Compassionate Resolutions for a Healthy 2016

Japanese PotteryIt’s one week into 2016, which means my practice is back into full-swing.  People often meet the new year with exuberance, ready to let their old selves go as they look forward to the future.

Resolutions often center around making better health choices or stopping bad habits.  Sometimes, people resolve to stop procrastinating, follow their passions and complete the projects they have been wanting to complete for years.  These are all worthy aspirations, which I fully support.  At the same time, I think it is important to be mindful of our original intent for making the resolutions.  Are we making them from a place of “shoulds,” or from a place of wanting to experience a healthier, fuller life?

A “should” is an external motivation.  We “should” be more productive.  We “should” live in the present.  We “should” lose weight, make more money, be more compassionate… Where do these messages come from?  Parents?  Society?  Intimate partners?  It may be a combination of all of the above.  Usually, the people who give us these messages are well-intentioned. They may even be right, a lot of the time.  For some people, setting some of the above goals is exactly what they need.  At the same time, external motivation only takes us so far.  If we are not, to a certain extent, making resolutions for ourselves, then we will start to resent the resolutions, and maybe even the people who we made the resolutions for.

Let’s just say that our doctor has told us that we must get more exercise and eat less sugar.  OK. This is medical advice, which is usually sound.  How do we receive this advice?  Many people hear it with shame.  If we have ever been shamed for having a sugar addiction or a few extra pounds, this may bring up our worst fears about ourselves.  We may force ourselves into a strict diet or exercise routine for a few days, or maybe a few months, but it doesn’t stick.  Before we know it, we’re back to eating entire pints of ice cream, not because our body wants them, but because they give us familiar comfort.  Then, we find ourselves in the shame spiral again, because we “failed.”

It is important to interrupt the shame spiral before it starts.  Often, this can be done with a simple distraction or a small accomplishment.  This might look like a short walk around the block, to get the body moving.  It may not burn off the calories from an entire pint of ice cream, but it will give us some fresh air and much-needed sunlight during the dark winter months.  That helps put us in better spirits, so that the next pint of ice cream seems much less important the next time we see it at the store.

There is another level of healing, beyond these coping strategies.  This has to do with turning resolutions into an act of self-care.  It means that we must love the person who needs to lose weight, rather than withholding love from ourselves until the weight is gone.  If we do not love ourselves, then attaining our health goals will never be enough.  There will always be a voice inside our head that says “I will love myself when _________.”

We cannot love the person who were are without loving the person who we were.  Even if we have struggled with addictions, impulsive behavior or self-destructive tendencies in the past, it is important to keep one important thing in mind:  all of us, at any given time, are doing the best we can with the coping skills that we have available.  In that moment when we made an unhealthy choice, we may not have seen a better option.  That does not mean that we are not responsible for our choices in the future, or that we do not owe an apology to those we may have hurt.  At the same time, it is important to have some compassion as we tell ourselves:  “I choose a better life.”

In the throws of deep depression, that pint of ice cream may have seemed like the only thing between us and despair.  So, of course we chose the ice cream.  There is something to be said for honoring the wisdom of our minds, for finding a way to survive that moment when our world seemed to be crashing down.  That does not mean that we have to choose the ice cream in the future.  We can find better strategies…but can we not love ourselves for surviving, and show some compassion for our past selves, in all the  desperation we felt? Sometimes it is easier to have compassion for others, when we hear about their struggles.  Do we not deserve at least as much understanding as we give to other people?

I chose to post an image of Japanese Kintsugi, cracked pottery which has been repaired with gold.  I find it beautiful and inspirational. Note that the pottery artist does not throw away the pot, and simply make a new one.  They save it and lovingly repair it with precious metal.  Can we not do that for ourselves, rather than trying to throw our old selves away and start from scratch?  Starting from scratch is impossible anyway.  We don’t get a new person when we get a new year.  You have one self, one body and one life to live.  So, rather than denying who we are for some imaginary person who we have not become, let’s start by appreciating our broken pieces as opportunities to create beauty.

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