As 2016 winds down to its last days, social media and conversation is abuzz with how this year has truly been THE annus horribilis, the year that everyone wants to see the back of. It seems like there were more tears in the collective fabric of humanity over the last 12 months than in other years in recent memory. From the deaths of some of our most celebrated artists and musicians to the seemingly relentless terror attacks on freedom and those fortunate enough to live where freedom reigns, from the non-stop sensationalist media frenzy that helped elect he-who-shall-not-be-named to the office of POTUS, to the rising wave of intolerance and xenophobia, 2016 has definitely been chock full of shocks. But instead of looking at all these moments as contributing to a horrible year, I can give you all a few reasons as to why 2016 is one of the most important years in this lifetime of ours.
My year has had some of the most challenging moments I’ve ever been faced with. My teacher of 17 years, Joan Ruvinsky, passed away, my dog got critically ill, I was ill and on antibiotics for over 3 months and my partner and I had a major cancer scare over the last 5 weeks. Serious life events that kept coming like a roll of punches that hit just when you find verticality and can see straight again. And I’m not the only one. Almost every single person I know has had his or her share of challenges in 2016. Financial struggles, serious mental and physical health problems, legal issues, you name it, it’s been occurring in my sphere of awareness. Seen literally, it all amounts to trouble and suffering, both of which anyone with half a functional brain would steer clear of. However, seen spiritually or symbolically, something much more significant than unpleasant moments has occurred in 2016.
We don’t learn anything when things are good. We don’t learn anything about ourselves or about how we operate in the world when the sun is shining, when it’s eternal summer, when we’ve got coin in the bank, when we’re a pound or two below our ideal weight, when we look in the mirror and love what we see, when our relationships and friendships are sailing along smoothly, when we love our work and when we feel like everything is exactly where it should be. And understand this above all else: spiritually speaking, success is not measured by what we own, our accomplishments, the amount of money we have or what we look like. Success, when speaking spiritually, is measured by how much we’ve learned. And we don’t learn anything in times of prosperity and abundance. We learn when we have our asses served to us by what typically gets easily referred to as “the universe.” And whether or not we have liked it, we have gotten more successful in 2016.
I have learned, through all of the challenges that this year has had in store for me, how to really work with my thoughts and stay in positivity, hope, realism and productivity. I have learned what it means to work with fear, with negativity, with pain (emotional and physical), to put into practice everything I have studied and taught over the last chunk of my career. And understand this: I knew, as soon as things got heavy in my life, that I was being presented with the opportunity to respond to and deal with hardship, to make sure that a) I knew what I was talking about when I taught about working with fear, anxiety, negativity and darkness, and b) I could accurately empathize with the suffering of others. My role in this lifetime is to help others navigate their Dark Nights of the Soul. And this year, I was presented with my own, over and over. I was meant to be reminded that sometimes it feels impossible to inhale fully, to inflate the lungs, to really take a deep breath in the face of fear and chaos. I was reminded. And I am a better person, author, teacher, friend, son, mentor, brother, husband, godfather and pet owner because of it.
What have we learned collectively in 2016? That sometimes the unthinkable happens. That sometimes events do not unfold the way we would want them to, that the Hollywood narrative is the Hollywood narrative to keep us entertained and always able to depend on the happy ending. We have learned that we will never agree with each other on some of the most fundamental issues that affect us all, and that that is ok. We’ve learned that the freedoms that we are blessed with on this side of the world are not to be taken for granted, that with the election of certain individuals, those freedoms that others fought and died for could be taken away. We’ve learned that we might need to stand up and speak louder to ensure the freedom of all, not just those that look like us, speak the same language, pray to the same God as we do or align with our political views. We’ve learned that anything can happen to anyone at any time, and that every moment is precious. We’ve learned that when we suffer, we instinctively become more aware of the suffering of others and feel an animalistic need to not inflict further suffering on anyone or anything. We’ve learned that we have a choice as to whether we take care of each other or whether we don’t. We’re still learning that lesson. It will be a long time before we get it. I’m hopeful that we will.
Basically, 2016 was a game-changer for us, on a personal and collective level. And while we may have made our way through the year under low-level pressure and resented having to do so, no one can argue that whatever we’ve learned is essential. We need to be reminded of what matters in life, and for me, that is how I work with my thought patterns. Every single one of us will have an experience of the world that is dependent on what our thoughts are, and I believe that hardship and adversity exist for us to do the mindfulness work, to observe where our thoughts go when circumstances and events get less than ideal. We are meant to look beyond the appearance of it all to find the meaning, the symbolism, and, ultimately, the lessons that are ours specifically to learn.
And so, looking back through a different lens or filter, how does 2016 look to you now? Give it some thought and see what arises.
Happy Holidays to all, and the happiest of New Years. Here’s to 2017!