At this time of year, you may be feeling this strange sensation, a kind of pressure to be a new-and-improved version of yourself. It's a January tradition, even if it's subtly expressed, to want a fresh start. And it can feel freeing to recognize the possibilities that seem to newly be waiting for us when a new year begins.
However, sometimes the impulse for a fresh start is also an abandonment of who we are now, as if last year's self was somehow deficient, and the new year self has the opportunity to finally "fix" all the things that are "broken." As you may already know, this mindset is usually not helpful because it perpetuates the inner critic's perspective; the idea that there's something wrong with you and that you need to fix it in order to be ok or to be loved.
As an alternative and antidote
to any pressure you may feel toward self-improvement, you can experiment with appreciating what is already a part of you and your life right now. There are several ways to do that.
Remember Your Resources
At the beginning of many groups and workshops, I encourage attendees to do remember the beings in their life that are or have been supportive. You can do this any time you need to be reminded of who nourishes you. Just take a moment to consider the people you know personally, such as friends, family, teachers and mentors, who inspire and encourage you. This could be people you know through their work or art, such as activists, artists, writers, musicians, spiritual figures or anyone whose story has helped you feel a sense of belonging. You might think about animals ~ pets or particular animals that you feel an affinity for.
Compassionate Body Scan Meditation
This meditation comes from the Mindful Self-Compassion course, and you can listen to a guided version here
. If you'd like to do it on your own, you'll want to find a comfortable position; you may even want to lie down. The main intention here is to bring warm attention and appreciation to each part of your body, beginning at the toes of your left foot.
It's really easy to forget how powerful our bodies are ~ all the steps that our feet have taken, all the words that our mouths have spoken, all the music that our ears have allowed us to hear. Not to mention all the processes of breathing, digestion and circulation that go on 24 hours a day. It's quite amazing when you take a moment to recognize all our bodies do, sometimes without any effort on our part whatsoever.
If any judgments or difficult feelings arise about certain parts of your body, you can experiment with placing your hand there as an expression of your intention to be kind, even if you feel like you don't know how. If an area is too painful to stay with, you can move on to another part, so that the experience can be as easeful as possible.
Sense and Savor Walk
This is another practice from MSC, and it's one of the most universally loved practices I teach. It's part of the half-day retreat, and the instruction is to engage all of your senses and allow yourself to notice all the things that you like. You can do this for five minutes or 15 minutes, or more.
It's important to take your time and let yourself fully absorb and really experience each of the things that engages your senses.
See how fully you can take in each beautiful thing. And what "beautiful" is, is totally up to you. I find that my eye is often drawn to things that are not conventionally beautiful ~ a leaf that an insect has tatted into a kind of lace, for example.
Also, let yourself really take in and stay with each thing; perhaps feeling its texture and temperature. For this time, there's nothing else you need to do except experience the things that delight your senses and attention. There's nothing to think or strategize about; no way to lose.
I hope these three practices help you come back to your present-moment experience and remember all that it offers you. It's so easy to forget and to believe that we have to become someone else in order to get what we need.