My Year of Blogging Appreciatively
The New Year has become an important time for me in my Edmonton life. It goes back to the end of 2010. I was in Vancouver and felt especially alone. It was my first full year separated. There had been a lot of transition. No denying it, it had been hard.
I was lamenting this in late December to a group that I was part of that came together weekly for an hour by phone to support each other in personal and spiritual growth. Our leader Sue Dumais suggested I make a list of successes from the past year. I couldn’t see any harm. And I didn’t want to stay stuck or gloomy. So I trusted her. I decided on and committed to writing down 100 successes from 2010.
My perspective on the year completely changed. Seriously and deeply changed. Yes, in 2010, I had run a half-marathon, found a new place to live of my own and become a Big Sister to a wonderful girl. But less dramatically, it was also a year where I strategized about how to deal with my micromanaging boss, walked to and from work most days, and developed a lovely Starbucks friendship with Soroush, a Baha’i refugee from Iran probably 30 years older than me. (We noticed that we both would camp out at this particular location with our books for a few hours of study each day. Over time we developed an understanding that whoever got there first claimed the one big table in the café as a workspace that would then be shared when the other arrived. I was writing my dissertation in philosophy and he translating Baha’i theology from English to Arabic-in a complex system that required one of those white and blue BIC 4-colour retractable ballpoint pens.)
The exercise of writing the list forced me to appreciate little things as successes that usually go unnoticed. Because it is not that I’d done 100 miraculous or earth-shattering things that year–or will in any given year, for that matter. It is the hunting for and reframing of what I have done that I might not otherwise have considered a success. A brilliant illustration of the power of attention with intention: wherever your attention goes, grows. The more attention I focused on 2010 as a successful year, the more I saw it as that, the more it became that. I ended up seeing the 2010 as one of the most powerful years of my life.
Interestingly (no doubt buoyed by the list), in 2011, I set in motion a series of changes from which I continue to reap the benefits today. I left the stagnation of the job and the city I was in to pursue a fulfilled life. I recognized that I was dying inside where I was. I had a vision for my life and if I didn’t embark then I was not sure I ever would. Significantly, I read Geneen Roth’s Women, Food & God. In it, I not only understood how my relationship to food was holding me back in my life, but I also felt that there was hope for change, for healing. I was determined to hear Geneen speak at an upcoming conference she was going to be part of a few weeks later in Vancouver. I wangled a ticket to the sold out event. A month later I found myself at her six-day retreat near San Francisco. Soon after I moved to Edmonton and have never looked back. I am not the same person I was at the depths of 2010.
Ever since then, I have made the list my ritual to release the outgoing year and welcome the incoming one. Now I even go through the year thinking to myself “Hey this is the kind of thing to go on my list.” I look for them throughout the year. So it is retrospective and prospective. It is a fixture.
One thing that has been of paramount importance in my “new” life is developing a strong circle of women friends. I know it is key for my mental and spiritual well-being. I am estranged from the women in my family. (While that hurts, having them in my life hurts more). So it is essential. I am also sure that for we women in general to lead our best lives, we need a “posse” and an environment where we can gather in strength, power, beauty, trust and love to be big together and to be vulnerable together.
To this end, a year and a half ago, I started holding monthly women’s soirées at my place. Last December I set out the idea of the New Year List for our January gathering. I had attendees bring a list of 100 successes on paper that we taped to the walls of my apartment. There were around 15 of us. Later in the evening, we sat in a circle and each for five minutes talked about her list. It could be reading off and explaining ten favourite successes. It could be talking about one big one. In whatever way each woman felt moved to share.
All I know is that it was sacred. Each one dared to speak from her heart and show herself. Tears flowed, laughter erupted as we felt safe to voice what we’d overcome and where we’d struggled. The compassion was palpable as everyone saw a little bit of herself in what another had talked about. From that experience, we decided to keep some kind of personal growth or sharing component tied to our group when we meet. And of course, we did it again for 2015. And again, it was beautiful. One of our regulars, Tracy gave the suggestion that we keep a mason jar personally for the purpose of recording individual successes or gratitudes. Each time one happens, we could write it down on a slip of paper and deposit it into the jar. On December 31 you take them all out and review “The Year that Was.”
We women carry on with our lives during the time in between our gatherings, often only seeing each other the one time a month. But for me at least, there is a familiar and special feeling as they start arriving to my place on the chosen Saturday evening. We let down the regular guard that most of us live our day-to-day lives by. We make space for authenticity, trust and nourishment. We allow each other to share suffering and we allow each other to shine.
If any of you is reading this, I consider my biggest success of 2015 to be hosting that New Year’s event, with the deepening it brought to our evenings and our relationships. Thank you for the grounding and thank you for the love. This is the life I was hoping for.