Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Year In Review

Sometimes it can be a good thing to look back and take stock of where you have been. I often get the impression that you’re not supposed to say that if you’re someone who teaches living through mindful awareness, but it’s true just the same. It’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re wallowing in the past, you’re not living and certainly not growing, but if you’re learning from the past … Well, that is exactly how you live and grow. There are productive ways of looking back. They’re just often overshadowed by the less productive ones.

One of the most productive ways of looking back is looking with an eye toward learning. One of the biggest secrets of a mindful life is that you can learn from anything, and what you learn can turn almost anything into a positive experience. Even our most painful moments go into making us who we are, and if we use those moments to make ourselves better than those moments have achieved something positive. Not only is this educational, but it can be lifesaving as well. I can’t tell you the number of times that focusing on the positive lesson learned has gotten me through a devastating experience. Sometimes we have to actively look for the positive, and sometimes the lesson learned might be the only positive we can find. There is always a lesson to be learned. If you can remember that - not always an easy task, I know - then you know there is always a positive to find.

It isn’t always possible to learn in the moment. Sometimes you’re too busy being in the moment to learn from the moment. That’s just life. You have to know this is going to happen from time to time and, when it does, take it as it comes, live through it, and learn your lesson later. That’s when looking back comes in. Don’t waste an opportunity to learn, but don’t try to learn when it isn’t the right time. If you’re busy, you’re busy. Be busy, get it done, then take stock afterward. Living a mindful life comes with all sorts of aphorisms about living in the present and taking time to breathe and all of that, and they’re all wonderfully useful and important aspects of living, but living is messy. You won’t always be able to do things exactly right in the moment. That’s fine. That’s why we have memory. Hit rewind when it’s all over, play it back, and see what you can learn when you have time to learn.

Looking back can even help us to move forward. That sounds strange, I know, but you can’t keep the line straight if you don’t occasionally look back and make sure you’re still guiding by the same path. That’s how you plow a field, it’s how you lay a road, and how you build any sturdy construction. What came before is the foundation, and you can’t build a solid structure if you don’t line up properly with the foundation. You’re not expected to just memorize where that foundation is supposed to be. Look. Double check. Measure twice, cut once.

It also helps that you can look back for reassurance and comfort. If you’re at a tricky spot, you can look back and remind yourself of previous successes. “Things have been tough before, but I succeeded there, there, and there, so I can succeed here as well.” If you’re missing someone, you can relish the memories that you have. I miss my dad terribly, and there hasn’t been a day gone by since he died that I haven’t come across something that I wanted to share with him, but I have so many wonderful memories of and with him that I can look back to those and smile instead of being crushed by the grief. It helps.

Again, it’s all a matter of perspective. Learn from the past without dwelling in it. Use the past to better live in today. Don’t let the past use you and prevent you from living today.

I say all of this because, of course, it’s that time of year when it is customary to look back on the year and review what has happened. It’s the end of a year, looking forward to the beginning of a new year, and everyone is doing lists trying to capture the various things that happened in the previous year. I don’t really do lists, and certainly not the Best Of variety of lists. If you asked me to name my favorite song, movie, or book, I couldn’t do it. If you asked me for ten, I could possibly make that list, if you didn’t want them ranked. My brain isn’t wired that way. I like things, and I don’t like things. I like some things better than other things, but that’s about as specific as my thinking gets. So no Top Ten lists for me.

What I can tell you is that it’s been a wild year. It’s been busy, stressful, and just plain full, so, pretty much all of the things that usually make up a year. If I had to look back and compare, I couldn’t tell you with any certainty how it stacks up against previous years, but I think, on the whole, it has worked out to being a pretty good year. I am quite certain that it’s ending better than it began, and that’s progress. Things are at least moving in the right direction that way.

A year ago, we were trying to figure out how to pay the bills and not lose everything we own. That might be an exaggeration, but not by much, and it didn’t feel like one at the time. We had a bad patch that was, quite frankly, terrifying as it was happening. Today, we are far less afraid. We didn’t win the lottery or anything, just paid off some expenses and got some others better lined up. We keep working and doing what we can, and doing that a little better each day. That’s really all you can do, when it comes down to it.

Of course, some of our expenses were medical, and we have come a long way in that department. It’s been a two-year journey, but one that has been steadily improving. My A1C numbers have stayed in the healthy range; my weight loss seems to have plateaued, but it has stayed off, at least; and my blood pressure and heart attack risk have all stayed within more healthy ranges. As we approach the end of the year, we are starting to make strides that will hopefully push past that plateau and make these things even better. We bought an elliptical machine from a garage sale (I had been saying that I wanted one but they were too expensive, and then Heather found one at a steal, so there went my last excuse), and I have begun using it three times a week. I’m starting slowly, but steadily increasing the work, and it’s going well. It has been many years since I was in anything like good shape, but it’s happening, and I have every hope that it will continue to happen.

One of the biggest things to happen for us this year was the gaining of a new person in our household. If you’ve been following along, you already know that we have taken in a foster daughter. It’s been an amazing experience and a learning experience, but it’s mostly been a full experience. It’s been very busy, and very eye opening. Opening our home to someone in need and helping her to have a better life has helped us to have a better life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many more times in the future, there are an estimated 400,000 children in the U.S. who lack permanent homes. If you have the means to help, take a look. I can almost promise you that you will be helping you in the process. Hearing someone learn how to laugh again might be one of the most amazing things you will ever experience.

We wouldn’t be talking about any of this if the past year had not also included the launch of Frequently Interrupted. I started this site because I needed it. As a person who lives with an assortment of mental and emotional disorders, I was drowning. Earlier this year, I was in one of the worst places, mentally and emotionally, that I have been in a very long time, and I was not seeing a way out. I made a way out. I created Frequently Interrupted because I needed it, and it has become a way to help others while helping myself. Thank you for coming along with me, and I hope that we will continue to make this journey together.

It has been a learning year, and that is right and proper. Look back without regrets, so that you can look forward with hope and understanding. The most important thing about this past year is that it is past. For good or ill, leave the past where it belongs, learn from it, and keep moving forward. Always move forward. That’s the trick. Life will throw many interruptions in your way but, as long as you continue to move forward, you are doing the right thing.

Keep moving forward, no matter the interruptions. Stop when you need to, smell the roses, learn the lessons, and then keep moving forward.


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