for the conflicts, both real and staged, that have taught me to take it all in stride, and to recognize what a tremendous gift I have been given in the people who share my life.
I hope your gifts are as wonderful.
I’ve always been an introvert, so I’ve always known the value of having time to one’s self. Time for the mental batteries to recharge, to feel unpressured to perform or to interact in meaningful ways with others.
Different from the focused attention of meditation (which I look forward to working into my routine in the coming months), this is simply a bit of relaxing time by myself, not working or doing anything particularly productive, but not passively watching TV and turning off my brain. I find this alone time usually in the mornings, especially on weekends, when the rest of my family is sleeping in, and I sit with a cup of something warm and listen to birds chirping outside, or cars driving past on the road. Sometimes I may read or browse various websites, or simply sit and pet our dogs (whom you would think, by their reactions, were utterly starved of affection), but the quiet is a constant, welcome presence, separating me from the bustle of the coming day.
I didn’t make a post yesterday, because I was at a company Christmas party. I won’t be making one tonight, because I’ll be meeting a group of friends for our Dungeons & Dragons game. In any given month, my non-work life is full of games, aikido training (which while not sedentary, still qualifies in my mind as “leisure”), reading, watching TV & movies with the family, trips to the movie theater, and eating out.
I recall reading some articles saying that we actually have less leisure time now than our ancestors did, what with 24/7 connectivity to the office and the resultant 60 hour work weeks. Certainly, a significant number of Americans feel that way. Knowing that some people face harsh economic situations that require them to work even harder for less leisure makes me all the more grateful to have the time I do, to spend on things other than work.
Now, time for me to get back to work so I can enjoy my game tonight.
I’m currently listening to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King–the first time I’ve experienced the book in probably 20 years. In it, White has a long passage about a “seventh sense” that you develop as you get older: the sense of how the world works. He seems to be talking about the fading of youthful passions, and the cultivation of a kind of cynicism that develops about life that develops after having simply lived it.
But I am finding as I get older that I appreciate more in my life that I once took for granted, most especially time to think about things. Reacting with my mind and superego, instead of my heart and id, I can keep things in better perspective and let go the things that don’t matter so much to me any more.
As a young man, I would have called it getting old, selling out, or losing my edge–inasmuch as I ever had anything close to an edge. From my current vantage point, though, it feels a lot like what I imagine maturity feels like, and so I’m grateful for the chance to experience life with a little bit of balance, consideration, and contemplation.
Yesterday and today, I had an interesting conversation with one of my Facebook friends. I made a rare politically-oriented post noting that I had signed the petition to designate the Westboro Baptist Church as an “officially recognized” hate group. One of my friends (to be honest, a classmate from high school whom I haven’t seen face to face in oh-my-god-can-it-really-be-25-years?) asked what the petition was supposed to accomplish.
It would be very easy to get confrontational about a question like this. It would be easy to interpret the question as an attack and respond defensively, or sarcastically, or dismissively. Instead, I gave the question, and my subsequent response, some thought, and it helped refine my own thinking. Arguably, it was one of the reasons I decided to start keeping a daily gratitude journal.
So, I’m grateful for civil discourse on uncomfortable topics. When people make an effort to try to understand one another, instead of resorting to easy conversational gambits, everybody involved comes away feeling like they’ve spent a little worthwhile time.