The last couple of years I printed my holiday letter on my card, but this year I was reluctant to write a Christmas letter. There was plenty to be thankful for, yet I still felt empty and anxious. The beginning of 2012 started with ambitiousness and promise but came to a screeching halt in September when school started. I only achieved one of the three goals I had set for myself. Although completing my first half-marathon was a grand accomplishment, I just kept thinking about the things unaccomplished.
Instead, I ordered a photo card printed with one simple quote from Dr. Seuss.
“Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.”
I’m not sure if I chose the quote as a reminder to others or for myself, but by the time the cards were delivered, The Hare had convinced me to write something. Although it ended up only being a list of family events, shaped as a Christmas Tree, it was proof there was much to smile about in 2012. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. I still felt a sense of loss at the end of the year, especially since I hadn’t set any real goals for the new year. There was no plan moving forward, nothing pushing me to better myself, only the same daily routine of taking care of my family and home.
I’ve been reading a book by Gregor Maehle called Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy. It is kind of a slow read because it requires so much attention. Many times I find myself re-reading sections, trying to really absorb its content. But reading it has made me crave the yoga studio, and I didn’t realize how much I missed the mat until I stepped inside the familiar building yesterday. It was a weird mixture of relief and anxiety stretching out my naked toes. Without saying a word, I felt oddly transparent in a room full of people I didn’t know, yet not strangers.
With eyes closed, I listened to a gentle voice asking us to find a word, a mantra, for the new year and meditate on that for a few minutes. My mind chaotically buzzed, as frustrating reminders of the year’s many disappointments and losses swarmed. Then I remembered a passage from Maehle’s book and began breathing with purpose.
“The mind can be likened to a lake. If thought waves appear, the surface of the lake is disturbed and ripples appear. Looking into the water you can see only a distorted representation of your appearance. This distortion is what we constantly see, and it is the reason we don’t know our true selves. This leads to suffering and ignorance. When the thought waves have subsided and the surface of the lake of the mind becomes still for the first time, we can see who we really are. The mind is completely clear and, as a result, we can achieve identity with the object it is directed at.” – page 27, Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy
I stopped thinking for a moment, let the ripples subside. I listened to my heart beat and the room’s rush of rhythmic breathing. I searched my internal darkness for a word, a mantra, to calm the spirit.
The word was joy. I heard it over and over with each breath. I saw its reflection in my mind with images of my loving husband, beautiful children, and healthy parents. I felt it again in waves remembering the moments crossing finish lines and reaching milestones. I had forgotten the sound of joy in unexpected laughter and poetic music. Or the sweet smell of joy in puppy kisses and freshly bathed children. I’ve tasted joy in shared meals with friends and afternoons of baking chocolate chip cookies with my family. For a moment, I had allowed myself to choose loss over achievement. Sorrow over joy.
Instead, I will try to choose joy this year, in all things.