Cultivating a Compassionate Start

Laurel Sims-Stewart
I have a weird love for going back and looking at my Instagram story archive. For those that are not on the 'gram, this is a feature that allows you to look back at everything you've ever posted on each day of the year. It can be a weird wormhole of self-contemplation, but I enjoy being an observer of whatever my mindset was in those past seasons of life. As I'm writing this blog, we've recently transitioned into a new year. Recently I looked back at my story archive from January 2021. There it was- a picture of my newly vaccinated arm with the caption "2021 is awesome".

I think many of us went into 2021 drained from 2020 and holding out hope that it would bring some refreshing. But, as it
draws to a close, I notice that so many of us are finding ourselves stuck in the same space or feeling even more tired than we did last January. I've never been one for New Year's resolutions, but this past year I definitely set the intentions, found my "word of the year", planned some new self-care routines, and all of the other start-of-the-year phrases that float around out there. So what happened? And why don't I feel like a brand new person after these 12 long months? And what do I do with that?

As of the writing of this blog we are also still stuck in the midst of a seemingly never-ending global pandemic, political upheaval and transition, increasingly polarizing values and belief systems, and the grief that comes with all of the former. So why are we still placing the burden on our individual selves to do all of this work, when so much of the change actually needs to happen outside of us, in our communities and systems? This is my problem with resolutions, which can so often end up in disappointment or, worse, feelings of shame and failure.
I'm not saying we can't grow, or set goals for ourselves, or make changes in our own lives- but maybe that we reframe our understanding of how that happens first, and the living system in which it happens. This time around, I propose a new kind of start- one that goes overboard with extra gentleness and compassion. Here are some new things I'm trying in replacement of the old- how can you change up your beginnings?
Instead of: "I'm really going to stick with it this year, no matter what."
Try: "I'm looking ahead to what this year brings and considering how I can meet it gently."

Instead of: "Last year I gave up too quickly."
Try: "I set some goals for myself that mattered to me last year. Right now, do those goals still matter to me? Why? If so, how can I revisit them in a way that makes sense for me right now? If not, how can I give compassion to my past self for how things did go?"

Instead of: "Only healthy foods from here on out!"
Try: "What is my body telling me it needs for nourishment today?"

Instead of: "This is the year I work out every day."
Try: "I know that my body needs a unique blend of movement and rest depending on things like my workload, stress level, physical health, and even the changing of the seasons. I'll think of a few ways that feel good for my body to move, and try to find a balance of movement and rest that fits for me, one day at a time."

Instead of: "I'm going to meditate for 30 minutes every morning when I wake up."
Try: "What is important to me, right now, when it comes to my spiritual practices? How can I make space for that in a way that is compassionate and meaningful today?"

Instead of: "Positive vibes only!"
Try: "There is a lot going on around me right now. I will find gratitude for the positive days and enjoy them, but remember not to brush off the times I need more emotional care and gentleness."

I'm not sure December 2021 Laurel would wholeheartedly agree with January 2021 Laurel. But that's the thing- we can't ever know how things will be until we are there. We can, however, still make room for newness and change in our lives while tending kindly to ourselves. And right now, that might be the most radical resolution of all.