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Start the New Year With An Open Heart

Rather than make a to-do list of self-improvement projects, like fitting into old jeans or saving money, consider cultivating the person whom you want to be. Hint: It's a feeling, not a tangible thing.

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Meditation Advisor

In mid-December, a bomb went off in Port Authority in New York City. Four people, including the terrorist who set it off, were injured, but no one was killed. That afternoon, I led a meditation class at one of my MNDFL studios in the city, and afterward, a woman told me that she had been a block away from the explosion.

“I immediately numbed out,” she said. “I was going to the post office and my first thought was, ‘Okay, I guess this means I need to go to a different post office.’” As she began to walk away, she noticed that she didn’t want to “numb out” and came to our space to meditate instead.

I was deeply inspired by this woman. So many individuals whom I encountered that day saw the news, and quickly moved onto the next thing. I can’t blame them. After a year marked by political tension, threat of nuclear war, and rampant racism, many people have chosen to numb out rather than tune into how they feel. It’s a coping mechanism at best, a survival technique at worst. To meditate and learn to feel what we feel (and realize that’s okay) is, frankly, counter-cultural and revolutionary.

As we enter this time for reflection, for many of us, a new year feels like a fresh start. We feel more open to the possibility that we can do something revolutionary for ourselves, and, thus, for the world. We turn our mind toward possibilities for transformation driven by what we call a “resolution.” But here’s a radical idea: Instead of basing a resolution around something that you want to change about yourself, such as losing weight or spending less money, what if you viewed your resolutions through the lens of a single intention, specifically, having a more open heart in the year ahead?

Hear me out. In a world where people are reporting that they feel increasingly isolated, what better resolution could we have than to try to connect more openly with others? If this interests you, the good news is, there’s a simple path for how to do exactly that. All you have to do is tune into the present moment and become more aware. I’ve been thinking about something my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, once said about how every moment has an energy. Either we can ride the energy of this moment or, if we fail to do so, it will ride us.

For example, if, like me, you wake up with a slight sense of anxiety around what horrors the news of the day will reveal, you might, immediately, reach for your phone and give into letting that anxiety ride you. Next time you feel these emotions taking over, you can pause, come back to the body breathing, and become more present. You can look at your anxiety and see if by acknowledging it, it becomes less overwhelming. Then, you can connect to this moment and ride the energy of it from a place of wholeness and goodness.

The more we are able to be genuinely present with our experience, the more open we feel. Meditation is a tool that wears away at our tough exterior—it’s like we are walking around with a thick suit of armor—and makes us more tender. By showing up for each moment and experiencing it as it is, we are taking an industrial strength Brillo pad to it and rubbing away until we reveal our own vulnerable heart. Yes, this means we are a little raw and exposed, but there’s something absolutely beautiful about connecting with our world in that way. We become more aware of who we genuinely are.

Related: A Meditation on Intentions for a New Year

To be clear, I’m not saying you can’t also have goals, like losing weight or having a better relationship with money. Those resolutions are fine. But they are more about things you want to do. This year, however, I challenge you to focus less on “things,” and more about who you want to be and what aspects of yourself you might want to cultivate.

Try this mindfulness exercise: Take a moment to come into your body. Feel the weight of it on the ground. Gently lift up through your spine. Tune into just feeling your breath as it’s naturally flowing. Now, in your own head, ask yourself, “Who do I want to be this year?” In other words, if at the end of the year, something happened to you and you passed away, what would you want to be known for? What aspects of who you are do you want to cultivate more of?

Do you want to be an open-hearted person?

An incredibly kind person?

A supremely generous person?

Notice what answers arise. Let them wash over you like a wave. Come back to the question until one answer feels particularly potent or significant to you. This is not an analytical exercise so much as listening to your own intuition. When you have an answer, write it down. You can post it somewhere you will see it regularly and be reminded of it.

While not a formal meditation exercise, going forward you can consider how you might apply this intention to the rest of your life. Maybe it can map onto those resolutions you want to do. But you might also notice that you want to re-prioritize certain activities and relationships in your life–to live from a place of being in full alignment with your intention. The more we do this sort of work, the more we rub away at the armor that keeps us blocked off from the world around us. We become less numb. We expose our vulnerable open heart and allow it to transform our life and everyone we encounter, which will touch and, ultimately, transform the world.



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