One of the things I love about January is I get to start anew. Of course, I bring my old 2018 self into the mix, but I have twelve new months to create just about anything.
In order to decide what I want to do or give or try or travel to, I need to take time beforehand to gain clarity. There are almost limitless opportunities, so it helps if you can stop for a second and get really clear about what’s next for you in the upcoming year.
Here are five of my favorite ways to gain clarity.
Writing. Journalling is the single best way for me to figure out what I think and feel and, consequently, want for the year ahead. It so happens I’m in good company.
Joan Didion said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” Stephen King said, “I write to find out what I think.” And, just in case you’re not convinced, Flannery O’Connor said it too, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Granted all of these people are famous writers, but the spirit of their words is true for all of us. And if you’re not into writing or journalling, read on.
Decluttering. Decluttering is a wonderful cathartic practice that allows us to see what remains as a way to understand what’s important. In Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she implores readers to keep only what sparks joy and let go of the rest. How lovely. She also has a killer method for folding clothing that has changed my drawers forever.
There have been dozens of books and hundreds of articles written on decluttering. Any of them can help, so I won’t spend time on detailing out all the methods. My favorite is to take everything you own and put it into four piles – keep, donate, sell, and toss. Then go for it. Start with the easy stuff like clothing and work your way up to tougher things like gifts or heirlooms.
In my experience going minimalist, every time I give, donate, sell or toss something, a little space opens up in my mind. In this space, I have more freedom for creativity and, you guessed it, clarity to focus on the meaningful stuff.
Praying. I pray a lot. Before meals, before a big meeting or work call, before I buy or sell something expensive and sometimes something cheap. If you ask, you shall receive. And I believe it. Ask for clarity in your prayers. Ask for guidance and perspective. Not in an oh, God, whoa is me, please help me, boo hoo hoo. Or as Wayne and Garth might say, We’re not worthy.
In all seriousness, ask in earnest and humility, as if you expect a response. Keep at it until it becomes clear.
Meditating. Some people say praying is talking to God and meditating is listening. I’m not sure about that exactly, but meditating is wonderful. The stillness and presence of being in meditation is special.
When I first started, a laundry list of to do’s would flood my brain. I’d think, wow, this is great, look how productive I’m going to be with all these things I need to do. Little did I know that it was my brain trying to bolster its importance (and you are important, brain) and sabotage my meditation. Thoughts will come, just let them come and let them go. No judgments.
The goal of meditation is to be present, watch (so to speak) your breath, and commune with all that is in the present moment. That is all. If you hear God, lucky you.
Reading. I’m not talking about picking up a good Stephen King book, but I wouldn’t begrudge or fault anyone for such an enjoyment. He’s the master of storytelling and I love his books.
But, today I’m talking about reading a couple, or even one, really good self help or inspirational (nonfiction) book. Whatever you might be drawn to or want to improve in yourself, pick up a book or three and get to work.
Read to understand and learn and to (most importantly) take action based on what you learned. A good book will give us ideas that might have been swirling in the ether above our heads, but once we read them – bam! – one lands on us. Hopefully gently.
Those are my five favorite ways of getting clear about what I want for the year ahead and beyond.
Montana is an incredibly beautiful, not to mention enormous, state. From east to west it’s about the equivalent of driving from Chicago to New Jersey. Crazy big.
About a decade ago, I had the opportunity to do some backpacking inside Glacier National Park. It was one of the most memorable backpacking trips, from seeing a massive and somehow majestic moose standing only a few meters away to crossing a waist-high, ice-cold mountain river hoisting my camera and the rest of my pack above my head in an attempt to keep it dry. We also came across a mama bear with her two nine-month-old cubs. Luckily, no mauling ensued.
When I arrived in Bozeman earlier this month, the little airport felt welcoming and cozy. It was built like a mountain lodge with raised wooden beams supporting a roof that takes on an average of seventy-two inches of snow each year. Outside, the Montana that I recalled entering many years ago, with it’s clean air, grand mountains nestled on an eternal horizon, and impossibly large clouds somehow not blocking the warm sun that fell on my face, greeted me kindly. Although many years ago, I had landed in Kalispell almost three hundred miles away, this was the same big sky country. It felt like an embrace from an old friend.
We stayed at a newly built dwelling called the Sage Lodge in Pray, MT. They were still putting the finishing touches on the rooms. When we checked in, we were missing oddities like lightbulbs and the sliding screen door handle. Strange, but the staff were mostly friendly and you couldn’t beat the location, which was almost on top of the Yellowstone River and a thirty-five minute drive straight across the Wyoming boarder into Yellowstone National Park.
Since taking on the minimalist way of life, there wasn’t much packed in my suitcase. It was light as a feather. Two t-shirts, an athletic long sleeve pullover, a SmartWool shirt, hiking pants, jeans, socks, hiking shoes, sandals, pjs, undergarments, a hat, sunglasses, and a toiletry bag. (Minimalism aside, I was glad the lodge we stayed in had laundry because by the third day, I needed them all cleaned.)
I’ve heard fishing is good for the mind, body, and soul, and we were in the best fly fishing spot in the world, so I figured why not. And it did not disappoint. On the Yellowstone River, there are rules about which fish you can keep, which you must release, and others you must keep or kill. According to the law, we released all our catches.
Every time I’d get a bite, I’d “set” my pole, which basically means pull it up as hard and fast as you can, and hope there’s a fish on the other end of it. I missed most times, but managed to net two beautiful rainbow trout. The experience of pulling them in, feeling their weight on the other side of the pole, and then guiding them gently into the net was invigorating. I’d wet my hands, hold them for a quick picture, and then they went back into the water hopefully a little wiser for the wear.
We also spent a day in Yellowstone. Did a six-mile hike out and back to the Imperial Geyser, saw a few bison, a bighorn sheep, and watched good ole Ole Faithful do its thing too. Impressive.
When the four days were over, I was sad to leave Montana. There is a rugged wildness, a real wilderness, about the state. And yet, I felt safe and supported by the mountains, the rivers and streams, the vast earth. Maybe it was just nice to get out of the city and see the stars. Whatever it was, I want to go back.
People say Montana winters are a “dry cold,” which I guess is supposed to be less cold somehow. I don’t know about that, but I might go back this winter just to test out the theory. I’m thinking snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Anything to get outside, even in the freezing temperatures, to be with those mountains and rivers, and under that big sky again.
It arrived. The Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training by Jennifer Van Allen, Bart Yasso, and Amby Burfoot. Its 290 pages promise to guide me to marathon success. The back cover boasts an inclusion of all the “essentials” and “best advice” for helping me every step of the way in my training, eating, and avoiding injury. I wonder if it addresses avoiding hershey squirts and toenail loss. I want all bases covered.
The big book delivers on its title. Shaped like a phonics workbook and weighing twice as much, it instills confidence that upon completion, I will be ready. If only I could read my training runs too. The words like steps, punctuation speeds and slows, pages like miles all pass under my feet as the print crosses my eyes. How simply wonderful it would be to train. But if running was like reading, almost everyone would do it, and it would lose a part of its magic. And that would be tragic.
Instead I remember my purpose, my vision, and goal. Breathing deeply into these images and out a confident resolution. Regardless of my trepidation, I’d still rather venture down the road less-taken with the Big Book in hand, my grandmother in my heart, and start running.