Friday, December 7, 2012

Year's End: A Time of Deep Reflection — Writing Your Way to Understanding, Inspiration & Realization

Sean & Mufidah: New Year 2011 — Honoring 2010 & Looking Ahead
© 2012 Sean M. Madden, Mufidah Kassalias. All Rights Reserved.
(photo and image border by Luka)

This is an ideal time to embark upon, or rekindle, a daily writing practice — as these final few weeks of December and the whole of the year draw quickly down. For whether we live in the northern hemisphere where winter looms or the southern hemisphere where the sun is soon to reach its zenith, the end of the year marks a milestone in our lives, a point beyond which is something separate from that which fell into the space of time denoted by the previous year.

This is a time to consider what has befallen us over the past year, what we’ve done, what we’ve considered, all that we tried our darnedest to do, and to acknowledge those monumental moments which have left us forever changed, as well as those scarcely discernible seedlings of something new which have begun to reach for the sun and to brave new beginnings.

In short, this is a time of deep reflection, a time to consider what it is we want from life, where we’re heading and where, perhaps in contrast, we want to go.

A personal example of just how powerful such considerations can be …

Two years ago, as 2010 was likewise drawing to an end, and my partner Mufidah and I were wading waist-deep in the sometimes turbulent and sometimes still, yet always flowing, waters of life, we made a pact to segregate a span of time in which we’d settle into our lovely space at home, away from our quite public lives, and to contemplate things close to home. A time during which we wouldn’t be teaching classes, leading workshops or meeting with clients, but, instead, consider afresh what was important to us, where things were leading, whether this was the direction we wanted to go. And, generally, to sequester ourselves off from the daily toil to draw ourselves in, to live close to the bone, and to reflect.

Easier said than done. Life, as we all know, has a momentum of its own. All that we do, all that we infuse energy into, take on a sort of life of their own, quite independent from us in any given moment, no matter how much we might like to lie fallow for a few weeks.

As we came closer and closer to the official start of the holidays, when the workaday begins to give way to office parties, luncheons and meetings up for drinks, our lives were filled, still, with the goings on of self-employment, and this continued right up to Christmas. It was only in the week between Christmas and the New Year that things finally began to slow down such that we could enter into that place of relative silence and simplicity as a means to inquire into ourselves and decide for ourselves what changes to make in our day-to-day lives.

By way of sharing with you the process we went through, below are excerpts from an email I sent to the Mindful Living Guide community on 6 January 2011:
Firstly, a Happy New Year to you all. For Mufidah and myself, it was a time to be together in simplicity, to recommit to living deliberately, to continue to cultivate ourselves and work towards our goals with consistency. We wrote together, asking ourselves such questions as "How do I/we want to live?", and then writing in response and sharing with the other what flowed through us and onto the page. Just exactly as we do in class, in wholehearted presence.

We already knew that we want to live reverentially, in grace, in gratitude, and in peace, and to live and work creatively. But we have been asking ourselves how, specifically, within the muck and mire of everyday life can we literally awaken into this space, individually and together? Our writing in response to these questions has helped beyond words in inspiring us to make some simultaneously radical and yet simple, enlivening adjustments to our days, such as awakening each morning in warm, loving silence as we enter into the stream of our day.

And we have been returning to the Chinese classics, notably the I Ching or the Book of Changes, as well as Deng Ming-Dao's contemporary classic 365 Tao. But we have also been reading together most evenings from Meister Eckhart's early-fourteenth-century treatises and sermons. Eckhart Tolle changed his name, as some of you may know, to reflect the influence which Meister Eckhart had on him, and one can easily detect in Tolle's writings the inspiration of the Dominican theologian-philosopher-mystic's ideas. I've continued to read and reread Chekhov's short stories in a splendid volume which Mufidah gave to me for my birthday back in November, and quickly worked through my 91-year-old friend Martin's copy of M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled, having plucked it from Martin's bookshelf, thumbing through the table of contents and then seeing that the later chapters in particular might inspire, and they did.

This, and walking, and preparing scrumptious meals together is the sort of the thing which we did over the holidays. And we are inspired to carry into the new year these various sources of inspiration as we begin to traverse these first few days and weeks of 2011. Writing will, of course, continue to play a key role in our creative and spiritual endeavors.
Mufidah and I continued to delve deeply into the I Ching — itself an incredible tool for the inquiring into one’s self, and prompting careful consideration and written reflections of where one is heading in life — and this led, early that spring, to my leading a fine group of folk in a six-week course in how to tap the age-old wisdom contained within this ancient book which speaks so clearly, still, to us today.

And having myself recently experienced profound loss, I organized a course entitled Looking Beyond Loss & Grief. As with the I Ching course, this was likewise a great success, touching all of us in indescribable ways as we joined together each week to consider the phenomenon of loss through the creative endeavors of writing, sharing our work, opening ourselves up through heartfelt discussion, and reading excerpts from fine literature which in one way or another touch upon the topics of loss and grief.

These and other ideas — like the Mindfully Decadent Monday walk and writing workshop which we held, in May, along the banks of the River Ouse, walking from Lewes to the Hamsey churchyard, and which seeded not only a wonderful short story written by one of the participants but which later in 2011 continued to be fleshed out until, in 2012, it grew finally into a finished novel — were seeded by way of Mufidah’s and my end-of-year reflections.

Now, two years later, we’re in Deng Ming-Dao’s words, “living the dream … there’s no greater good than that”. And he’s right. After having little idea as to how it might actually be done — and having come upon a near-infinite number of stumbling blocks which has made it anything but easy — we’ve been slow-traveling, now, for nearly seven months, having spent the whole of the summer in France, and now the whole of the autumn in Burgos, Spain, with the winter fast-settling here in this ancient capital of Castile. But not only are we slow-traveling in Europe, we’re writing, walking, teaching and taking photographs daily, reading, learning a new language, meeting countless new friends, and exploring all sorts of new places.

This is what we dreamed of doing when we took time two winters ago to consider what we really wanted from life.

And while we had no idea how it could possibly come to fruition, we both know that the seeds of thought which we sowed in that slowed-down week between Christmas and the New Year were what brought us to where we are today — a week, that is, of deep reflection and writing. And a whole lot of love and support from a great many folk who’ve helped us out along the way.
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Would you like to embark upon, or rekindle, a daily writing practice at year's end, in preparation for renewing yourself as well as your writing in 2013?

Click Here for Sean's SPECIAL Year-End Holiday OFFER!

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