Looking forward in times of uncertainty
Over the past month or so, I’ve observed a lot of commentary about how 2020 has been such a difficult year and what a relief it will be to see the end of it and welcome 2021. I myself have noticed that my mind tends to dream about the many things I may be able to do this year that were prohibited last year. I’ve also been contemplating whether we may be creating an unrealistic expectation for what 2021 will bring. I empathise with the millions of people who have suffered significantly as a consequence of the COVID19 pandemic and I believe it’s important that we take time to sit, contemplate and acknowledge the loss and grief that has occurred around the world over the past 12 months. I’ve just finished reading a beautiful book, “When things fall apart: heart advice for difficult times” by Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, and she offers the Tonglen practice as a practical method for connecting with suffering and awakening compassion for ourselves and others. The practice can be performed at any time we feel overwhelmed by feelings of suffering; it involves breathing in the suffering of another that we wish to alleviate, then breathing out joy and peace as a way of relieving that suffering.
I also feel that in many ways, 2020 has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on our habits, the way we live and the potential we have for making change that previously seemed difficult or even impossible. To disregard these important shifts and try to return to the way things were seems naïve and wasteful. I see this as our chance to focus our attention on what we have learnt during the past 12 months and get inquisitive about how we can utilise these new ways of being to step into 2021 with a sense of curiosity and openness that will allow us to live wisely and with compassion.
Personally, 2020 has revealed some important truths to me that I intend to keep in my consciousness as part of my daily rituals during the coming 12 months. Firstly, my highest priority is my health and the health of my family. Without our health, we are limited in how we can participate in life. Proactively cultivating a healthy body, mind and spirit is essential if I am to life a life of joy and purpose. My healthy habits include daily yoga, meditation, healthy nutrition, adequate water intake, plenty of sleep, time in nature, a positive mindset and meaningful social connection with my loved ones. I am very grateful that I have persisted with developing these habits over the years such that they have become a part of my normal routine (except perhaps drinking enough water!) and consequently I can focus my energy on cultivating new habits that deepen my experience of life.
The second truth that has become clear to me in 2020 is that plans are simply that; they can always be changed, right up to the last minute. As someone who has always been very committed to my word and hates cancelling on people, this year has taught me that when there is a reason to cancel or reschedule, then it’s ok to do so. Related to this truth is the fact that it’s ok to say “no” to an invitation to attend an event or participate in a project, even if you feel that it would be a great opportunity or lots of fun. We all need to safeguard some time for ourselves and our family. This one has been quite liberating for me, as I have previously struggled with declining to get involved with projects that align with my values. The reality is, however, if we say yes to every invitation, we lose out on something even more important. Consequently, my intention for 2021 is to be mindful about what I commit to and ensure I have protected time for myself and my loved ones.
The third truth that has come into my awareness is that suffering is inevitable, however we have a choice as to the perspective we take on our suffering. This year, the pandemic has created a situation where everyone on Earth is suffering together for the same reason. Some have suffered more than others, however each of us has been affected by the impact of changing our behaviours for ourselves, our families and the world at large. In response to this suffering, there has been a range of different perspectives and consequent actions that individuals and organisations have chosen to take. These perspectives have included anxiety, anger, sadness and compassion for the suffering we are all going through. Although we have seen a devastating number of deaths and illness as a result of COVID19, we have also witnessed examples of unified efforts to enact strategies in an attempt to relieve our suffering. We have seen footage of hospital staff chanting in corridors and musicians playing heart-warming music on their balconies for their neighbours to hear. We have also observed our politicians take definitive action to protect Australians by closing our borders and providing places for returned travellers to quarantine. These acts of generosity, kindness and advocacy demonstrate that despite our suffering, we all have the capacity to support one another and act in ways that benefit the greater good.
The fourth truth that I have held close to my heart is the power of gratitude. This year, my daily practice of reflecting on at least one thing that I am grateful for and sharing this with a friend via SMS has been a wonderful antidote to the challenges and difficulties that have arisen. I have also encouraged my family, patients and students to cultivate this practice of gratitude as a way of moving their perspective from one of deficiency to one of abundance. I have had gratitude for the many simple blessings that I have received throughout the day, including a bed to sleep in, a cuddle with a loved one, a meal that has been prepared for me, or a random act of kindness from a stranger. Gratitude has the capacity to build our positivity muscles and strengthen our ability to bounce back from adversity. As a result, I intend to continue my daily gratitude practice into 2021 and beyond. I highly recommend this practice to anyone wishing to cultivate more joy and greater wellbeing in their life.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge the challenges we have all faced during 2020 and to breathe in the suffering that continues to exist throughout the world. As I breathe out, I send love, happiness, strength and good health to all beings, wishing that each of us may experience safety, connection, kindness and gratitude as we move through the next 12 months.