Louisa W. Foster, Psy.D., RDT
This time of year always lends itself to contemplation. The change of seasons, watching the world slow down and go dormant, the preparation for the burst of creation that will follow in the spring... each presents us with an opportunity for reflection as we prepare for our own "birthing" in the New Year.
For me, this is especially true as I have a holiday birthday, yet another natural pause during which we acknowledge the passing of time and plant the seeds of intent for the coming year.
As I reflect over the past year, with both its joyful successes and its challenging moments of learning, I am mindful of something that I read several months ago:
"You are under no obligation to be who you've always been."
As someone who prides herself on being able to color outside the lines, take risks and think outside the box, I find this simple phrase quite liberating. "I am under no obligation to be who I've always been."
From the Buddhist perspective, we recognize in these words, the transient and ephemeral nature of self-or, as we've discussed many times in our sitting groups, "there is no there, there." Yet, as human beings, we are hard wired to look for some sense of constancy of self to help define us, to make an uncertain world seem more predictable and safe, by asserting "This is who I am."
That fixed sense of self, understood more psychologically, can be seen as schemas, or patterns of responses, formed through experience and learning, through direct and indirect interactions with one another and the world. But, sometimes, perhaps even often, our understanding of self, as mediated through our interpretation of the world, is just plain wrong.
Some of the beliefs we hold about ourselves are based on faulty learning and negative messages from others, or painful experiences that we try to protect ourselves from in the future. In abiding by these fixed, and often damaging beliefs, (frequently even when there is convincing evidence to the contrary), we hinder our ability to experience the fullness of who we truly are. Instead, we become trapped in the twisted mirror of who we think we are.
What if, as we look ahead to 2018, we entertain the notion that we, like all things, are in a constant state of creation, evolution and discovery? What if the limits that we have placed on our thinking, our behavior, and our capacity to be fully human, are shackles to which we already hold the key?
Pema Chodron often extolls the virtues of doing the non-habitual-a bit of a neurological reset, if you will. Perhaps, during this time of reflection and contemplation, we might consider our own reset. Maybe we can express confidence in the knowledge that we are so much more than we confine ourselves to being.
Just because I have never been able to maintain a consistent meditation practice in the past, or get up early for a morning run, suggests nothing about who I am now, or what I am capable of today. My history of trauma, failed relationships, or addiction does not need to inform my future. My tomorrow does not need to be held hostage by the mistakes, misjudgments, or decisions of the past. I am under no obligation to continue to be that person.
We are capable of so many great and beautiful things. We are not required to maintain some past self who failed at living a healthy lifestyle, dismissed or mistreated others, or watered the seeds of jealousy and greed-even if we have done so frequently in the past.
If we are dissatisfied with our view of ourselves and how we have lived our lives up to this point, we are under no obligation to continue to engage in those same limiting beliefs and behaviors. At any moment, we may pause and determine whom we choose to be from this moment forward and, in that sacred pause, become the best of what we have to offer the world.