Looking Forward, with care
"Life is not perfect. It never will be. You just have to make the very best of it, and you have to open your heart to what the world can show you; and sometimes it's terrifying and sometimes it's incredibly beautiful, and I'll take both, thanks"- Graham Nash
2021 is quickly drawing to a close, and for many of us, we are grateful to be moving past a deeply challenging year. At the same time, the end of this year draws many parallels to the close of 2020, where we all looked so eagerly forward to the end of a year that had brought unprecedented challenges for individuals and couples within my practice and for our country and the world as a whole.
And then 2021 came forward with everyone so excited to leave the past behind and unprepared in many ways for the continuation of so many challenges, and the dawn of new, unexpected ones. Now, as 2022 meets us in just a couple of weeks, there is a shared caution to look forward or set any expectations for what comes in the new year. Yet, taking time to reflect on the growth and learning in the last twelve months, as well as the possibilities in setting plans for what comes next is rich in opportunity for new understanding, integration and expansion.
We have little control over the pandemic, the country's political choices and many other external realities impacting our lives. We do have control over how we interact with all of these and how we work to bring as much health and connection within ourselves and our relationships. The brilliant comedian Tig Notaro recently spoke on a podcast about turning to her partner and asking, "If this is it, if this is what our life is going to be like from now on, How do we find joy in this life?**." I have been reflecting on this question since I heard it and encouraging my clients to do the same. If the pandemic in some form is here to stay, how do we create joy and fulfillment within these restricted times? If our government continues to make and maintain policies that perpetuate injustice within our country, what can I do to help those less fortunate and privileged than I am? And to the more personal level, if this is my circumstance, what can I do each day to grow and learn and create happiness for myself? If this is my relationship and my partner, what can I do to add joy and meaning to our home and our life together?
For the last two (200?!) years of this pandemic, we have been caught in a cycle of placing our locus of control outside ourselves, waiting for social distancing and mask mandates to change our reality. For those couples in my practice, before and after this pandemic, they often look to their partner to make changes before they can be happy (stop chewing loudly, stop drinking, stop yelling...). Individuals wait for their dream job, for the love of their life to come along, for the new house, new puppy, new medication to take hold before their happiness can begin.
But these are missed opportunities. As we know, no one guarantees anyone's happiness. There is no external reality that promises joy or fulfillment. And there are very few outside influence that can take it all away, without us participating in that process. While the challenging realities are, in fact, challenges that impact our emotional lives, we do have a choice in how much we allow these to determine the rest of our happiness. As we reflect on 2021, I encourage all of us to examine how we participated in the reduction of pleasure in our own lives.
I know I spent too much time resisting the technologies I found myself reliant upon to do my job, and blamed the unhappiness in my life on 'being forced' into telehealth. While I still miss in person therapy and look SO forward to shutting my zoom link as soon as possible, letting go of of this resistance and dislike for online therapy has created more room for enjoyment of it, and acknowledgement of the freedom it allows. What can you see that you did (or didn't do) in limiting your own happiness or in participating in your own struggle? You will find freedom in these answers, as well as the opportunity for growth and the creation of joy.
And looking forward to 2022, what plans for growth and expansion can you make, without dependence on circumstances changing? While you may not be able to plan that world tour just yet, what adventures (internal or external) would bring new learning? Within your family and relationships, what commitment can you make toward putting good in? Each day we have choices in how to view and interact with the realities around us. As we look toward the new year, without setting any crazy resolutions, what intentions can you make toward building a more expansive and joyful life within what is already present? Looking forward, with care, creates possibilities and hope for the creation of something new, even within the same surroundings.
I wish you and your families safe, healthy and happy holidays. May we all reflect on the good fortune we have been granted, and send what we can to those less fortunate than ourselves. I hope to see you all soon. With love, Carolyn
**a summary of what she said and not Tig's actual words on the brilliant podcast iWeigh with Jameela Jamil.