Photo by Sushobhan Badhai

Bye to the old, hi to the new

How can we live in the here and the now when we are preoccupied with regrets about the past, or fears of the future? It often requires a shift in our thinking.

This New Year’s morning I was taking a walk in the woods with my husband. The weather was nice, the sun was shining a bit and the wind was not so heavy anymore. Looking around I suddenly noticed the beauty of some green leaves. They were strong and healthy and I suddenly saw their perfection. Then I also saw the dead leaves that were either still hanging on their trees or were lying on the ground. And it occurred to me that that too was perfection. The young and the fresh as well as the old and dying. The old dead leaves were contributing to the soil in which the trees and the plants were growing. The young fresh leaves would not be there if it wasn’t for the old dead leaves. I was suddenly aware of the circle of life.

Leading up to New Year’s Eve many people evaluate the year. What happened? What went wrong, what went right? Often people are glad to leave behind a difficult year, and there are hopes that the next year will be better. Evaluation can be a good thing. We learn from our experiences and we can see which choices brought us success and which choices brought us failure and pain. But let it be an evaluation and not an obsession. Can we let go?

Releasing the old without regret or anger

Are there things of the past you are holding on to and have difficulty letting go of? Maybe you still hold regrets about things you did or didn’t do, or the choices you made. Maybe you are still angry with people about things they did to you. Maybe you are still disappointed by something.

The things you are holding on to prevent you from being in the here and the now. They drag you back into the past. They keep you trapped in negative thinking. And negative thinking is suffering.

There is a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh: “No mud, no lotus”. This needs a bit of an explanation. The lotus is a beautiful flower, but it can only grow in the mud. Without the ugly and dirty mud, there can’t be a beautiful lotus. It is the same with beautiful personality traits like compassion, understanding, courage, acceptance. These traits are developed and can grow because of a certain amount of mud, of suffering. When life gets too comfortable, we often can’t find the motivation to make these big jumps in our development. But it is the growth that we experience which gives us a great amount of joy. And that contributes to the joy of other people. The people we admire the most because of these beautiful traits have often experienced a lot of mud, and they were able to turn that into lotuses. Look at people like Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou or Thich Nhat Hanh.

Of course we also feel joy sometimes without such growth. We all know the experience of a beautiful view, the birth of a baby or a successful moment. But staying on the same level of personal development can make life a bit boring. The same things happen over and over again, the same suffering happens over and over again as well. It will even intensify, because circumstances will inevitably change and we will have to evolve if we like it or not. Unless we are able to stay in the here and the now, go with the flow, with what the current situation asks of us, embrace change without fear, we sometimes need a kick in the butt to evolve.

Arriving at a new level of personal development gives so much joy! This joy can only be felt so intensely because of the contrast with a darker situation. How often are we aware that we have no headache. That our body feels fine? When all is well, we hardly notice that. But when we have suffered from a headache and then it is over, we are so happy! We appreciate so much that we have a clear and pain-free head. It is the same with joy. We are tempted to think that if we have the experiences that gave rise to some joy, all the time, that life would be so much better. But if that would be the case, we wouldn’t even notice it. It would be business as usual. We need the mud to experience the lotus.

People are always looking for more joy. We want more and better. We are never satisfied for long. It is never enough. But what if we could look back and see how we have evolved over the years. And how our suffering has contributed to that. Then we can thank the mud for all the gifts it has given us. We can become aware of the beautiful traits we have gained because of the mud. The traits that have increased the joy in our own lives and those of others. And we can be more in peace with the mud we are still experiencing because of the gifts we will receive from it later. We can forgive ourselves and others.

Looking at the mud we have a choice. And the choice will determine the happiness we can experience in the here and the now. Will we judge the mud for giving us a hard time, or will we thank the mud for the growth and the joy we were able to experience because of it?

Once we have been able to look at our painful experiences with gratitude, we can let them go without regret. We are free.

Welcoming the new without fear

So much for letting go of the past. But what about fear of the future? Fear is a very powerful, strong, negative force. When I look deeply into my own fear it usually boils down to the belief that I will not have the resources, the luck, the ability, the courage to deal with a situation well.

If we look even more deeply, we can see that our energy contracts when we are in fear. We are closing down. Zooming in on the situation. We are looking for all the experiences we have gained in the past to solve this problem. Sometimes the problem can indeed be solved by our past experiences, by knowledge we gained in the past. We will probably feel able to deal with the situation and will not experience much fear. But sometimes we need more, and all the knowledge of the past will not be sufficient. That is when real fear kicks in.

Look on the other hand at situations where we have experienced creativity, great ideas, flow. Were we in fear? No! Was our energy contracted? No? We were open, our mind was open, we were relaxed and not only aware of the topic we were dealing with, but of a larger context.

So, as counter intuïtive as it might seem, when we experience fear and it is not a matter of immediate survival (in such a case the fear, the contraction and the acute focus on the problem serves a purpose), we can practice relaxing, breathing, opening and softening. We can practice creating the right circumstances for creativity and insight to arise, which will guide us through the problem with more ease.

The more we practice this opening, this relaxing and breathing when new, scary, difficult situations arise, the more we learn to trust that we indeed have access to that creativity, to that courage. That we are able. And if we aren’t able at the physical level, we can still be able at the emotional level. By being alright with failure. By being alright with weakness. By being alright with sadness. That too will pass.

If we feel able to survive a situation on the emotional level, we can let go of the future. When we are able to let go of (be at peace with) the past and the future, we can be free. We can truly live in the here and the now and enjoy the present moment.

The new year, 2018, will bring us (as always) lotuses and also mud. Value them both and be free! Happy New Year! 😄

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