Happy New Year to you! I hope the year has started off well and you’re feeling all pumped up about the new year and new beginnings. I always feel optimistic (maybe that’s just my personality).
This despite knowing that 2016 wasn’t such a fabulous year. (Though I did count quite a number of accomplishments professionally and Nic and I did publish our first ever book).
My mum’s passing was the biggest blow to me and my sisters and dad and we’re still slowly coming to terms with that gap in our family structure. (And my dad’s hospitalisation. Thank God I am still standing!)
It’s odd how things change in a year. Last year on 5 January, I recalled having an hour long conversation with mum (I’ll tell you in a bit how I remember this fact). She was griping about dad. Is it something about Asian parents? They’d call up their grown-up kids and complain to them about their husband or wife. And it’s not gender-specific. My dad would call me up in frustration sometimes complaining about mum!
When I had breakfast with a friend today, she told me that same thing! Her parents, in their 70s and 80s, often complain about each other to her!
But complaints aside, I like starting my year with some tried-and-tested rituals. I’ve stopped making resolutions but I stick to my rituals. I shared about one unique ritual during a women’s mentoring programme that I took in October last year. (Oh do remind me to tell you all about my mentees – I’ve got 2 now. We each had to find and mentor two women for the next 6 months. So yeah, I’ve got 2 dynamic young ladies as my mentees and I am just as excited as they are to embark on this mentoring journey with them.)
Some 3 or 4 years ago, I heard about the gratitude jar. It was such an excellent idea that I immediately took action and started practising this. All you do is find a jar – any size would do. Mine’s just an old Prego glass jar.
Each night, before I sleep, I’ll write down 1 thing I was grateful for on a piece of notepaper. I like putting a date on the paper too. Then I’d fold this into a tiny piece and drop it into my glass jar. Make sure your jar has a lid. I keep my jar next to my bed (the easier the access to the jar, notepaper and pen, the more gratitude notes you’d produce!).
This forces me to reflect on my day and find one thing to be truly grateful for. Sometimes, I have more than one thing. I usually lump them into one piece of notepaper. This practice has helped me find silver linings and blessings in days that sometimes seem utterly desolate. (Yes, even I, the cheerful, optimistic one have those crappy days when all I want to do is just rave and rant like a mad woman.)
This jar is useful on days when you feel like the whole world is against you. I like to open the jar and randomly pick out one piece, unfold it and read it. And at the end of the year, like 31 December, I’ll pour out all my pieces onto my bed and slowly open and read each one. Some blessings surprise me because a year is a long time and our memories fade. But once I write it down and date it, I can recall many pleasant memories – like the 1-hour conversation with my mum last year on 5 January, her birthday.
I’ll take at least an hour to read all of my notes. I’ll clip them together and put them in a box. These will be stored. But the exercise of reading all these notes (I had 82 gratitude notes in 2016) made me pause and revel in the goodness that’s around me. Simple things are what I like best and make me truly thankful – such as tea with a good friend, conversations with my sisters/mum, bak kut teh breakfast with my dad when I am back in Banting, compliments from friends and clients, a restful Sunday, taking time to exercise, giving someone a helping hand, cooking dinner at home, gifts from friends and more.
So this year, I aim for more gratitude notes. I should be aiming for 1 per day which means that at the end of 2017, I should have 365 notes. That’s the goal anyway but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t hit 365. I still have many things to be happy about. All 82 of them anyway.
Practical ideas like the gratitude jar keep me consistently thinking about gratitude. I like this a lot more than making resolutions. When I shared this at the mentoring programme, many were surprised at the simplicity of the idea.
Practising gratefulness is somewhat like going to the gym. You need to get off your butt and go to the gym if you want to see results. In my everyday life, I do make time for prayers and I often say thanks during my prayers BUT having the gratitude jar “forces” me to use my gratitude “muscle” daily. The more I do this, the more grateful I become. The more grateful I am, the less I whine. The less I whine, the better I am as a human being.
When I had tea with my cousin last week, we were talking about how people can get into a funk of depression and never get out. I told her that I sometimes get depressed too, but not for long. For one, I only allow myself 24 hours to wallow in what I call “the waters of depression”. I don’t want to be the eternal hippo in the tepid waters of depression. It’s a comfy place because you’re mostly ranting at the unfair world and how victimised you feel.
I know. I’ve been there at times.
Cry if you must. But give yourself a timeline. 24 hours is all I give myself. I won’t dwell too long.
I journal all my emotions down on paper (yes, I have my journal next to my bed too for those moments when I need to pour it all out!). I write down every single nasty thing that floats across my mind. Oh yes, when one is angry, there are lots of nasty things to write. Give in and let it all out. I usually feel better after I brain dump all these negativity into the journal.
Then I ask myself, “What lessons can I learn from this episode? What key takeaways can I remember?”
These days I try to distance myself from the issue or problem (this happens a few days after the event of writing it all down) and try to get a macro view without my emotions getting in the way. I used to be very emotional about things but I’ve tempered that somewhat with this technique.
Being Buddhist helps. My previous meditation experience during uni days comes to the fore. In Vipassana meditation, we are asked to note and observe what we feel. For instance, if I feel hot or itchy while sitting down for meditation (and does that happen to me all the time!), I need to note the feeling and observe it closely. By observing the feeling or sensation, the sensation seems to lessen over time and eventually disappear.
I try to practise this diligently when I get upset. It’s not easy because it’s easier to get caught up in anger or frustration. I sometimes forget!
But when I am calmer and able to process my thoughts in a neutral manner, I try to go back and uncover the lessons learnt from the unpleasant experience.
Other than the gratitude jar, I like to review my year based on some important areas of my life. When I attended the Women’s Forum at PSDC last year, I learnt about the Wheel of Life from Freda Liu (yes, the newscaster, deejay and celebrity). It’s a popular way of gauging how well we do in each sphere of life if you want to be happy and satisfied.
Each section of the wheel represents an area of our lives such as Health, Spirituality, Family, Business/Career, Love, Recreation, Contribution, Personal Growth etc. Based on this wheel, you ask yourself some questions. You will eventually find out if your wheel is balanced or if you’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time in one section while ignoring the other sections. It’s definitely a good way to check how you’ve been living life. You can check it out fully here.
I’m the wordy sort so I like to write down all my responses to each section of the wheel. At the end, I like to count my accomplishments too so I write down every single good thing that I’ve done in that year.
It could be something big like publishing our book or something non-business related like helping set up the book adoption centre in my taman.
I count all milestones/accomplishments, big and small. It feels good to remember all the amazing things I’ve done or partook in the year before.
Finally, I like to list down what I’d like to do for the upcoming year. These aren’t resolutions but simply things that I want to do and makes me feel good doing them.
This is how I end my year and start the next one. Rituals like mine (adapted over the years) help me get wiser and it’s so heartwarming to read the milestones that I’ve hit.
As I get ready to mentor the 2 young women for the next 6 months, I want to pass these rituals of mine down to them. It may not be suitable for everyone but adapt and adopt as you go.
I hope these rituals help you find clarity in your life! (Or let me know how you wrap up the year!)