Wednesday ZenDay: The New Year Project

Each year in my meditation class we do an interesting exercise. We meditate with the express purpose of figuring out our intention/theme for the year and each month. I think there’s a misconception about meditation that you’re supposed block out thoughts. And just focus on your breathing. That’s part of it. But it’s also a means to get you to a place where you can engage your super conscious mind, where you can tap new ideas, new solutions, or just reassuring thoughts that your subconscious mind tends to sabotage with negative thinking and mental clutter. So in that deeply relaxing meditative state, we go to find our intentions – those new things to focus on that are meant to satisfy our desires for the year. They’re not necessarily your stereotypical New Year’s resolutions. A couple of years ago, I set an intention to laugh. It was a great month. Another friend decided she wanted to give a gift to someone every day in the month of August. (Why wait ‘til Christmas?)

I don’t have my whole year planned yet, but I do have my theme for the year. It came to me last night. Strength. Then everyone buys a colorful calendar, we track our progress each day on our path. One of the kinda of comical things I discovered about myself is that I seem to be a month or two late on acting on my intentions. Will it be that way this year? We’ll see. Does it matter? No. We’re not about “shoulds” in meditation class. It’s not a pressure thing. More like a guidepost.

How did 2013 go? Read on, if you want to know.

Last year, my intention was “My Well Being.” I was in a bad place. Dealing with some heavy family long-term stressors had taken a toll on my health. My doctor said, “No exercise.” What was a triathlete to do? I focused on what I could change. I improved my nutrition a lot. I meditated almost every night. I stopped using a couple of glasses of wine or beer as a reward for a hard day. Instead, I turned my cocktails into elaborate juices. I worked on letting go of some things like resentment and things that didn’t bring me peace. This summer, I pretty much stopped watching the news. This fall, I took a break from social media.

Very gradually, I felt better. But my well-being continued to be high-jacked by concern for my loved ones and the new responsibility of picking up the pieces of their lives. My dad has dementia. We moved him out here almost two years ago. But we’re still in the process of emptying our childhood home 3,000 miles away and prepping it for sale. My oldest sister, lives a few states south of there. She has paranoid schizophrenia and the complications that go with it. She lives alone and in her own delusional world, won’t speak on the phone and is completely unaware of her disease. She was hospitalized four times this year. I’m responsible for her finances, smoothing things over with her neighbors, collaborating with her court-appointed guardian, answering healthcare workers’ requests for information about her and submitting detailed reports to the court each year. In 2013, I made five trips to the East Coast.

As I sit here reflecting on the year, I feel much more relaxed and even a sense of pride. I feel like I'm finally out of the eye of the storm. My dad is safe and well cared for down the street. If I had my way, my sister would not live alone. But the mental healthcare laws don’t allow any further intervention than an outpatient commitment, which we finally obtained this summer. Fortunately, one of the hospitals arranged to have a social worker visit her three times a week. That was a huge victory. A lot of heavy-duty clerical tasks are taken care of too. My part-time job for them is a lot less time consuming and draining. Their intellect used to be one of their greatest assets. It’s been a shock. I’ve had to accept that they’re not getting better.

Though they are still here, I think watching their sudden cognitive decline actually involved a whole lot of grieving. And I sense I’m finally coming out of it – no matter what happens with them next. Getting to that place emotionally has, in turn, made a difference physically.

My doctor allowed me to work out a half hour a day after a couple of months of complete rest. Then, in August, I got the go-ahead to do more intensity. It was a year without racing, except for a little fundraiser meet for my old high-school’s x-country team. I’m doing much better. A hard workout doesn’t keep me up half the night or render me useless the next day. I’m back to doing everything – swimming, biking, running, and crossfit. I started doing yoga in the morning too. So when “strength” came to me as my theme for the year – well, it just felt right. I’m looking forward to finding all kinds of new strength in 2014. What about you? Whatever you do, I hope it's a very Happy New Year!