As I look at the year ahead, there are dark clouds looming. There are lots of things I cannot change at this moment, and yet there are things I can influence. So, that is where my focus has been for the past few weeks. What do I want and/or need and how will I prioritize these things in my life. It has taken years to be able to answer that question for myself. What do I want or need? Years ago, I began to ask myself three questions in my journal most mornings. The process of asking and then answering these questions has been life-giving.
What am I thinking? What have I been chasing around in my head for the past 24 hours? I try to identify the thoughts, ideas, conversations, or battles I am hashing and rehashing in my head. My goal is to grasp hold of these thoughts and shine some light on them. In my journal, I dump out my thoughts and then take some time to examine and explore them. Deciding what I can learn from them, and what I need to find a way to put down. Sometimes my thoughts stand up to the withering light of my journal and help me find my way to new ideas and new ways of being. More often though, when I hold them up for inspection that vague grudge I’ve been holding, or the snippet of overheard conversation I’ve been obsessing about may not really be worth the effort. I find that by acknowledging these things I am able to clear away the cobwebs and decide where I will put my attention. It has been a good practice for me to take time daily to consider what I’m thinking about and I find by listening to my own thoughts I learn a lot about the state of my life.
What am I feeling? In my counseling practice, I kept several copies of a feeling chart handy to talk with children and adults about their experience of emotions. Long before I pursued my degree in counseling I learned that identifying emotions and acknowledging their influence can help disarm them. So, I take a moment to check in with myself and listen to my emotions. This is often harder for me. I tend to slip from fine…. right to completely overwhelmed in a minute. It’s identifying the more elusive mid-range of emotional experience that is most useful. I feel bored. I feel anxious. I feel scared. I feel lost. I feel blah. I feel grateful. I feel happy. I feel angry. I feel nervous. I feel embarrassed. I find that listening to my emotions, identifying them, and honoring my own experience has been a revelation. Listening to my heart and paying attention to my emotional signals allows me to take care of myself…to befriend myself.
If I asked you what you were feeling and you told me you were sad, I’d ask you what that felt like to you? And what do you think makes you sad at the moment. I would try really hard not to one-up you, by telling you about my sadness. I would try not to minimize your sadness and list off all the reasons you have to be happy. I would try to just listen, to understand, to be there for you. When I participate in this journal activity, I practice kindness and compassion… for my own heart.
What do I want or need? As someone who often crouches behind a wall of “fine”, I am continually challenged by this question. Some days, what I need is immediately evident. I may need to do something to address the growing dread and stress over tasks left undone. I may need to reach out to my husband and spend some time together to once again be grounded in my life and this primary relationship. I may need to get away from the demands of my life and find some solitude. I may need to just get up and get on with my day. But, the practice of asking the question has been a good one. It has made me realize I am not good at identifying my own needs and wants.
As a wife and mother, I became an expert on the wants and needs of my growing family. I knew that Allie needed a hot bath and warm pajamas after a long week. Brian needed a nap when he came home from school fighting mad and unreasonable. Stephanie needed uninterrupted face time when her chatter reached a feverish pitch. I was a student of my family and noticed their patterns, their needs became as familiar to me as the sound of their feet on the stairs. And yet, when I first began answering this question I often drew a blank. I had no idea what I wanted or what I needed. But I kept asking and answering. I don’t focus on the big overwhelming things here, but mostly on the practical and close to home. What do I need this morning to get through my day? Not how do I get out of my life, but what do I want or need to be who I want to be today. To live out my priorities, to focus on what matters, or to love the grouchy face that just wandered into the kitchen.
In the pages of last year’s journal, I found themes that I am paying attention to as I move into 2018. I discovered that the things I wanted/needed most were calm and connection. I wanted life to find its new normal after so much change. I needed to feel like not all my energy was going to navigate a brand-new environment, with new expectations, personalities, and challenges I could not completely envision. I needed to find ways to connect with people I felt distant from not because of a lack of love but because of a lack of time. So, as I begin the new year, I am committed to creating calm in my life in as many ways as I can. At the same time, I am carving out time to connect with the diverse group of humans who bring such life to my days.
What do you want or need this year?