At the beginning of a year, people usually set goals for the new year that is starting. These goals usually include things like: start a new hobby, learn a new language, learn to play an instrument, lose weight, go to the gym, or maybe more specific goals like run a marathon, get into university, get a job in this or that place, visit Barcelona, etc.
These are all great goals that inspire us throughout the year. However, 2020 taught us that sometimes these goals can get frustrated by external circumstances that we cannot change nor control. 2020 was a very frustrating year for a lot of people – goals, dreams, plans, holidays – a lot of those got frustrated for a lot of people. I was one of those people too.
Because of this, 2020 also gave us an opportunity to become more resilient, more tolerant to frustration, and anti-frigile. Despite the difficulties, well, in fact, because of the difficulties of 2020, it was a year that had a lot of opportunity for growth, awakening, consciousness, and self-awareness.
I remember that when 2020 started everyone was specially excited. We all sensed that the number 2020 meant something. Because it does. 20 + 20 = 40. 40 is a special number. It is the number where the word “quarantine” comes from. And we all were in quarantine in 2020. It is also the number of days and nights that, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, Jesus spent in the Judaean dessert while he was being tempted by the Devil. I probably do not read this as a Christian would since I do not believe in the Devil as this evil entity hoping to make everyone fall and fall again. The Devil for me is just the Ego, that part of us which we sometimes confuse with our identity. The Ego is also that part of us that gets hurt, offended, corrupted, etc. … that part of us where fear, self-doubt, sense of unworthiness, and lack reside. For me that is the Devil, and it is not evil, it just is. If anything, it is our teacher, it is our greatest challenge and without it there would be no point to this human experience in the first place. The Ego gives us the opportunity to evolve, to connect, to awaken.
Looking at 2020 this way truly adds more meaning to it for me. Nothing has any meaning by itself save the meaning we give it. This is the meaning I decide to add to 2020: a year of challenges that gave us the opportunity to grow, to evolve, and to awaken further. Everyone is responsible for the meanings they add to anything, I just hope that any meanings you choose will help rather than hinder, will inspire rather than frustrate, will empower rather than victimise.
Even though we hadn’t ascribed a specific meaning to 2020 at the beginning of the year, I do remember that a lot of people were saying things like: “This is it! This will be my year!“, “This is the year when I finally do this, achieve that, make this…“, “This is going to be the best year of All!“.
A lot of people were so excited for 2020, me included, we all had high hopes, great expectations, lots of goals and desires and then… Covid-19 came to tell us “Mmm no“. “No to this, no to that, no.” “Just no“. A lot of frustration, anger, depression, anxiety, fear arose from this but also a lot of resilience, growth, self-love, forgiveness, tolerance, awareness, and hope.
2020 was different for all of us. For some it was hell, for some it wasn’t that bad. We all have our own realities but I think we can all agree it was challenging, to say the least. It seems ironic to me when I remember how we all started the year, full of dreams/hopes/intentions/goals… I don’t think that was bad or that it somehow jinxed it as some people have suggested, it is just something we do whenever a year starts and I think it’s a good practice but the ever-changing, unpredictable, and uncertain 2020 got me thinking that for 2021 I want to do something different for my 2021 New Year’s Resolutions List.
Instead of setting specific, external-based goals I want to learn from last year and focus instead on inner goals and intentions that can remain unmovable whatever happens on the outside. I want to share my list here with you, I hope this list will help me throughout the year and will remind me that my happiness, peace, fulfilment, etc. doesn’t have to depend on anything external because if it does, then I will be forever at the mercy of the changes of this world, the uncertainty, and the inevitable mortality of everything and everyone:
So, here it is: My 2021 Alternative New Year’s Resolutions List.
1. Be present.
Most times when we are suffering it’s not because of something that is happening right now at this moment. Eckhart Tolle says that if we feel anxious is because our mind is in the future, and if we feel depressed it’s because our mind is burdened by too much past… in neither case are we fully in the Present Moment which is really all we ever truly have. Of course, the Present Moment is always this second… and now this second… and now this one… so being Present is practicing flowing, going with life, hand in hand. This means embracing change, uncertainty, non-attachment, which can prove challenging but this is exactly why I think it’s a wonderful, mindful Alternative New Year’s Resolution for 2021.
2. Be Grateful
Last year was hard on all of us, but to some it was worse than others. Wherever we are in the scale of “who got it worse”, or “who got it better” (doesn’t really matter), I think we can all agree we all have things to be grateful for. The simple fact that we survived last year is something to be grateful for. And I know some people not only survived but thrived. There is so much to be grateful for even amidst all the tragedy. Maybe you have a loved one that got Covid but got over it, maybe you accomplished something awesome, maybe you made it out alive… whatever has happened or is happening or will happen… there is always something to be grateful for and feeling grateful will bring more wonderful things into your life in a virtuous circle.
3. Do You
Last year, my gym coach became another spiritual guru for me. Once, when we were doing spinning, we had one of those soul conversations that speaks directly to the spirit. I had been holding on to something for quite some time so I asked him: “How can I let go?”. He smiled and said: “Just do you. You do you and you will feel lighter with time”.
A short, sweet, powerful answer that I sorely needed. That day I pondered what does doing me mean… I realised it can include any number of things. I took it to mean loving me always and in all ways. It means practicing self-care, self-compassion, and self-kindness but it also means challenging myself, push myself to get out of my comfort zone (sometimes that comfort zone is not only a place or a habit or a relationship but it can also be a state of being like feeling melancholic, or feeling sorry for oneself or playing the victim, those can be quite comfortable too because it doesn’t require us to take responsibility for ourselves). Doing me also means taking care of my body, my mind, my soul. Doing me means doing things I love and enjoy, spending time with people I cherish. Doing me means having a healthy, loving, nurturing relationship with myself, a relationship that will be the blueprint for all my relationships with others. Doing me is living my life in love.
4. Be Responsible for Yourself
This means being or working towards being self-aware, self-sufficient and conscious. To be willing to acquire knowledge, discipline & practice in matters that have to do with our well-being. For example, creating a budget, or learning how to deal with stress, or increasing our water intake, etc.
It implies becoming mature, self-aware, and reliable.
In relation to external matters that can take the form of so many things but it mustn’t stop there. We need to take responsibility for our actions yes, but also for our thoughts and feelings.
I have in the past tried to make others responsible for what I feel. I have in the past hoped that others would somehow “fix” me, that others would read my mind and know what I need, etc. I have realised that it not only is impossible to make others responsible for ourselves but it is frustrating and tiring to try.
On the other hand, taking responsibility for ourselves (our inner and outer world) is empowering and motivating. You move away from the “victim” chair and you sit yourself on the director chair instead where there are more options, more space for creativity, where there is healing.
To do this we have to first be self-aware and make sure we notice when we are delegating our own power to someone else or when we are pointing fingers and trying to make someone else responsible. Only if we are able to notice this can we then make ourselves responsible.
Also, responsible doesn’t mean guilty. You don’t have to feel guilty for your actions, behaviours, thoughts, etc. But you do need to take responsibility for them. The difference between guilt and responsibility is that the former is self-deprecating, useless, and full of fear, it is another way to make ourselves into the victim… while responsibility comes from a place of maturity, empowerment, self-awareness, forgiveness, consciousness, strength, willpower, and kindness.
5. Prioritise Health
Covid showed us last year how fragile we are and how much our health matters, not only physical but mental health too.
A lot of people got Covid but I know that even more people suffered from anxiety or depression.
Our health is all connected. Your body won’t be fully healthy if your mind is not and vice-versa.
For this year I have decided not to write down for my resolutions things like: “going to the gym everyday”, or “compete in a 10k race”, or “getting abs”. Though those are all great doable objectives for many people, Covid showed us that races can be easily cancelled, gyms get closed, and abs won’t help you if you get a virus.
I felt it more necessary to simply prioritise health and yes that implies eating better and doing exercise but it also includes meditating, sleeping enough hours, drinking enough water, cutting off toxic relationships, working on my past wounds, learning how to rest and relax, etc.
Prioritising health means making many little and big decisions everyday at every moment from reducing my screening time to doing yoga in the morning to stop comparing myself to others on social media, etc.
6. Embrace Death
This one is the big challenging one. The reason Covid is so alarming is because it shows us our own mortality. It shows us that death is just one breath away sometimes. It makes us aware of the one simple statement that is true for all living things: We are all going to die.
We know this, we say this… but rarely do we actually let ourselves really know it. Why? Because it’s scary! The thought of not existing, the thought of the process of dying, the pain of facing our loved ones’ deaths. All of that is just too much for our human brains who have constructed an ego that gets by thinking that somehow it will outlive death. That’s why some people sometimes obsess over their legacy or want to have children or want to create something: art, a company, a book, a monument, a reputation, etc. that will somehow keep them alive because the inevitability of death is too much to bear.
Yet it’s something that we will all face and, what’s more, it is something as natural as being born, as breathing, as eating… there is nothing more natural than death.
But the fear of it drives us to do crazy things. However, the awareness of death can also lead us to create amazing things too. If we think about it, death is what gives meaning to it all. It’s worth getting up yet another morning because maybe tomorrow we won’t. It is worth living in the present moment because maybe in the next we won’t. It’s worth writing that book, creating that artwork, speaking your mind, telling them you love them, forgiving yourself, doing your job in a way that satisfies you, quitting the job that doesn’t fulfil you, pursuing your dreams, challenging yourself, loving yourself and others… Because maybe tomorrow we won’t be able to. Because maybe tomorrow it won’t matter anymore. Because our death is always there, it is our one true certainty. And to be honest, I for one, find that reassuring if scary at times. Knowing that I will die makes me want to live well, not only to survive (because I won’t, none of us will) but to thrive.
In my favourite book, The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman, Lyra, the protagonist, meets her death (not as in ‘she dies’, but she actually meets her own Death) when she goes to the World of the Dead. Her Death tells her that when a human is born, his or her death is born with them and that they accompany their person through all their lives. And when the time comes, their Death just gently taps them on the shoulder and lovingly lets them know it is time to go. Lyra asks a sickly woman if the thought of her Death following her everywhere scares her, the woman says it doesn’t. Knowing that her Death is with her always spares her the trouble of having to look out for it all the time. It helped them become friends.
Embracing your Death allows you to embrace Life. Embracing other people’s death helps you embrace them too. I choose to believe that Death is not here as our ultimate enemy or doom, I choose to believe that Death is here as our friend, as our motivator, as our reminder that Life is precious and short, that we are mortal and vulnerable, that we can choose how to live because in the end we will die anyway. Whether we fulfilled our dreams or not, whether we challenged ourselves or not, whether we create something that outlives us or not, whether we have power, money, love, joy, peace, health, success, etc. etc. We will all die anyway, so we might as well enjoy life while we can. We might as well be happy, we might as well pursue our dreams, we might as well play, laugh, succeed, fail, cry, break, heal, relax, love, forgive… We might as well try it all because Death is there and no matter how careful we are, how much power, or money, or success, or importance we think we have, Death won’t pass us by. So we might as well be the best version of ourselves while we are still here. It’s not a matter of when we die or how we will die, or how not to die, it’s a matter of how we live in this moment right here, right now. Because that is all we really have.
P.S. If you want to read a couple of fiction books that might help you gain a new perspective on Death, I recommend The Amber Spyglass which is the third volume of the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (I recommend the whole trilogy, it’s a masterpiece), and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, this last one is narrated by Death and that is just awesome! I never thought I could actually like Death so much.
Happy New Year! May 2021 be a year full of life for you and all that life has to offer… Not everything will be easy, or comfortable, or happy… but may you do the best with what you’ve got! It’s all in your hands! And I do wish you lots of light, love, abundance, health, joy, and happiness!