I’m going to try something different this year, and I’m not at all certain how it will go.
I’ve long understood that personal meaning & fulfillment in life largely consists of two key skills & practices:
- The skill & practice of courageously moving toward a noble goal, where “noble” means a goal that compels you to become something more than you are and/or to serve a Good Purpose that is larger than your life alone, and
- The skill & practice of fully experiencing your life as it is right now, of being fully present to, and fully connecting with all the beauty & love in your life as well as all the angst and sorrow, all from a stance of wonder, grace & gratitude for the miracle of being alive.
These two principles guide much of my coaching work, and by them I have often evaluated my own journey of becoming a whole human being. But of the two, I have always favored the first, believing it to be the more powerful. While I have enjoyed the practice of Presence & Acceptance of my life as it is, I have never really thought of that practice as particularly transformative. That is, I haven’t really believed that the practice of Presence actually changes you, at least not in any significant way, and certainly not in the measurable way that actively pursuing a noble goal does.
Even as I write this, I can see my thinking on this has been pretty far off the mark. There is ample evidence in the contemplative traditions that the simple practice of being present to your life is massively transformative. Meditation, which is in essence simply an exercise in being present to your life, has been shown to reduce stress, increase mental acuity and resilience, and strengthen the body in numerous ways ~ and it is just one expression of Principle #2 in action.
In addition, Peter Senge’s terrific book, Presence, posits that all creative insight, revelation and breakthrough comes through the practice of Presence. C.S Lewis aligns well with this assertion when he writes, “Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met?”, promoting the notion that all true spirituality and connection with the Divine must of necessity happen through the practice of Presence. Add to this the fact that God in Scripture identifies himself not just as a Person, but as tense when he names himself “I AM.”
So, really now, the practice of presence is key to everything.
Truth is I’ve gotten far with the first Principle: the active pursuit of a noble goal. It’s not been perfect, and I’ve failed at it more times than I can recount. But it’s nonetheless worked. It’s moved me forward. It’s changed me for the better in fundamental, significant ways, and I’m immensely thankful for that.
But I have this sense deep inside, and it’s telling me that much of the growth & expansion I most need in my life this year will come to me more through Presence than through Planning.
There are some specific things I want out of 2016. There are some key changes I want to experience in my life, and a few long-standing struggles I would love to finally overcome. But as much as I want to plan out and execute my conquest of these challenges (a la Principle #1), I have the unnerving suspicion that my real victory in these matters will come not through conquest but simply by learning to be more fully present to my life moment to moment.
Trouble is I have no idea how to really do that. Honestly, I’m not sure. But maybe it starts with this:
- Practice being interruptible. Make plans as you wish, but be willing to let them go in favor of the life that’s happening right here and right now.
- Practice looking for serendipity. Watch for opportunities to do something life-giving or challenging that you didn’t plan for, and when you see them, say yes.
- Practice being unplanned. Rather than planning your days out in advance, practice listening moment to moment to what your truest heart wants, and follow that clarion call.
So in addition to setting my noble goals for the year ahead, I want this one resolution to infuse them all: To be more Present, and learn what the practice of Presence has to teach me about transformation and becoming the man I am meant to be.
What about you? What’s your resolution for 2016?