Ever since I was young, I have always loved ringing in the New Year. It has always been a special and potent time for reflecting on my past and envisioning the future. As a kid, I always enjoyed the ritual of writing New Year’s resolutions. As a yogi, this ritual has morphed into what I call a dharma alignment exercise.
The word dharma comes from Sanskrit, and it refers to your unique purpose and passion in life. The dharma alignment exercise is an opportunity to get clear on who you are, who you are becoming, what you stand for, and where you want to put my time and energy. The premise is that you are not entirely the same as you were twelve months ago. Hopefully you have evolved. That is the point! Hopefully you have learned and grown from the past year and have acquired new gifts and skills to take with you into the New Year.
You see, dharma is dynamic. I am and you are in a state of evolution. We are works in progress. Even as I still feel myself to be the same person that I have always been, I have been growing and changing during the last year, and my identity has shifted some. My desire is to be in a co-creative relationship with the Universe. I have come to strongly believe that the Universe has my back and is conspiring for my evolution, and the best thing I can do for myself and for the planet is to cooperate with this and figure out who I am and live this on purpose.
Over the years, I have developed a New Year's Reflection and Dharma worksheet with questions that I like to consider at the New Year. These serve as both reflection and planning. To use this worksheet, I would suggest setting aside a little time each day. You may choose to work on it for a week or even for the entire month of January.
Download the New Year's Reflection and Dharma Worksheet here.
The Busy Month of December
If your life is like that of most North Americans, the month of December is intensely busy with activities, to-lists, gift lists and holiday events. Peace and tranquility may be what you want, yet for many, this month and the holiday season is far from peaceful.
Yet, I believe in my capacity (and yours) to cultivate peace this month and and anytime.
A daily well-being practice is key. Whether your form of self-care is yoga, meditation, walking, getting a massage (or all of the above!) make these habits and practices count this month. Make it to yoga class. Stop, drop and sit on your meditation cushion. Bundle up and go for a walk with your raincoat and umbrella. You will be amazed at how far even 15 minutes will go toward keeping you in a peaceful state.
(Want a guided home yoga practice? Click here.)
The practices of yoga and meditation and time spent outside in nature calm the nerves, release agitation, and soothe an over-stimulated mind/body. Practice yoga to steep in the sweet serenity of your deepest core. This is shanti, peace surcharged with ecstasy. Commit to your well-being practices so that field of shanti, felt on the inside becomes more and more a quality of your daily functioning: your thoughts, spoken words and actions. Commit to your practices and good habits so that you can stay in the space of open-hearted-ness toward yourself, toward those you love most, toward those who you may find difficult, and toward all beings.
Most people spend more time with family and friends during the holiday season, and thus, this season is an opportunity to cultivate our positive connections with others and spread goodwill. This isn't necessarily easy, especially in the times in which we are living.
To cultivate goodwill, we have to focus on the intrinsic web of unity that binds us together so that our common humanity and common divinity are active in our awareness.
To help me keep stay in a spirit of goodwill during the holidays, I look to the teachings of the Brahma Viharas, literally the "heavenly abodes", a list of four qualities or mindsets that are embraced by yogis and Buddhists alike as a means for cultivating peace inside and out.
The Brahma Viharas are:
Maitri – friendliness and loving-kindness, the wish that all sentient beings be happy.
How to practice this: Take care of your own happiness first! To express goodwill toward others, you have to fill up your own happiness cup first. Be friendly and kind to yourself first and you will activate your natural capacity to be kind to others.
Karuna – compassion, the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.
How to practice this: Cultivate the attitude of interacting with others on the basis of your shared humanity. Compassion is to see someone eye to eye even when it’s uncomfortable. Be willing to lean into conversations and practice deep listening.
Mudhita – empathetic joy, the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of others.
How to practice this: Emotions are contagious. Happiness is contagious. Brain studies are proving this with the study of mirror neurons. Surround yourself with positive and happy people. This will increase your odds of being happy.
Upeksha – over-looking, equanimity, literally “over-looking”, to look high rather than low, to focus on the highest in ourselves and in others, to stay broad-minded and in a state of equanimity with regard to ourselves and others.
How to practice this: Watch your nagging, especially with the people you live with! Instead, practice seeing these people in their highest, and helping them succeed. (This is particularly good advice for parents and spouses!)
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
May there be peace. May there be peace. May there be peace.
Annie Barrett. Educator, certified health coach, educator and yoga instructor.