Here it is, a new year. Time for resolutions, right? These days, when January 1 rolls around, I actually don’t think about making any. I used to set a few goals, hoping they’d help me become a “better” version of myself—wake up earlier, do yoga every day, go to the gym three times a week, lose weight, and so on. I look back now and wonder who they were really for.
Ah, the expectations we put on ourselves.
But lately…well, lately I’ve been thinking about the "new" part in new year a bit differently—not as an opportunity to add a new set of challenges, but rather as a chance for a blank slate. Lately, I’ve been asking myself what it would look like to begin again. What would I need to do in order to start over, from scratch? Examine what brings me joy and let the rest go the Marie Kondo way, one sock at a time? Or something bigger, like moving away? And if so, where?
And yet, there is also a part of me that wonders if it’s really possible to start over from scratch—if any small or large change can possibly lead to a completely revamped, brand-new life. And then there’s the part of me that wonders if it’s healthy, at least for me, to really indulge that kind of thinking.
To gain clarity, while talking with a friend about new beginnings—her new job, new town, and pending relationship—I asked if she believed in blank slates. She paused to think, then responded with a big sigh, “Not really. Wherever you go, there you are, right? Isn’t that what they say?” I’d heard this adage before, but sometimes, like around this time of year, or on a particularly rubbish day when everything is going wrong and I just want to change my name and dye my hair, become unrecognizable, I need the reminder. After all, while a lot can change in a year, a lot doesn’t.
Now I find myself asking different questions, questions that feel more realistic to me, questions that are rooted in acceptance.
What if instead of vying for the “new” as we ring in the new year, we embraced more of the same? What if we dug a little deeper, into the friendships and commitments we’ve made and the routines that have sustained us? What if we recommitted to what we already have and that works?
When I need a reminder to feel grateful for what I already have and who I already am, I sit. I use meditation to become a more welcoming host to myself and to the world around me. I use my breath and my awareness to greet life and my life just as it is.
And that’s what the following meditation practice is all about.
Find a quiet spot, near a window if one’s available, and take a seat on a sofa, chair, cushion, or folded blanket. A firm support is ideal as it will help you find comfortable alignment.
If you’re seated on a cushion or blanket, sit cross-legged with your knees slightly lower than your hips (this may require additional support, such as a blanket or two). You could also come to a kneeling position if that’s more comfortable, perhaps placing a yoga block under your seat for support.
If you’re seated on a chair or sofa, sit so that your hips are level with your knees and your knees are over your heels.
Rest your hands on your lap. Tilt your pelvis forward so that your lower back draws in slightly as you lengthen through your spine, and relax your shoulders back and down. Bring your chin level with the ground so that the back of your neck is long.
Feel the space you’ve created in your upper body, between the bottom of your ribs and top of your hips, and between the vertebrae. Then become aware of points of connection: between your feet and the floor, your hands and your thighs, your sit bones and the surface you’re sitting on.
And now become aware of the natural flow of your breath, and as you do so, also become aware of the way you hold yourself. Release the effort to hold yourself, allowing the seat you’ve chosen to hold you. Soften your gaze and look straight ahead and slightly down, toward the floor, with a relaxed focus. And as you softly gaze ahead, continue to rest your awareness on your breath. If it feels pleasurable to breathe, delight in the pleasure of breathing.
Feelings and thoughts will arise; let them. The soft focus you’ve established with your gaze and breath allows you to cultivate a calming concentration without shutting the rest of the world out. Notice how everything is held within your periphery. Maybe over time it will feel as though your spacial and physical boundaries are shifting, as if you were merging with the sights and sounds around you.
You may hear the chirp of a bird within rather than outside yourself. You might “see” a flower blooming in your mind. You might feel a color, perhaps the warmth of orange or red. You might imagine a forest full of beings, all camouflaged by shades of brown and green. The light that surrounds you may feel like an expansion of awareness, as if your very spirit surrounded you in a comforting glow.
You will hear and feel and see whatever you hear and feel and see; your experience will be your own. Rest inside of whatever that may be, surrendering in the moment with your breath. Sit anywhere from five to ten minutes, or until you feel complete.
When you’re ready, invite micromovements into your fingers and toes if they are free to move. Close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you, bring your hands to your heart, and then open your eyes again.
Conclude by taking a deep breath and then chanting one long om.
Sometimes I like to do the above practice at my kitchen table. But instead of focusing on my breath, I make my focus a cup of tea. I just sit, holding the mug in my hands, feeling its warmth as I take small sips. The intention is to just do one thing with awareness, something that is pleasurable, something that uses my senses—that invites the present world and circumstances of my life in. And today, I (we) welcome the new year.