The Truth of the PresentBy:
Every year around the new year, people seem to talk about how glad they are to say goodbye to the previous year. This year, with its string of celebrity deaths and complicated election news, seems to have particularly warranted a “good riddance” from many. There’s no reason New Year’s Day should bring in any particularly different thread of luck or good fortune, but we like to think of our lives in chapters, in beginnings and endings, and it feels good to imagine January 1st could be a fresh start.
The dark season and the winter solstice are, for many of us, times when we can’t help but slow down a little and think back on the last year. January is just as dark and cold as December, but many of us hit the gyms, make plans, and optimistically look ahead as a valiant effort to make something new of a nascent year.
Welcoming a new beginning usually has an ending hiding in it somewhere. We want to move forward, so we try to let go of the past. Some years letting go is easy and joyful. Some years it’s really hard.
A lot of people equate letting go with forgetting. We mourn the loss of a person, a particular time in our lives, or a relationship that has ended, and we resist moving away from the grieving process because it feels (maybe subconsciously) like a betrayal to what you lost to let it go.
This isn’t what letting go means. I think letting go is about acknowledging and accepting your actual reality in the present moment. The present moment necessarily includes the past—all we’ve learned, loved, and lost. Our experiences change us, for better or for worse, and I think letting go means doing the best we can with what’s actually happening, whether it’s what we wanted or not.
So over the last season towards the end of this year, I’ve been thinking back on my losses and considering what I gained. I felt sad, for example, when I heard about iconic Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen’s passing, but I also thought of the rich history of music and poetry he left behind, and about how his words affected me and confused me and opened my mind at different times in my life. He made me someone a little different than I would have been without him. That’s not something I want to forget.
Holding on to the past is painful because it hurts to wake up every day in a reality we didn’t want. Wishing we could have something back again or be the person we were before the loss is painful not only because it’s impossible, but because it prevents us from seeing what is real: the reality we are in and the person we are today, for better or for worse. Honestly showing up to the truth of the present is a necessary step to getting anywhere new.
We must also keep in mind that grief works on its own schedule. Just because it’s January doesn’t mean it has to be time to change. Sometimes moving on starts with staying sad for a while.
So if this was a hard year for you, if you lost someone or something that you loved, consider acknowledging what you gained from what you lost. What did you learn? How are you different from having had the experiences you had this year? What will you keep with you forever? How can you acknowledge the truth of the present moment, today’s reality, including your grief and your hope?
Join yoga teacher Julie Peters on an exploration into the real life of yoga—how the philosophies and experiences of the practice can help us learn from our bodies, enrich our relationships, face our deepest shadows, and laugh at ourselves along the way. Julie is the author of the book Secrets of the Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses: Meditations on Desire, Relationships, and the Art of Being Broken (Turner Publishing). See www.jcpeters.ca for more details.