As the holiday season winds down and 2021 exhales its last breath, we look ahead to 2022. With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 exploding across the entire United States and many other countries, however, 2022 doesn’t feel like progress or offer a whole lot of happiness. It’s another year, but not a new year. The imprints of 2020 and 2021 cling like droplets on our masks—invisible when we ignore them, debilitating when they invade. How are you protecting your body and nourishing your spirit?
As we reflect—yet again—on the upheaval in our daily lives, the relentless cycles of loss, and the uncertainty for tomorrow, can’t we also seek the flickering flame deep within our solar plexus? Darkness and light can and do coexist. What moments uplifted you and gave you hope, or at least respite from worry this year? Even the small things count.
I am very thankful I had my book launch to work toward this year. Having a purpose and direction—and deadlines—pushed me to continue forward, one foot in front of the other. And having a positive expectation and outcome made a huge difference in keeping me focused and optimistic.
Friends have celebrated weddings, started new jobs, or resumed working again, while others have embarked on delayed travel, scheduled trips for 2022, or appreciated not having to travel. Knowing what nourishes you (physically and spiritually), makes you happy, and gives you hope will help you find the courage to live through the inevitable and to change what you can. Have you figured out what feeds your soul?
It’s easy to get sucked into the latest headlines, the daily barrage of crises—all real, urgent, unsettling, and threatening. Ignoring racial prejudices, personal attacks, and judgments, financial destitution, climate crises, natural disasters, the pandemic…doesn’t make them go away. But dwelling on them—unless it’s our job to solve and resolve—can drag us into depression, anxiety, anger, or inertia. How can we find sparks of hope—good times—amidst all this adversity? We have to create joy for ourselves.
I—and many others I know—are getting flashbacks to holidays past. “Ten years ago today…” “Three years ago…” “On this date…” The subject lines shout, “look back” and “remember when”. Yes, of course, I remember the good times, but it’s hard right now to look back to what we used to do, were able to do, what we could choose to do and who we wanted to spend our time with. It’s different now—for many reasons—and looking back isn’t helping me let go of the loss. I ignore the reminders until curiosity (or compulsiveness to at least screen all my emails) gets the best of me and I click and glance at the pictures and close the message, but I can’t delete them. Maybe someday I’ll be able to peer back with gratitude and relive the joy. What about you? What feelings do your memories uncover?
I’m trying hard to live in the moment, this moment, because that’s what keeps me grounded.
Finding Happy in the New Year
In early December, the Mind & Life Institute hosted a panel discussion with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, on “Embracing Hope, Courage, and Compassion in Times of Crisis.” His message has stayed with me through winter solstice and Christmas and feels even more relevant as the new year approaches. He reminds us to “use our mind, our intelligence” to foster inner peace when we are faced with uncertainty and insecurity (which accompanies uncertainty). “Go beyond me/mine/ours,” he says, “and develop compassion for others and a connection to humanity—to the other 7 billion human beings in this world.” It’s not about competition, but connection.
By thinking beyond ourselves, and opening our hearts to others, we learn to create space for joy to counteract the hopelessness, fear, anger, sadness, and doubts. Cultivate altruism, His Holiness says. “We won’t find joy when we are focused on ourselves. When we help others, we help ourselves. Joy is a byproduct.”
How? you might ask, as I did—and still am processing. “Focus on the path, not the problem,” he says. When we focus on the problem we succumb to “fix-it” mode. If the problem remains, we feel stuck. (If we can’t get beyond COVID-19, we feel hopeless). Whereas, showing compassion for others takes us out of our narrow problem-focus fix-it mode and gives us the courage and confidence to open our minds to others and create change for the collective good of all.
Compassion is more than empathy, more than being with someone in their suffering. Compassion asks, “How can I help?” But it’s not the solution offered or the doing (if anything) that moves someone or something forward toward change. It’s the empowerment we feel that spurs us to change. Compassion says, “I hear you, I feel with you, and I believe in you. You got this.” Finding hope, courage, and compassion during crises requires using our mind and intelligence and opening our hearts to others.
As John Dunne, Ph.D., summarized at the end of the discussion with the Dalai Lama, “We can improve ourselves and our circumstances through wisdom and compassion, oneness and humanity, and a sense of our agency.
Go be the change in yourself first and create a happy new year by caring about and for others.
May you find joy in 2022.