You can’t deny the allure of a fresh start. We all know the feeling. It could be a Monday morning full of positive intentions. Or it’s 1st January, and you can smell the promise of a new beginning in the cold winter air. When I asked my Dad about his intentions for the coming year, he spoke of ‘betterment’. I want to be everything I already am, just a bit better. And I think this is a very noble and human wish. For years, as a teacher, when I asked my language students what they wanted, the answer was invariably the same. To improve my English. To get better at French. To advance my Spanish.
My response was usually to probe deeper. What does it mean, to be better? A better eater? A better exerciser? A better parent/partner/colleague/human… What are we measuring? How do we measure it? Can it be measured?
And this constant betterment, does it allow for the natural phases and stages of learning? Does it include time for integration and assimilation? Is it possible for me to unstick myself from old habits when I’ve become so used to this way of being? How will I know when/if I’m done? If I want to be someone better at some future point in time, what does this mean in terms of my thoughts and behaviour here, now, in this moment?
At this point we start to feel lost, overwhelmed, and by February we’re back to square one.
I’m interested in living a life free of the unconscious drives that push us into cycles of self-improvement and then self-destruction. The diet-binge cycle. The extreme exercise followed by injury. The powerful intention setting session followed by the despair of nothing really changing.
When I speak to members of the IEWIN community about New Year, resolutions, and goal setting, people talk of feeling stressed, inadequate, under pressure, belittled.
Why do we want to improve ourselves? The sub-text is that we need to improve because what we are, now, is unacceptable. Too lazy. Too fat. Too greedy. Too ordinary. We will become worthy of this life only when we have transformed into the highly productive, slender, extraordinary, successful and apparently needless individual we so deeply long to be. The exceptional individual who needs little food, rest, support or indeed anything at all.
Who is this person? I don’t recognise her. The humans I know are deeply complex and conflicted individuals. They want peace yet are driven to seek temporary pleasures. They want to create and make changes yet are paralysed by fear and many years of ingrained habits and conditioned responses. They love their families fiercely and yet question how lovable they are. They crave independence and authentic self-expression and yet long for connection, community and intimacy with others.
When we’re saying we want to improve ourselves, we’re often in a subtle state of self-policing. This part of me is good. This part is bad. But often these ‘bad’ parts of ourselves are desperate attempts to show us our wholeness. My overeating, ‘bad’ me, is as trustworthy as a set of alarm bells. It shows me that there is something in my awareness that has not yet been fully felt, integrated, or understood.
These ‘bad’ feelings, thoughts or behaviours all have their wisdom. They point towards the life we have led so far, the conditioning we have received, the experiences we have lived but often not fully felt. And the reality is that our brains are made of this, of life, of everything that has ever happened to us. Our brain doesn’t care that it’s the first day of a new year. Our brains are hooked into every moment we’ve ever been through, and desperately trying to protect us from further harm by repeating our old, well-worn habits and coping mechanisms ad infinitum. There is no fresh start where we wipe our neural pathways and start again.
This is exactly the experience of the failed New Year’s resolution. We so wanted to be different. To be shiny and good. But something got in the way. That something was our system firing in the way it has learned to do so. Using food to regulate our emotions. People pleasing to mask our insecurities. Watching TV all night to numb out. We had such high hopes… and the irony is that the stress of all this enforced change actually limits our capacity to grow, as we often cope with stress by relying on our old habitual pathways and falling back into unconscious and automated behaviours.
But brains do change, and our systems are wonderfully de-programmable and re-programmable. The power of neuroplasticity points towards this potential freedom. The important thing to remember is this: brains can only rewire on a moment-to-moment basis. And we need to be willing for our moment-to-moment experience to ebb and flow with the tides of being. Happy, sad. Empty, full. Needing, satisfied. Tired, alert. The movements of our being follow no timetable. They cannot be scheduled. And we cannot pin our hopes on “improving” our response to life by always striving for more happiness, energy, satisfaction. We can only cultivate our ability to fully feel what’s here, so when true satisfaction arrives, we don’t miss it because we’re obsessed with the next best thing.
This is how I feel about change and self-improvement. I understand that it’s important to feel a sense of direction in life, of momentum towards something. But we don’t need to learn this. It’s deeply wired into our brains from years of conditioning from society in the form of a highly biased education system that relentlessly moves us towards achievement and attainment.
What we do need to learn is how we stay IN THIS MOMENT NOW and then reorientate our inner compass ever so slightly so when we take the next step we move in a more comfortable direction. For example…
My conversations with others and what I’m seeing in the media are awash with ‘New Year, New You!’ I notice the subtle panic that this time seems to invoke. The dread that underlies the improvement strategies. I must really… I should definitely… If I don’t get a grip on… then this will certainly… I notice my inner monologue. I notice the urge to eat. I notice the subtle sense that life is just a bit too much to cope with. I notice the feeling of not really wanting to be here… that it’s too hard, there’s too much to do…
And then I use the Process to reorientate my internal compass. To point my attention at a wider perspective of life. I remember today. Now. This moment. What is it for? What are my days for? Chronic striving? Compulsively comparing my life to some fantasy version of what a ‘good’ life should be? Endlessly finding myself lacking, lacking, lacking… never truly reaching a place of rest, satisfaction, or acceptance of what is here?
What are your days for?
My days are for enjoying. Laughing. Softening. Resting. Nourishment. Warmth. Yoga. Music. Gentleness. Comfort. Fire making. Reading. Drawing. Talking. Being. Sitting and looking at plants. Feeling my body. Swimming in warm water.
You could write your own list. It’s a reminder to come home to your life and the things your bodymind loves. It’s a reminder to stop striving and start being. It’s a reminder that life is here, now, in this moment, and you can choose to experience it any way you like. You can drive your intentions through with the energy of fear and lack. Or you can warmly embrace the life you have now and recognise the courage and heart it’s taken for you to get here. Don’t push away this version of you to chase the dream.
This is the dream. And you’re living it now.
May 2018 be full of quiet moments of presence. When you arrive in this moment and welcome yourself. I’m here. I’m alive. It’s enough.
Much love to you all from the IEWIN team: Emily, Jan and Jane.
2018 dates for your diary…
10th January – Intensive course starts in Hove
11th January – Deeply Gentle Yoga at Unit 4 in Brighton
20th January – Winter party at Jan’s place in Bures (plant based cooking together, workshop with Jan and Emily, meeting old and new members…)
21st January – Deeply Gentle Yoga workshop in Colchester (fully booked)
March 2018 – weekend workshop in Yorkshire to be confirmed
April 2018 – week-long retreat with Abigail Peck, focusing on yoga for women’s health
And more to come!
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