A new year
Here, a good grounding exercise for a new year on earth. Let me read you a poem by Lucille Clifton.
September again. Thank goodness (as good a god as any).
Today, I end one turn and begin another. I have been alive now thirty-nine years. Thank goodness, the best god I’ve known, and also my mama who carried me here.
It is with equal surprise and delight I can say I like the life I’ve made. I like the life I’m making. I like—get this—and love myself. More than before anyway. It’s important to write this down, I think. I want me to remember. I wish me twenty years ago knew how much I love her.
Then again, she surely did.
Feeling at home in my life and my body is not always easy work. I am better some days than others at remembering how to be. The days it feels…not necessarily easy, but easeful are the days I feel most aligned. Like all of me—tender heart, hot brain, noisy body—is rowing in the same direction. The days it feels most possible to live the way I want to.
There’s an exercise I like. It’s good to do once and then many times over. It’s designed to help identify, in the simplest possible terms, your values. Because if you can name what you believe in above all else, you might learn how to live.
What choices to make.
What to prioritize and pursue.
What to pay attention to.
How to communicate. How to care.
What to return to.
The lesson being: let your values shape your days. Let them guide how you engage with people, your projects and plans, how you spend or save your money and share what you’ve got to give. Let them lead you. Let what you love tell you where to release and what to allow, where to expand and explore, what to let go of.
The exercise is here. You can try it if you’d like. Just make a copy of that template and go to town. Here, I’ll show you mine. (Please show me yours!)
Step One: You must learn to trust you.
Confronted with a list of 139 words, plus a few blank spaces for any additions, you must decide what to carry forward.
The trick, as always: don’t overthink it. Just bold every word that melts your butter and toss the rest to the wind. Feel your way through it. Practice trusting your gut. (It’s all practice.)
I narrowed from 139 to 57 words in about two minutes. That’s not a brag. It’s just a frame of reference.
I don’t love how quickly I command-b’d achievement, but I am who I am, even still. I felt some friction around independence and listened when the me inside of me said “No, not that. But something else.”
Interdependence. This connection between all things. How we’re held together in a complex web, whether we see it or not. I also added reciprocity, because I love an honorable harvest.
Step Two: Notice everything you can.
Now keep deleting from your list of words, cut it by at least half, until you’re down to 20-30.
Here you start noticing nuances and affinities, different dynamics between different words. How creating is beauty at play. And isn’t devotion an always-learning? See how interdependence implies reciprocity. How learning and growth pull you closer than wisdom, and realize, holy shit kiddo, you’re doing it! You’re learning to love the path and not only the outcome!
Step Three: Keep going.
Right, so now it gets a little more difficult. But you press on, don’t you, because you trust the process. Thank the god of goodness, I love that about you.
Here, angling toward my top ten, is where I realized growth isn’t quite right at all. I do not, in fact, believe in growth at the expense of everything else. Growth at any cost is, in fact, incompatible with life on earth. (See: the history of empire.)
Also I prefer play over fun, because play is active. It’s a choice, not just a quality. And while kindness is key, I’m of the mind that pursuing connection, generosity, and abundance are more specific ways to practice kindness. So farewell, kindness. Don’t stray too far.
Step Four: Name it to claim it.
Cut your list in half once more, until you’re down to just four or five words. Just enough to create dimension. Not so many you can’t remember them. It’s the hardest part but the view is worth it.
Here is where I land:
Yes, says heart.
Correct, says mind.
I read these and my shoulders drop. My spine sits up and I smile. These are good bones. Ripe earth. Here is where I’ll plant my seeds:
Abundance, which to me, implies creation and generosity, opportunity. Flow. Faith in our collected plenty and collective replenishment.
Beauty, in whose pursuit I have labored to make a loving and lovely home; to fumble and stumble my way toward harmony—in words, environment, and deed; to appreciate all that I can of art and science and the many mysteries in between; and to honor the earth which has been made well, and gorgeous. I am, in no uncertain terms, an absolute bimbo for what’s beautiful.
Connection, the invisible silken strings that bind us all together, all of us part of a very large puzzle. And the more curious we are about those connections, the clearer the lesson, the more beautiful the whole, with all we have to offer each other. Amen.
Discipline, because I am at the end of every day the daughter of a Marine and a Mexican woman. I was born with the sun and Mercury in Virgo. I believe, as I’ve rambled on about before, in good work, which I’ve had to learn includes good rest. This, too, is a practice, one that I’ll keep at, whatever else happens. If I’m going to do anything, I’ll try doing it well.
Play. I will make fun goddammit. This is the one life I get to live in this body. I won’t go down scowling. I will keep learning to be less precious about poems, my process and little plans, my ego. I will spend time wandering and wondering each day with no other aim than amusement. I will take my practice seriously, but never myself, because I am at the end of every day a clumsy and imperfect animal, with bruised shins, anxiety, and a too-loud-laugh and I live in a time of monsters that I refuse to let make me miserable. I am no good to me or anyone else if I cannot find my joy. So forgive me, my loves, I’ll never stop fucking around.
Let this be how I live out my days—
moved by what moves me most.
I feel most at home in my life when I can trace how what I’ve done in a day honors what I value. My friend Tanuja, who rules, practices a regular values check-in, which she shared on a recent episode of Movement Memos:
Inspired by an article from Psychology Today, I actually just created a tool for myself and it includes lists of values that I want to strive to embody, but it really just asks myself to choose three, three values that I want to embody and circle them. And then spend some time by asking, “Okay, how did I do this week? I embodied value one by doing what? I embodied value two by doing what?” And so on and so forth. The tool also asks me how I did not act within my chosen values. So “what did I do that took me outside of that practice?” The question I also ask myself is, “When I acted outside of my values, what was the value that I was actually reflecting?”
Let’s run that back:
“When I acted outside of my values, what was the value that I was actually reflecting?”
Let me learn always, again and again, how to move with greater purpose. Let me learn to release what keeps me from myself. With a whole new year here gathering before me, let me learn always, again and again, how to live it well.
Here’s a poem. It’s good for today.
i am running into a new year
i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
when i was sixteen and
twentysix and thirtysix
even thirtysix but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me
i want more.