Stop Resisting Your Life and Embrace ALL of Your Life
by Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal
Christmas has always been tough. I must have lived in some previous time when Christmas was truly centered on Christ, celebrating the wonder and mystery of his birth, and I mean truly celebrating. But without that higher focus, Christmas throws you into a materialistic frenzy with folks you may well be related to, but don't see very often. Without the religious pageant, all the focus (and pressure) seems to be about how you all get along. But I have always loved New Years. I remember as a child, joyously singing "Auld Lang Syne" without a clue what the words really meant and asking my friends excitedly what their resolutions were going to be.
Until recently, I always thought of a New Year's resolution as just one thing I promise to change, like, "I resolve to lose the five pounds that formed around my waist between Thanksgiving and Christmas." But something has happened to me to change all that. Most of us know that the person we think we are is only a small part of who we truly are-others (particularly my wife!) let me know that all the time. Why is it we comfortably class our self as a creative, easy going, and pretty considerate person, but really don't want to mention also our bad temper or tendency to drink? When T.S. Eliot came face to face with all the things about himself that he had chosen not to own, he said, "How unpleasant, to meet Mr. Eliot." That is why I have come to see New Year's as a time to embrace the whole of life and all that has happened, both what we love and what we would rather run away from.
This is not to say that a new, inclusive attitude can solve all problems life has dealt us. Many have suffered severe catastrophes. One has only to think of those who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and all their possessions in Hurricane Katrina to know that these major changes require real support and intervention, not just changes of heart. But for all events that have come about from bad luck and tough circumstances, here are three ways how to wake up to yourself and embrace your whole life:
- Celebrate what you have and what you are.
One of the greatest diseases of modern life is comparing what we wish we had with what we presently have got. A friend of mine told me recently how she had spent years resenting that she had had to start her own business while many of her friends were able to spend free hours playing tennis and going on after school hikes with their kids. She would burn with jealousy and take her anger out on her husband. Then one day, she was watching a movie where one of the characters said, "Why not try to love what you hate about your life?" Suddenly she saw that her job was enormously rewarding and her time with her family precious; and that she had been running it all down needlessly. This New Years, she is going to be celebrating, not resenting, the wonderful job and close family that has been hers all the time.
- It happened for a reason.
Life doesn't always make sense, and things that happen can seem unfair. Let me give you an example from my own life. Some years back, I was a successful international seminar leader, and what I said changed lives. Then one day I made a stupid mistake and got in severe legal trouble. In a surprisingly short time, I lost my job, my place of residence, and all but a very few of my friends. But the very anguish and failure I felt compelled me to deal with parts of myself that were scared, hidden, and previously afraid to come out. It took some courage, but I stopped pressing these hidden parts down and began to welcome all of me aboard my life, which is now infinitely richer. So if this is the year you lost your job or your relationship or got in a bad car wreck, you will doubtless meet the same scared, paralyzed inner child that I did. But that is a precious gift, because now you can learn to love that very vulnerable part of yourself while responding wisely and maturely to your new circumstances. Every event, no matter how harsh, is really an opportunity for greater awareness and wisdom. So don't try to cover over serious mistakes or hide from hard lessons life has thrown at you. Instead, celebrate your ability to learn from all of them, passing with courage to more joy, love, and personal achievement than you ever thought could be yours.
- This year, learn to love yourself.
If you want to bring all parts of you on board and live life with depth of feeling, make time for yourself. With the incessant, ever faster demands of work, important parts of ourselves get lost and life just lives us. But when we start doing simple favors for ourselves, the shy, inner layers wounded by past hurt and pain feel more free to come out. This makes us whole and alive. So this year, instead of rushing from task to task and doing what others expect from you, take time to watch the brilliant red sunset, or to see that movie you have been aching to go to. Let us resolve this New Year to shift our perception of who we are and make caring for our self--not just doing what we have to--an important part of our daily routine. We owe it to ourselves to find a path through all obstacles life has thrown before us and begin the work of self care and self healing. Then we will see there is no greater miracle this New Year has given us than the face we see in the mirror.
Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran's edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an international workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those looking for end of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of twelve step programs. Visit Stephen's work at www.directawakenings.com.
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