New Year's has traditionally been my favorite holiday, and I know it gets a bad rap.
Apparently, it's overhyped and leaves everyone destined for disappointment with nothing but an excuse to drink too much. But it's never been that for me.
I've always found it to be representative of a fresh start and a time for reflection. And at least for one night—if you let it happen—there's a bundle of hope for the future.
It's as good a time as any to make a commitment toward improvement.
I counter that by saying that I've broken as many New Year's resolutions as the next person. But that's no reason not to try again.
In fact, the act of meditation is nothing more than focusing on the present moment, getting distracted and refocusing. It's failing and then starting again—over and over.
And that's sort of what life is—a series of efforts that are sometimes successful and other times not. And how we deal with them is what makes us who we are.
When I started writing this column almost two years ago, the intent was to experience personal growth, as well as share useful, eye-opening, engaging content about mindfulness/meditation.
I also wanted to become a better, more self-possessed person both in my practice and through interviewing subject matter experts.
I wanted to take control from my racing mind and learn how to better appreciate the present moment.
The people I've met and experiences I've had as a result of this column exceeded anything I could have envisioned.
I've made new friends and met kindred spirits.
I've found deep, unexpected peace and contentment in random, unexpected moments; and I challenged myself, which was intimidating but worth it. And I'm looking forward to what the new year might bring.
In the spirit of improvement and reflection, I'll share two things I did well this year and two things I resolve to improve upon within my mindfulness/meditation practices.
What I did well
One of the first breakthroughs I had after I started studying and practicing mindfulness/meditation was that I am not the voice in my head.
Stacey Castor, Ph.D.—a life coach and educator who has years of experience as a psychologist—told me that when she works with clients, she often tries to get them to identify this voice.
"One of the tools is just to get people to recognize this incessant chatter in the brain," she said. "The second thing I get them to realize is how fickle that voice is. It will take any side of any argument. It can turn on a dime ... and it’s mostly very negative and attempts to create this me-against-them mentality."
If I were a cartoon character, a light bulb would have gone off above my comically drawn head when I realized that I didn't have to listen to or believe all the random, insane thoughts that went through my head.
No wonder life is confusing when you have this part of yourself—the ego—that acts like that girl in middle school who just liked to start drama.
Almost without exception, when I find myself in a bad mood, it is the result of my own thoughts, which I have the power to dismiss.
Clearly, major life tragedies happen, and those can't usually be quickly overcome.
But the important part of this is acknowledging the power that we do have, especially in everyday situations.
The ability to recognize my power over my own mind has been irreplaceable and transcendent.
Similarly, although these understandings came at different times, is the idea that we shouldn't let emotions sway us too easily.
I grew up in a family that put a high value on emotional intelligence, and there's a lot to be said for that and for trusting your instinct.
But emotions can be swayed by the ego and are often driven by our thoughts. And in the past, I have put too much importance on a brief spell of melancholy and been too excited about a fleeting feeling of confidence.
So I've learned not to put too much significance on the highs and lows.
What's more important is to learn to become comfortable in any moment.
I'm far from mastering all this, but I've had success in noticing the ebb and flow of emotions and just letting them be.
I'm still struggling in two areas: self-compassion and consistency.
Self-compassion is an important component of mindfulness and meditation.
I have a great deal of compassion for others, but—maybe like most people—I don't always give myself that same care.
Whether it's human nature or the result of societal or egoic influences, I'm quietly hard on myself.
This article articulates part of the problem—it's easy to confuse self-compassion with self-indulgence.
It's difficult to find the difference between being kind to myself and being totally undisciplined.
Castor once explained this situation to me like this: How would you talk to your best friend? Would you berate her? Or would you encourage her? You wouldn't let her avoid facing reality, but you would speak to her with love and compassion.
I get it. I just find it difficult to do.
The second challenge I've faced is consistency in my practice. I've managed to maintain daily mindfulness practices and I meditate at least a couple of times a week, but my goal is to meditate for at least 10 minutes every day.
And that shouldn't be a challenging goal to achieve.
And thinking about that, the self-criticism kicks in.
But so far, the negative thoughts haven't moved me toward more consistent meditation.
So I shall work on self-compassion and give myself the kind of pep talk that'd be worthy of my best friend.
I hope this time next year I'm writing about the progress I've made in these areas.
I'm endlessly grateful for the peace and perspective that my practice has produced.
And I'm looking forward to the rest of the journey.
May you improve, too, and may you find peace on your personal path.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.