Another new year, another set of resolutions. The centuries-old tradition of New Year resolutions dates back to the time of the ancient Babylonians. They would make promises to their gods to repay their debts or return borrowed objects and in return, the gods would bequeath favor and blessings upon them throughout the year to come. The promises of the Babylonians served as a precursor, a primitive model, for the ever-so-popular New Year’s resolutions. Despite its early origins, resolutions are continually made every New Year with the anticipation of reaching goals, achieving success and advancing towards the best version of ourselves. I think it is safe to say that the past year of 2020 was less than desirable in more ways than one and many of us are looking towards the upcoming year with the greatest of hope. So as resolutions are being formulated and carefully thought about, might I recommend adding one more to the list? Some of the most common resolutions we hear is eating better, reaching the ideal weight/physic, making more money, traveling or doing more fun things. While these are all lofty goals, the one that I believe is missing is that of working on one’s mental wellness. Now more than ever, mental health has shown to be a vital component of one’s overall health and can be accomplished in several different practical ways.
The practice of meditation is no new practice; however, it has received greater attention in recent years, becoming more and more mainstream. Continued recognition of its benefits has turned this “fad” into a regularly recommended practice to achieve improved mental health. As research is collected, common results show that those who practice mediation experience a reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, even pain with an increase in focus, clarity, calmness and happiness. There is no one way to practice meditation, there are many different forms and each with a different focus. I would like to narrow it down to mindfulness meditation. To be mindful means bringing your focus on what’s happening in the present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, but not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by any particular thought or our surroundings. While there’s a specific focus, this practice can look differently with every person. You may choose to sit, stand, walk or merge your meditation with activities such as yoga. The length of your meditation can be however long or short you feel comfortable with. There are many different places you can find classes, via online or in person. The number of meditation apps are limitless, all you have to do is find one you enjoy. (One that I particularly enjoy is the Headspace app.) YouTube is a black hole of videos and can provide you many options as well. There may also be studios in your area that provide meditation classes in person, you only need to visit google or yelp to find one near you. It can be very helpful having a guided meditation, especially when you are starting out. When you do find the time to practice mindfulness meditation, know that it isn’t about simply letting your mind wander, nor does it require you to empty your mind. Rather, it involves paying attention to the present, “the here and now” if you will. Paying attention to any thoughts, emotions or sensations going through you without becoming fixated or gripping on to anything. This is something that I have enjoyed doing and have experienced many of the benefits of practicing meditation regularly.
Being alone is often given a negative connotation. Someone alone can be perceived as a loner, anti-social, reject or just plain weird. In a world where the number of friends or followers is highly coveted, being on your own is a far cry from what is considered normal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to abandon all friendships and relationships and live a life of being alone. Rather, I believe that we need to find a happy medium between others and self. The year of 2020 has proved most interesting as many people found themselves cut off from the ones they love and were forced to spend time with themselves for a change. What I propose is a continuation of time spent alone or a time of solitude. Dutch priest, Henry Nowen, spoke on the importance of solitude, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter- the struggle against the compulsions of the false self…in solitude I get rid of my scaffolding.” Through solitude, we are able to leave behind our hyper-connected world and instead connect with ourselves.
You most likely have been asked at some point in your life, “Are you an introvert or an extrovert?” It is quite possible to be both. For example, I consider myself an introverted extrovert. While I love being with friends, going to parties or large gatherings, meeting new people and talking with people, there is a part of me that needs time alone. My solitude is something that I crave and quite literally need, without it I begin to feel burnt out. Activist, Parker Palmer describes burn out well as he says, “Burnout in my experience results from trying to give out what you do not possess. Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have; it merely revels the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.” I truly believe taking time away and simply being with yourself allows you to recharge and reset yourself and your mind so that you have more give without facing burn out.
The word resolve is defined as, to come to a definite or earnest decision about, determine to do something. I encourage you as we go into another year, resolve to commit more time to your mental health. With the help of mindfulness meditation and solitude, you allow yourself to be filled up which can then permeate into all facets of your life.
And that’s the dirt!