You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyoneDavid Whyte
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
Today is December 29, 2019. Another day. Another year. The ending of our calendar year has always held a special magic for me. Though we still count hours, minutes, and seconds in the same way, there is something different about the end of the year. The convergence of days toward a tipping point into a new bucket of measurement – a newly numbered set of months called a year – creates a fascinating break-point in our lives. A natural end followed by another beginning. An arrival and a departure marked by the relentless movement of our clocks.
At this edge once again, we take stock of where we are and look forward to what might be. Sharpening the edge are the Holidays themselves. Our end-of-year collection of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve bring joy, stress, contemplation, fear, longing, and anticipation in an impossibly tangled matrix of emotion and energy. There really is nothing like it. Is there any other season which we long for and dread so completely as this collection of moments crushing into the final days of our calendar year?
And the questions. Always the questions. What lies ahead? What just happened? Will I do better next year? Am I capable of being better? Why do these Holidays foster such complex emotions? Am I meant for something more? Why am I here, in this place, asking the same questions again?
If we stepped outside of ourselves for a few weeks at this time of year and observed our life, we’d likely scratch our head. What the hell am I doing? Why am I so loving, petty, kind, mean, caring, judgmental, tender, impatient, hopeful, depressed, happy, and sad in so many moments bringing my year to an end? What might we say to that person we see amid all of the complexity of a season that symbolizes a microcosm of the great crucible we call life?
Crucible. It is a good word. Google tells us that a crucible is “a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.” Walking through the fires of our lives, we become something new; whether we want to or not. Walking through the crucible of our end-of-year traditions, we become something else; whether we want to or not. Most of us, simply let those fires form us, allowing ourselves to be poured into a random mold, barely even pushing against that thing we are becoming along the way.
Cramped and Narrow
The truth of it is that we, nearly universally, sell ourselves short. And not just that. We allow ourselves to be sold short. Outside of the bravado and bluster of social media, almost any authentic conversation will reveal a person struggling; struggling with self, struggling with direction, struggling with trials, struggling with family, struggling with career, struggling with self, struggling. Most of that struggle centers on purpose and expectation. A frustrating disconnect between wondering what we should be doing and what we hoped our life would be. In between, we almost always position ourselves as less and/or fall victim to unmet expectations. We slip into acceptance of a cramped and narrow definition of who we are and what we can expect from our life.
Now is a very good time to consider the conversations you are having with yourself and the world around you. Is it hard to muster a hopeful disposition? Is it easy to rail against the annoying inconveniences or the cruel burdens the world throws against you? Good or bad, the seed of what’s next is the slightest of thoughts. The roots will run deeply very quickly once we start layering additional thoughts on top. What are you planting in that fertile ground within?
Do you believe in secrets? What about magic? Are there unseen things happening in and around your life? What is still there, waiting for you to discover it? What would you do if you learned that the answers to your questions are hiding in plain sight?
When we aim to survive, that is where we arrive. When we expect bad things, they find us. When we choose joy, it appears. When we embrace gratitude, life delivers more for which to be grateful. We intuit these truths but still struggle to act upon that awareness. We’ve forgotten that actualizing the virtues of our existence require constant effort. We must be persistently vigilant and continue to choose the good and the true. To let our guard down is to risk a dark detour from where we are supposed to arrive.
Ultimately, we are creatures of habit. We are most comfortable in the warm blanket of familiarity – even if it is misery. Once we’ve put ourselves on the path, we don’t want to veer off of it. The known is so much easier for us. We are all risk averse and the greatest risk we can imagine is the unknown. Even if we are inches from hopeful salvation, we will choose to drown in our own hopelessness rather than walk into the dark, unknowable waters of what might be. Sound ridiculous? Spend a week counting how many times you say or think “I can’t,” “I shouldn’t,” “It won’t work,” “but…” or “I’m not…” We never know how close we were until it’s too late.
For 2020, don’t worry about resolutions. Don’t spend your time concerned with being better – your idea of better is probably not enough. Don’t aim for incremental improvements. Next year, turn your attention to disrupting the old habits. Break out of the ruts that feel comfortable and open yourself to new pathways lying beyond. You don’t need to find comfort in new ruts. You need to detach from your fetters and find an expectation for your life that makes you a bit uncomfortable.
If you feel like the challenge above is too big or too abstract, then ask yourself: what did your perfect life look like when you were 10, 13, or 17? Who did you plan to become before you discovered all of the people you’d never be? If money, cars, or houses define that vision, you’re still aiming too low. You’ll never make a difference by having more stuff and you won’t be happy until you make more of a difference. The secrets are hiding in plain sight. Choose to see them for what they are and see yourself for who you might be. Anyone or anything that does not bring you alive is too small for you.