I was recently asked by the Palo Alto Weekly to write an article about setting New Year’s Resolutions. I interviewed, via email and phone, several individuals who offered lovely insights. I want to thank them: Professional coach Linda Furness, personal trainer Steven Rice, chef Anna Rakoczy from Homemade, Dr. Rebecca Green from Peninsula Integrative Medicine, Dr. Fred Luskin from Stanford University and Arda, author of the book The Seeker’s Manual. You can click here to see the final piece, which appeared online yesterday and will be in the print edition this Friday.
What the article has to say is important – we can set reasonable goals and make time for home cooking with delicious local ingredients. We can move our bodies – often and in different ways. We can improve our energy and balance our emotions by spending more time in nature. All these things will help us achieve the resolutions we set for our physical health and wellness.
The problem is, I write for the food section of the Palo Alto Weekly. I’m very happy and very grateful to be able to do that. But it means that my penchant for personal reflection has to be stymied. And despite my master’s in the subject I have to curtail my instinct to add a transpersonal twist. These boundaries, I’m certain you can imagine, has put me on a very steep learning curve. My editors are infinitely patient with me as I study and slowly absorb the techniques required for this type of writing. Having the facility for putting one word in front of another in a reasonably coherent manner is one thing. Learning the techniques for thinking and composing as a journalist – while on the job – is another.
The thing is, what I really wanted to write about for the Weekly was forgiveness. I wanted to answer the question, “How do we, when we slip or fail, forgive ourselves and glean what we are meant to learn from the experience?” But the article was meant to be about food. There was no room for forgiveness.
Thank goodness for blogs. Here’s the rest of the story.
Dr. Fred Luskin, a professor at both Sofia University and Stanford University and author of several books about forgiveness, spoke with me by phone and offered these ideas. His words landed in my heart like a blessing. He said, “Making your goals physical or material will never make you happy. It is not your physical body that determines the quality of your life.” And then he clarified, “Of course we ARE physical – we need to take care of our bodies and to earn a living. They are good things but not THE good thing.”
He suggested that if we are going to set a resolution it should be this: Choose to be kinder to yourself and to the people around you. When there’s a choice, choose that.
“Give thanks more,” he said, “Rather than demanding more give thanks to people – people are precious, they are impermanent and they are flawed.”
It seems simple but as the article was taking shape and moving away from what I wanted to communicate it was difficult to be grateful. Difficult to give thanks. But now that I’ve seen the finished piece on line and have had a chance to reflect I’m exceedingly thankful for the time everyone willingly offered. I’m grateful for the editing, too, and grateful that I can choose to share Dr. Luskin’s and Arda’s important message on Practically Twisted.
Arda has a coaching and healing practice in Palo Alto. I interviewed him via email. Rather than write a summary of that interview, here is a lightly edited transcript:
Q: How do we forgive ourselves when we fail?
A: We can only forgive ourselves when we understand why we fail. This is a dilemma. We see failure as a negative outcome. As a result, we bash ourselves for failing. Every time we [fall into a pattern of] self-criticism, it moves us away from forgiveness. Instead, we can use failure as an opportunity to get to know our vulnerable side. When we learn more about who we are and why we do the things the way we do we can accept our failure and forgive ourselves.
For example, if we want to quit smoking, it’s not the act of quitting that will make us achieve our goal. We need to understand that, let’s say, smoking takes away our social anxiety (our vulnerability). Without understanding the underlying reasons of our social anxiety, it will be very difficult to quit smoking. Once we understand and accept the reasons behind our social anxiety, we will be ready to take steps towards quitting.
Q: Is there a roadmap to self-compassion?
A: Yes. The first step is self-awareness. Since we perceive the world through our conditioned lenses, it is important to know how our internal programming, i.e. thought patterns, beliefs, values and fears, affect our perceptions. Then, the second step is to identify how our life experiences have affected our internal programming. The main component here is to review how our past, i.e. situations and people, has made us who we are today.
With this deeper insight of our personality and our programming, the third and final step is to embrace our life experiences as they are. This opens our hearts to ourselves without judgment and blame and brings understanding and self-compassion.
Q: Is it better to not set goals and never fail, or to have those goals, slip along the way and then pick ourselves up and try again?
A: Setting goals is natural. When we believe that reaching a goal will save us from misery and suffering, the attachment it creates sets false expectations and disappointments. Setting goals without attachment can only be done when we can connect with our values. As a result, we can focus on the process of achieving a certain goal, instead of viewing goals as end results. Failing to reach a goal is a valuable experience and growth oriented action and not a reason to avoid goal setting.
And I, for one, am not shy about setting goals. So here they are:
In 2016 I’m going practice kindness. I’m going to be kind to myself, to my partner Ben, to my co-workers. I’ll even be kind to the guy who cuts me off when I’m driving down Alma Street. In 2016 I’m going to grateful for every opportunity I have to be more of who I am and for all the opportunities I have to grow, to be humbled and to learn. I’ll move more in 2016, too. And I’ll cook nutritious meals at home with local ingredients (I’ve already dusted off the slow cooker for some hearty winter dishes…black eye-pea and kale stew anyone?).
My biggest goal for 2016? To be a better writer. To think like a journalist when that’s what the job requires. To not be a ‘lazy writer’ – simply throwing words together because I know I can. To commit myself to the process and to what is being asked of me.
Wishing everyone a joyful, safe and loving New Year.