The One-More-Year Project

Stop a moment and look at your days, notice your schedules, consider your goals and dreams and hopes. What are you working on, or planning to work on, that is a priority to you, either because it needs to be done or because it is close to your heart, or both?

Maybe there’s a garden or a book, painting, quilt, or some other creation you are set on nurturing into being. Maybe it’s a car you want to work on, a home that needs renovating, or a home that just needs a little interior makeover to fit your interests and design sensibilities more closely. You might want to take a dance class or learn photography, or your focus might be on health, such as an exercise or diet routine that you want to start seeing and feeling results from, or prayer or meditation you want to learn or be more devoted to.

Maybe it is something more emotional, like working through anxiety or grief or addiction, or healing your thoughts and spirit after loss of a loved one either through death (maybe even the death of a cat or dog or some other animal, which is never just a “pet,” but a friend and part of the family) or the ending of a relationship. Healing your thoughts and spirit because you aren’t where you were hoping to be yet in life, or you’re far from home and miss everything about it, or you left your job by choice or by termination and you’re uncertain what to do next. You might be coping with the emotional and physical strains of a long-term illness that may or may not go away, or coping with ups and downs in your family life that you’re at a loss for how to peaceably solve. Maybe you have felt the lagging sadness of exhaustion and depression for any of these reasons, any other reason, or for seemingly no reason at all.

There are many things that take time to work on. Some are “good things,” those things we look forward to completing due to the sense of joy and accomplishment that will settle inside of us once finished. And then there are the “bad things,” things that we know will bring joy and accomplishment once a change is made, a solution or acceptance found, but that in the meantime feel impossible to work through to reach the transformation that will bring us peace of mind.

Research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology cautions that goal-setting can be counterproductive, holding us back at times, especially when we set out to reach a goal and things change along the way, are not as perfect as we had envisioned. Giving yourself more time to get to positive change means being open to revisions in plans or to different outcomes–if you say something will be accomplished within a year and you are dedicated to it, you will see a change, yet it may happen in both predicted and surprising, unplanned ways. We can set the goals, which are important to have, but we can alter them accordingly, out of want or necessity. Are we always in control of factors life presents us with? No, we are in many ways at mercy of how life unfolds; we move with the days, they don’t move with us.

So who is in control? Sometimes us, but many times not. Pretty much always us when it pertains to what we’re thinking, to how we cope and plan. Being in control of our mind and spirit–this is where our power to improve, to create and fulfill dreams, and to appreciate our delicate existence lies. It is a genuine power, and it doesn’t work without two main ingredients: practice and patience, the roots of giving things a little more time to see a healthy, colorful growth.

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Six years ago I read a book by author Sana Krasikov called One More Year. The book is a collection of short stories; the main characters are emigrees and would-be emigrees from the collapsed Soviet Empire. The main character in “Maia in Yonkers” moves to America to earn a living following the death of her husband, and leaves her young son in the care of her sister. Maia’s son, Gogi, finally passes an Embassy interview as a teenager to visit his mother, and comments to Maia in an emotional exchange that he no longer understands why she must live in America, telling her, “Every year you say ‘It’s one more year, one more year’!”

In the context of the story, this comment isn’t a happy one, it isn’t hopeful. It holds in it the frustration of wanting things to change for the better but believing they won’t, the sadness of not knowing how to fix a family that has been separated first by death, and then by geographical distance. It shows years passing by, one after the other, without the longed for resolution. Naming the book One More Year might have been done so to imply this sort of hopeless passage of time; it might also allude to something we must all do at times and which may lead to the outcome we truly need–waiting.

A few years after reading Krasikov’s book, I found the phrase one more year drifting into my mind in the midst of difficult situations. There are two things difficult situations can do to our thoughts that create a dangerous situation for our emotional state: they can produce tunnel vision, in which we see nothing but the problem and feel impotent to plan beyond it, or they can make us want to get out of the problem so badly that all we see is the end goal, and it looks overwhelming, incomprehensible, unreachable because we can’t slow our minds down to focus on the very necessary steps (and time) it will take to get there. These are the perspectives that can lead us into depression and some of the more destructive elements that may accompany it, for some people right up to suicidal thoughts and actions. On a less drastic note, tunnel vision or overwhelming broad vision can make us give up on a goal that is important to us, causing us to tuck it away until a later day comes when we wonder what may be different in our lives had we pursued whatever dream we gave up—what it might have led to next.

One more year. The words began popping into my mind with more force, strong and vibrant, asking me to look not too far ahead, but ahead nonetheless. Be hopeful, and patient, is what they were synonymous to. At the point when it seemed my husband and I would never catch up on our finances after the astounding fees of the immigration process, while we were living in an apartment we were grateful for but also found to be within an oppressive atmosphere we were ready to move on from, and while I was working in a mental health recovery center that seemed to promote further emotional conflict rather than healing—having a contagion effect on many of the employees, myself included—a sense of life as an overwhelming burden rather than a mysterious, beautiful gift began creeping into corners of my mind, threatening to deplete energy, happiness, hopefulness.

One more year. Suddenly, much like a wise teacher, the words were there to offer the chance to recognize a new direction. I made a promise to myself in the form of The One-More-Year Project: We will see improvement in every aspect of our lives by this time next year. And that is, step by step, exactly what happened.

It does help that I’m partnered with someone with a high amount of energy and optimism, it doesn’t hurt to be inspired and supported by others; but I believe that anybody, anywhere, in any circumstances and with or without the support of others has the capability to follow their own needed steps reach their own desired goals. We are all designed with the trait of resilience—by nature, we own the rights to self-improvement.

After moving into a new home, seeking out new career options that will keep my own mental state healthier as I work toward licensure as a clinical counselor, and seeing our financial situation improve drastically with care—all while maintaining gratitude for all of the beauty in life that counters the difficulties, which is a very essential attitude for reaching dreams of any kind—I continue to keep the phrase close by. One more year. A wise teacher and an old friend. As I look at my writing projects, my homework, my business ideas, the dance classes I want to return to because the artistic motion brings me joy, volunteer efforts I would like to be further involved in, or when I encounter moments of sadness or exhaustion or perplexity that sometimes accompany life situations in a strong way, I remind myself—I’m here right now, and I can decide how much progress I hope to see by next year, and I will keep a plan in my mind or in a notebook or on a dry-erase board, wherever it stands out the most, and I will see that progress.

Give yourself a year before you give up, before you walk away from something your heart believes in but your mind has begun to doubt. Promise yourself you will see a change by that time, and then start moving there in steps, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute if you need to. Picture yourself free on a stage, enveloped in dance. Picture your garden blooming with health and radiance. Picture your car running perfect and happy because you tended to it with as much precision as a surgeon caring for a life. Picture yourself smiling, healing, and enjoying your days along with those you love, everything as well as can be, just as it should be.

A family member recently told me about her years when she used to run track; she said that imaging how many miles away the finish line was would immediately make her feel that she couldn’t get there. So she would start running while focusing only on her immediate surroundings. She would then think of finishing that first mile, but keep only that first mile in mind. Once one mile was passed, the next could be acknowledged. This gave her the energy, and patience, she needed to keep her body moving to a very distant stopping point.

If you need more than a year, or less, that’s fine. This is your project now. Just start by seeing where you’re at, focusing, and gradually looking further until you’re standing at the place you set out for. Most importantly, don’t forget to bring your patience, your gratitude, and your ability to enjoy life along the way.

Suggested (Inspirational) Reading:

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying To Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Rubin. Book.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Happiness-Project-Aristotle-Generally-ebook/dp/B002VJ9HRK

The Power of Patience, Judith Orloff, M.D. Article.

“Patience is a lifelong spiritual practice as well as a way to find emotional freedom.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-orloff-md/how-to-be-patient_b_1748430.html

How To Set Goals, Will Meeks, Ph.D. Article.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/notes-self/201308/how-set-goals

Negative Impacts

Nothing lingers quite like a bad taste. Funny how what tastes bitter, acrid, rancid, or otherwise unpleasant tends to last much longer than the sweetest tastes to cross the tongue. So the same very often goes with anything negatory to our systems, both the physical and the mental. It makes such an impact on us that we cannot get rid of it quick–or efficiently–enough, a challenge to push it back from our conscious experience: that sting of sour milk requiring one to down, at minimum, two glasses of water before it lets up only slightly; the stench of pasta, forgotten in a pot on the stove overnight, that settles into the nose immediately upon lid being lifted and stays jammed up there for a few cycles of deep-breathing clean air; that unfortunate moment a public one-seater restroom door opens just as you are finishing business (toilet paper poised in one hand) and you’re forced to replay in your mind how a few perfect strangers looked perfectly amused just because you had to go, an otherwise mundane action. Or, that bad moment of arguing with a loved one, walking away with hurt feelings and having hurt another’s feelings-that chilly, damp, dark kind of cloud of regret that settles over our bodies well after having exchanged apologies.

Anything negatory. Any time or place or action negative that turns our thinking to negative, our feeling to negative, our speaking to others and to ourselves negative. These are hard to push away and recover from if we don’t first choose and then practice. Life has one simple necessity, and it is to think positive. It is a necessary function that improves every aspect of health. It can be a challenge, certainly, and it is unreasonable to believe we can think positively in every second that we consciously occupy life. However, any action we put into regular practice becomes strengthened. The body is a physical structure organized by physical systems and it responds to the emotional and physical stimuli it encounters in its interactions with the world; this brings the challenge, but,simultaneously, it also offers the ability to make good changes.

All possibilities are there. You choose.

Think positive, use positive imagery and self-talk in daily practice, in all situations, and the mind and body recover from negativity more quickly. The positive thoughts, emotions, and actions begin taking control and start the process of becoming what lasts for the greater lenghts of time.

When Viktor E. Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, he was not guessing at what it would be like to choose the power that positive thinking provides, he had lived through a life-and-death experience of Nazi concentration camps and learned experientially how much thinking can save the body, the personality, the soul. The whole being. Frankl could easily have collapsed, mentally and physicaly, under the extreme pressure of such extreme negativity–the degredation and powerlessness any human would feel when being hatefully controlled by other fellow humans–but he was among survivors who chose how they would think, act, and feel, and continued moving forward to wait for a day that might show up and set them free.

Among thoughts Frankl has offered following his experience:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

What we think is what we will feel and how we will act. The more negative the thought, the more negative the feeling and, soon to follow, the more negative our choices of action. Fortunately, the same outcome exists with the more positive the thought. It is both mental habit and physical struture; it is the training of the mind, also of the brain. Emotions and materials exist symbiotically. When we direct our emotions continually in either positive or negative places, we strenghten the neural pathways within our brains, making pathways that are easier to navigate along and that become a natural flow, like wind patterns or river channels, to turn our thoughts this way or that way.

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that our bodies, even with all of the free will or soul that resides in them, are machines–an intricate natural system or organism, such as the human body. The body is a system, a structure of very particular arrangements of tissues, chemistries, bones, blood, and other materials that have very specific roles with every part and function interacting to make a whole, intricate, methodic system. This is why all aspects of our health rely on our abilities to choose directing our thoughts to the positive; nothing will be left out of how we choose to think and live.

What a challenge taking on life with a zest for optimism can be, and yet there is no reason to believe that every single one of us can’t be up to the challenge. No one enters this world without a will, and though many things in the world help us shape our will in ways that are good and bad, hurtful and helpful, strengthening or depleting, we all retain the capacity to choose even if that capacity sometimes gets knocked from view and hidden under the twisted, tangled detritus left from too many negative thoughts and emotions and situations. No matter what, we all, by choice, have the chance for self-improvement, reinvention, even an outright resurrection of self.

Start small if necessary, but start. Choose one positive, simple thing you will keep as a daily task: saying “thank you” for all you have before you leave your bed in the morning or before falling asleep; smiling while you get dressed; using patience with all others regardless of how they may intentionally test your patience; posting positive quotes where you can easily view them throughout your day; writing down one thing you really liked about the day. Start small, but just remember to start, and you will see how the act of staying positive increases in your life, increasing your overall contentment and health. No one lacks the ability to access and strengthen the will we were each designed with.

No more negative impacts! Okay, not possible, but at least quicker recovery from those negatories of life the more we strenghten our wills–ourselves–by choosing the positive because we believe that this is a choice we have.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.–Mahatma Gandhi

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While Moving Through The World One Summer

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When the night came in, we rode it–as if it were a thing as structured as our own legs. Or the cars on a city train. Things that carry and it carried all who stepped on. It was gracile, it was precise. Like the trains it invited us to keep moving because even the most circular distances eventually offer a divergence, slipping you through a boundary, the erasing of imagined lines.

***
What I loved about stepping out of Union Station onto Canal Street in Chicago was everything. It was an intense, revitalizing change from the dear and lovely and much smaller city I had left a little over nine hours earlier. I loved the absolute motion of busy, unending traffic, and the turban worn by the taxi driver who answered my waving hand, and the Islamic prayer beads hanging on the taxi’s rearview mirror, and the layers and layers of streets crowded with layers and layers of people, and the unavoidable energy of so many lives taking place within the same perimeters. I was in the right place in a right time.

Being there did not save my life, but it helped me, immeasurably and graciously, as I started a new phase of my lifetime.

Out of curiosity, adventure, the need for growth or entertainment, we travel to new places. We travel for any number of personal reasons, including out of love; love for a place or a person, or love for ourselves when we need to give ourselves whatever opportunities, from whatever new ideas and experiences, lie inside of taking in new surroundings.

The first line of motivation for me in my journey: love.

The love of a friend who had possessed the valor to be there for me on the opposite end of telephone calls and messages during little patches of calamity in my days. Then to be there for me at the transit station, where I stood in the heat, my bags on a bench beside me, an unsteady feeling of anxiety still threatening to overpower enthusiasm in my change of habitat. Such a strong seed of love cracked itself open and filled my body when a car stopped at the curb and I saw a smile I hadn’t seen in almost ten months and suddenly realized how very much I needed this smile.

The love of myself also–I deserved this trip because it was the right action for me to take. I hadn’t left my hometown in two years and, simply, I had been longing to move beyond its borders and walk along different streets and drink coffees in different cafes and feel the interesting coexistence of sameness and alienness that would exist while nestling into these different settings. I always feel my appreciation of this world broaden when I see more of it.

The second line of motivation for me: I need to grow.

Every day, for months, for close to a year, I had been repeating this to myself as both a reminder and a challenge.

I need to grow.

I had been finding myself thinking back to my time in the Platonic Society, my university’s philosophy club. It might seem simple, and likely boring to some: five to ten people sitting in academic offices, professors’ homes, or cafes and discussing what reality really is, what the purpose of our existence really is, what knowledge itself really is.

Discussing, mind you, not conducting experiments, not moving about in the world and experientially determining the validity of the philosophers’ words we were quoting, paraphrasing, analyzing. We were discussing, talking, shooting the breeze in other words. But we were all so full of passion to really know why we are here; why, like everyone else, we’ve been given this time and this reality and then, what we are supposed to do with it. We were talking, and we were growing, and the fact that we felt ourselves growing–even if in slight and uneven ways much of the time–gave us more passion to keep our minds searching for more words, more ideas, and more discussions.

During my time in the world of philosophy meetings and soirees*, I collected a number of quotes from the writings of many of the philosphers who have passionately assessed the knowledge banks of our universe in order to take in as much as they can understand so that they may put it back out with reciprocity, that all may have the chance to take from it what they will, and possibly understand themselves and existence a little more comfortably. I needed to grow, and a quote from Rene Descartes kept presenting itself in my mind, and I let it stay, and analyzed it, and let its meaning grow:

“The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues.”

I took out greatest in relation to mind, this wasn’t important to the situation. All minds, as I decided to understand it, are capable of the greatest vices and the greatest virtues. We are all susceptible to negativity that impacts our lives in a negative way, but we are all also capable of redeeming ourselves. In any situation.

I needed to grow, and so I bought tickets for Amtrak, packed a couple of bags, and rode nine and a half hours to Chicago, uncertain if I was going to make it through the train ride as well as the next few days without having an anxiety attack, the full-blown type that induces physical and mental panic. Uncertain if I would be able to fully enjoy the adventure I knew I needed. There would be only a distance of roughly two states between myself and my home–my city and my family–but in terms of being in my safety zone, I was in the hundreds of thousands of miles out of range. Still, I needed to grow.

And I did. A lot can happen to the mind and heart, the logic and emotions, within a seventy-two hour duration, which is about the amount of time it took me to go and come back.

It’s too personal to explain, though, and this is how it goes for each of us. Part of our journey is external, yes, but a greater part is internal. It is how we, as individual selves or personalities or souls, hold our experiences within the places of ourselves that keep us fastened to our world with passion, love, compassion, and what we believe to be our own, identifiable, unique purpose here.

I could try to explain exactly what it meant to me to ride through a bigger city; to be wrapped in the warmth of a friend (and, I would later discover, my future husband) I was grateful to be with and who participated in setting a huge change in my life in motion; to observe the vivacity of so many different kinds of people moving with the city by foot, vehicle, or city train; to have the feeling that I could be a part of any place and any people on this earth that I place myself among. I could ask you to understand how healing and symbolic it was to cross the boundaries of state lines, move forward and break free of the circular motion I had confined my days to, often too timid to venture further into the great, waiting world. I could give play by play details of what it was like to synchronically bend, alter, then break both physical and mental habits of hiding, how it was done, and how extremely, way, way cool it was to grow up in a much needed way, finally! Thank God.

I think, though, that these images in my memory are most poignant to me and me only. That is how it is and I would like to keep it this way. What I can share is the basic, overarching idea–that moving in the world always helps, in some way.

So I leave you with a quote that I’m really liking these days: “If you cannot get out of it, you may as well get into it.”

During online research I discovered this quote, said to be “popular in the U.S. Army.” Yes, you’re in this existence, you have a lifetime, you cannot get out of this fact. This thought has occurred to me many a time in my life, giving me a bizarre, surreal type of feeling most times. Often, I haven’t known what to do with this vague discomfort that can accompany being such a sentient being. Now I know: just do what I’m doing, as they say. Take more trips, ride more trains, walk down as many roads and sidewalks and hills and other forms of terrain as possible. Just get into it, this clever little creation called life, as much as possible.

*A note on the soirees: A colleague once asked me if philosophy soirees have anything other than wine and cheese, undoubtedly imagining them as extremely formal affairs. And while yes, many that I attended did have wine and cheese, they also tended to offer barbeque wings, potato chips, and beer. It could be a Midwest America thing, though.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/lost-in-the-clouds/” Lost in the Clouds?–NY Times, article on philosophy

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/lost-in-the-clouds/” Travel to Create Yourself–Psychology Today