‘Tis the season.
Of expectations, parties, primping, family blowouts, and then the eventual resolutions we hope will solve all our problems in the new year.
Resolutions, while endlessly trendy, can also be extremely powerful. This is because it takes incredible bravery to take an honest look at your life and resolve to make a change.
I’m not talking about redecorating your living room or vamping up your wardrobe. I’m talking about actually addressing the way you feel on a regular basis. Actively taking a sincere look at the philosophies that drive your everyday behavior.
We know it is time to make a change when we regularly feel deep dissatisfaction, discomfort, anger, entitlement—those negative emotions—and are most often inclined to an exclusive world view (exclusive being some version of “me against the world;” when you find yourself judging everyone, even strangers, all the time).
The holidays are usually chock-full of these emotions.
But despite all the positive Facebook GIFS and prominence of self-help gurus, change can feel incredibly elusive. One could say the reason for this is because change takes work, and then blame our world of instant gratification. Money and resources are also really good excuses. But what it comes down to is perspective. Our attitude determines everything.
If we have the expectation that radical change can happen while preserving our current way of living, then disappointment is inevitable. Dedication, consistency, discipline, and a sincere heart are non-negotiable precursors to true change.
You don’t snap your fingers, listen to some Deepak Chopra, and take a yoga class, then suddenly become a deeply compassionate, honest, and heartfelt human attracting all sorts of magnificence and abundance. Without the right perspective, these actions are meaningless.
Right perspective is a steadfast commitment to seeing through to your goals, no matter what roadblocks arise. These can be relationships, addictive behavior, self-limiting habits, and especially, bad advice.
I have discovered that one of the biggest road blocks working against anyone trying to create positive change in their life is a completely misinterpreted phrase that has been saturating the yoga and meditation world for years: “Let it go.”
When attempting to rewire the brain, it’s powerfully counter-productive to try to push thoughts out of your head. Emotions are meant to be worked with, and if there’s an issue that just wont give you any rest, telling yourself to just “let it go” will only make it worse.
Also, it’s incredibly insulting and cruel to say to someone struggling with an aspect of their life to “just let it go.” Negative emotions and pain are not so easily banished. When our mind is on repeat, trying to fight its contents or pretend they don’t matter just makes those repetitious thoughts stick around harder, longer, and more loudly. Telling the mind to “stop thinking” is ridiculous and a powerful form of self-criticism.
Self-criticism is a major roadblock on the path to self-realization. This is because self-criticism is self-shame, and it saturates modern life.
But this is unsurprising when we consider how shame has been embedded into the fabric of our existence. Our whole lives, we are shamed by society and the media, then encouraged to seek validation through this or that product; thus perpetuating our thriving consumerist economy. We regularly fund the companies that pour endless resources into figuring out how to make us increasingly self-conscious. Shame causes us to habitually second guess ourselves and give away our power to anyone who judges us (which is everyone). It’s no wonder so many people are unsatisfied and aching for a solution.
What has resulted is a society that’s attached to grinding each other and ourselves down for whatever’s happened in the past. Just look at celebrity culture and the gossip at the water cooler—corrosive judgement is everywhere. If we do nothing, we are guaranteed to live our days entrenched in a stress state, our bodies and minds flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. Our expectations are constantly at odds with reality.
How absolutely exhausting.
Living in the pool of our past is self-limiting. When we hold onto previous behavior and experiences, we are dragged down and drowned. The past can only serve us when used as a reflection pool. We must sincerely gaze into this water, allow the flood of emotions, and then work to forgive and learn from them. This is what was originally meant by “letting go.”
Observing our emotional attachment to the past can be incredibly empowering, but it’s a process. Letting go isn’t about eliminating the thoughts in your head; it’s about working with them, seeing how they can serve you through contemplation of why you’re having them in the first place.
The Buddha taught that allowing ourselves to fully feel emotion is the precursor to allowing ourselves to be empowered by it.
Any wise man knows that pain can be a powerful teacher. But not if we are hanging onto its coattails. Attachment drags us along, bloodying up our ability to see clearly.
It helps to have something to reach for—a plan. We need tools in this life. I call it the metaphorical toolbox—it exists in the ether and comes into the physical realm only when we open it up and use the contents. The more self-driven we are in the discovery of these tools, the more faith we place in our own ability to heal and understand, and the more successful we will be.
Instead of a hammer, we have breath work; in place of wrenches, we have compassion and a sincere yoga practice; instead of pliers, we’ve got meditation and allowance, and so on. There are endless tools in this box. We must seek and sample methods and meditations, isolate the ones that work for us, then sincerely cultivate them.
We are fallible beings. As we are meant to be. We f*ck up. This is normal. We scream and cry and judge and resent. Yet this is essential behavior. Our emotional spectrum contains endless stores of potential that can launch us into powerful transformation. However, whether we land in darkness or light depends on us. If we truly care about thriving in this lifetime, then we will do the work; we will take responsibility and ownership of our potential to be happy.
Striving to be happy is the best thing you can do for this world. Because when you feel good, you help everyone else around you feel good too. It’s actually science—hear me out.
Our hearts, all of them, emit an electromagnetic field extending up to 55 feet around us (the HeartMath Institute has proven it), and everyone within this energetic field is impacted by our current emotional state.
Think about it: is it ever an enjoyable experience being around someone bitter, rude, or angered? What about being around loving, kind, and understanding people? If we are angry, resentful people, we spread negativity. But if we are regularly meditating on compassion and understanding, we spread love and joy, peace and comfort. Considering that 100 percent of what we put out into the world comes back to us, what do you want to choose?
My heart, body, and mind reject the notion that anyone other than the Buddha himself is fully satisfied with what they see and surround themselves with. We can all make changes in how we relate to this world. But it doesn’t begin by pulling apart the tape deck of your brain in an effort to “let it go.” It begins with honest observation.
To take ownership of our discontent, resentment, fears, and pain (all forms of suffering) is the first and biggest step in waking up to the potential we walk around with every single beautiful day. We must shed self-shame and accept that we are unlimited beings. It’s letting go of the expectations that things are supposed to be perfect or look a certain way. It’s letting go of the idea that thoughts work against us, and taking control of how they can actually serve us.
Let me say right now, that I come from a well-rounded understanding of suffering. I’ve walked that road of blame, anger, depression, self-abuse, and isolation. I know pain on deep levels. I’ve inflicted pain on myself and on others, and there will always be work I need to do in that arena.
But I have also done deep healing. Every day, I meditate on compassion and understanding; every day I seek to more fully inhabit the state of being that allows me to better serve this world. I work to release my past and embrace the here and now.
There is always a way. Love truly does conquer all. But it’s not endless feather pillows.
Hard work chisels us into beautiful human beings. Laziness gives one bedsores; this is proven fact. We can find countless reasons to run away from where we are in an attempt to escape what is begging to be dealt with. We could fight what we’ve been given and dig ourselves deeper into the cement of resentment. Or, we can cultivate our life toolbox, and engage in practices that beckon grace and love into our life.
This holiday season, start your resolutions early and give yourself the greatest gift of all: loving allowance of your truest self. It is constant work. It is rewarding work. It is joyful and heart-wrenchingly beautiful work. What will you choose?
Author: Jillian Walker
Image: Tareck Raffoul
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis