New and Improved: Always We Begin Again

The most used words in marketing campaigns and on product packaging are new and improved. This expression taps into our deepest desires to improve our lives and our circumstances. Marketers know this—that most of us want better and that we want to BE better, to be more of this or less of that—and so come the advertisements for weight loss, exercise facilities, home improvement, travel and more. Of course, the superficial and material never satisfy and leave us still wanting more, or less.

The essence of making New Year’s resolutions—everything from setting financial, career and relationship goals to considering new ways of being and doing—is that we desperately seek the chance to “do over.” It might sound elementary, and even impossible, but we long for it anyway.

Celebrating the beginning of a new year is a reminder of our opportunity to “always begin again”—the embodiment of Being Benedictine. It’s not as simple as a “do over” but January 1, merely just one day that follows December 31, gives us a definitive time and space to honor our deepest longing to begin again.

always begin again

I’ve long since quit making resolutions. Well, not really—I make them and break them so quickly and consistently, that I’ve chosen to look at them more gently, as beginning again. Each year I select a word that will help guide me in the New Year.

I share my last three years of words that have served me far beyond the year they were chosen for—mercy, gentle and cushion. The intention of these simple words has seeped into my spirit in a way that makes me new and improved in the deepest sense.

Mercy

What powerful images Pope Francis brought to this word when he declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016 and captured in a SoulCollage® card that I made to remember that year. We are received just as the Prodigal Son was received, with open and forgiving arms. The image of the Prodigal Son conveys all of the qualities of mercy that we hope to receive and strive to give: compassion, tenderness, love, and acceptance. In our thoughts, words, and actions, towards ourselves and others, we have a new day to try again to give and receive the mercy that God has given us. We are not perfect; we need to forgive ourselves and others again and again, but the doors are always open for us to begin again in light of Christ. Read more at Always, We Begin Again.

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Mercy SoulCollage Card

Gentle

There is an endless list of shoulds, musts, shouldn’ts, can’ts, more of this or less of that,  that could be the foundation of a New Year’s resolution. But for 2017, I resolved not to resolve anything but to be excessively gentle with myself instead. Resolve, itself, is such a dogged, unwavering word, so I called this “being gentle” my un-resolution. In a series of SoulCollage® reflections, I asked myself—How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others? This process was so revealing and healing. I learned through images that I don’t have to “wear” everything I’m given. Perhaps the old and worn, even the cherished, can be hung up for a while; not discarded, but set aside. One cannot keep wearing what is from the past; sometimes we just need to hang it up, to let it rest. Our shadow side can be carried in the heart as shame unless we practice being excessively gentle. Read more at Be Excessively Gentle: A New Year’s Un-Resolution

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“Hang It Up” SoulCollage Card

Cushion

Perhaps, a funny word next to the more sober “mercy”, but I chose the word cushion for 2018 to represent balance, an invaluable tool of Benedictine spirituality. When seeking a balance between the seemingly opposite speaking and silence, being together and alone, between activity and rest, prayer and work, I consider how to create a cushion. The connection between these two good options is the word “and”, not “or”. We need both. We need balance, yes, but we can give ourselves a cushion, the opportunity to rest knowing that perfection is not expected. We listen. We act. We pray. We readjust. “This is how a Benedictine’s day is. It is always changing, alternating—praying, working, resting. This is captured in the Benedictine motto, pray and work…The most important word is ‘and’.” –Fr. Mauritius Wilde Read more at 2018 Word of the Year…drumroll, please

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Cushion SoulCollage Card–Word for 2018

There is nothing magical about these words and there is no guarantee that one or any other will be the secret to creating a new and improved you, but I have found this process of choosing a word to be integral to my journey of seeking God, peace, and joy in a world of uncertainty.

May your New Year bring you the mercy, cushion and excessive gentleness that you need. As you journey through the joys and inevitable sorrows of the next year may you find meaning in the words of John O’Donohue— “At first your thinking will darken / And sadness take over like listless weather. The flow of unwept tears will frighten you. / You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back…Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.” –an excerpt from “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted”

What word resonates with you? Will you pick a word for 2019? Consider creating an image that captures the essence of your word. Please share your word or image in comments!

For 2019, I have selected not just one word, but a phrase instead. “You are free” is a phrase given to me that I’ve been meditating on and practicing with for several months. It has seeped into my being and doing just like my other words. I’ve created a collage that captures what freedom might feel like.  I will share more soon!

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I am FREE!

 

Be Excessively Gentle: A New Year’s Un-Resolution

gentle-with-yourself“Gentle” is going to be my word for 2017.

I resolve to be gentle, excessively gentle.

A new year’s resolution implies a determined effort to make a change, of which I certainly could consider—to be more patient and generous, to eat more healthful, to exercise, to lose weight. There is an endless list of shoulds, musts, shouldn’ts, can’ts, more of this or less of that, but I resolve only to be excessively gentle. Resolve, itself, is such a dogged, unwavering word, so instead I call this “being gentle” my un-resolution.

I’ve been giving this “being gentle” idea some thought during the sacred waiting of Advent. So often, I try to hurry through the darkness of life, times that are painful, (seriously, who wants to hang out there?), but during Advent I feel I have permission to rest in the womb of darkness, taking time to prayerfully reflect on a very difficult 2016.

Although I want to move quickly through my discomfort, and those around me prefer this as well, I have felt incapable. The lesson of Advent is that birthing cannot be hurried, especially of the Christ; perhaps, this resting gently in my own darkness could have something to teach as well.

So how can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?  This is the question I sought an answer to during a SoulFully You Advent retreat. With the help of compassionate friends and the insightful  SoulCollage® process (called readings), I am discovering how I might move more gently into 2017.

Reflecting on, praying with, or “reading” your cards is a process that never fails—if you have questions, God provides answers that are tailor-made using the images that have spoken uniquely to you. We begin by randomly selecting three Soulcollage® cards from our personal collection, cards made months or years earlier, taking turns with questions and reflections.

I ask my first card, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?1470050_10205193566429100_1861880692419772670_n

I am one who looks down on the universe and upon a scene of the Garden of Eden. We are a part of the whole but also in relationship.  I am one who is the light of Christ; I can look upon the universe with love and light, just as God does.  I am one who can be more gentle, remembering we are all connected with the light of Christ shining through each of us. Being gentle with others means withholding judgment, being content with myself and looking lovingly upon myself and others. I am this child who looks upon the scenes of daily life with acceptance, with the feeling that God is well-pleased.  “God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

I ask my second card, which is quite different than the first, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?spinning-out-of-control

I am one who is deserted, depressed, angry. I am one who feels knotted up, spinning out of control, losing my head, going in a million different directions.  All negativity and darkness flow from a small place (in the lower left corner of the card). In the doorway is a pile of trash, things that are thrown away. I need to let things that need to be thrown away, be thrown away. I do not need to let the darkness, either outside or inside of myself, consume me. I am one who can give voice to these dark things, not masking it. I can let the darkness be what it is without holding on to it. I am one who can face the shadow side and not ignore it.  In the darkness of the doorway from which all negativity flows, there is still light. I can face everything head on and reside in this place where trash, the darkness, is also present.

I ask my third card, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?stability darkness and light.jpg

Unsure whether this card is really finished, I am attracted to the stability represented by different types of stones, all having endured the test of time. I am one who gathers strength in the mother/child connection; I can mother myself through the storm of life. I see the darkness and light in everyone, knowing that no one is ever “finished”. I am one who is strong, committed to stability and grounded in faith regardless of my situation. To survive, to thrive, there must be a convergence of both dark and light in myself and others. I draw strength by resting into the stability of my faith, my God and constant companion.light-and-darkness

Looking holistically, the theme of light and darkness in each card cannot be missed. It can be a harsh reality to accept that there is always a little darkness in one’s life, but, there is inevitable light amidst this darkness that gives hope, purpose, and meaning. I feel affirmed that patiently wading through the dark waters of life will bring healing, a sense of being “finished”.

After reflecting on the insights of my SoulCollage® reading, I felt another card needed to be created, titled—Just Hang It Up.

hang-it-up

I don’t have to “wear” everything I’m given. Perhaps the old and worn, even the cherished, can be hung up for a while; not discarded, but set aside. Instead place “it” carefully on a hanger, still a part of my personal collection of wounds and wonders. One cannot keep wearing what is from the past; sometimes we just need to hang it up, to let it rest. Perhaps this is the way to learn to be excessively gentle–hang up the past, forgive, move on.

What is the “it” that can be hung up? I’m still praying and seeking answers about the “it”, but I have an idea. “It” is shame—shame that comes from criticism, disappointment, expectations, being silenced, feeling too much…all of these too much, not enough kinds of feelings that lead to discontent, a lack of self and other acceptance.

Our darkness can be carried in the heart as shame, unless perhaps, we treat ourselves darkness-1agently and pray for healing. I’m just starting this journey, I am not “finished”—and in the time I’ve written this post, I have participated in nearly everyone one of the “its” listed.  But there is an awareness  that I can let some of “it” go. I can just hang “it” up. I can be gentle with myself. In the words of John O’Donohue,

At first your thinking will darken / And sadness take over like listless weather. The flow of unwept tears will frighten you. / You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back…Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.” –an excerpt from “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted”

May you move ever so gently into the new year.
Take time for silence. Listen.
Take solace in your faith. Pray.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Be excessively gentle with others.
And may your 2017 be blessed!

For posts on similar topics:

Always We Begin Again, Year of Mercy
A Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth, Advent
Praying with Scissors, SoulCollage® process

For information about Full Moon and Advent retreats.

 

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