I’m recalling a conversation I had with one of my GWI colleagues, a fellow working parent of school-aged children. We agreed that September marks the real start of a new year, not January. Regardless of your household situation, I’m curious: Do you feel a shift in energy this time of year? From whatever activities and meaning summer holds for you to a sense of focus or freshness or restart? In the midst of year-end holidays, GWI closes out our annual calendar with a week of winter hibernation. When that December week arrives, I tend to be caught by surprise by what feels like the sudden arrival of a slowdown.
I’m anticipating another year of experiencing a rather quick slide from the extra energy of September to the quiet, reflective withdrawal at December’s end. Shortly after that, January comes along with my annual practice of setting intentions (instead of resolutions) for the new calendar year. But right now, it feels like there’s an opportunity to consider these few months from now until then as a block of time worthy of its own intentions. What has my work and life and experience been teaching me this year? How can I notice that, and align my actions with it?
I offer these questions as an invitation for you to reflect along with me. Perhaps we’ll each come up with an intention or two that supports us in living and working in ways that align with the values we hold dear.
Here are some simple things I’ve been learning lately. So much is out of my control. So many things are happening, all the time, right around me, in my community, in our region, and across the globe. Even speeding down Route 9 in Poughkeepsie to get my kid to school on time with cars moving in front of, behind, alongside me, red light approaching. I don’t know what will happen when. I wonder: Can I relax into the reality of uncertainty and lack of control? Can I tap into gratitude for the many safe trips I take for granted?
An email comes. Someone wants to set up a call to check in with me. My mind starts spinning stories. What have I done wrong? Do they think I’m doing a bad job? Am I in trouble? What will they say? If I’m defensive (can I somehow avoid being defensive?), will our relationship be affected? Will they start to see me in a negative light? I take my attention away from this tumble of thoughts to notice the feeling of dread in my body, how my stomach feels a bit heavy and sour. How nothing has changed around me in my home office, but my experience of everything has. Here’s where I have some control. I can realize I don’t know what will be said and why. I can notice how I’m caught up in stories of what might happen instead of being here. I can be curious about how dread feels in my body and notice when it shifts and lifts. I can set an intention to be open and receptive to whatever is said to me in the check in call – to try to understand more than agree, disagree, convince – and refocus on the work in front of me right now.
I can respond to things as they are instead of to things as I wish they were (or weren’t). This is where freshness can arise. Where it becomes possible to see and move into new openings instead of well-established ruts.
There was a moment a handful of years ago when I recall GWI workers discussing strategic questions about our direction. I recall passionately declaring: “How is everything!” I don’t remember what prompted my declaration. To the extent that my intervention was wise in that moment, I had the feeling it came through rather than from me. Interpreting experiences through the lens of “how” since then has reinforced for me the idea that how we show up is as or more important than what we do. Did your favorite teacher open your mind to new connections because they had the latest information and pedagogical techniques or because of the attention they paid to you and your learning experience? Did you experience a path-altering ah-ha, an insight into how you could contribute toward shaping the world in beneficial ways because you heard just the right idea expressed using just the right words or because someone held a container of care for you and a community of co-learners? “What” is part of the equation, for sure, and how we show up matters a great deal. The good news is that we have choice in how we show up. When we show up available to respond to what is, that’s also where we not only express our values but influence the world toward what we believe is important.
At GWI, we believe that shaping the transitions around us toward justice is important to the survival and potential for thriving of humans on our planetary home. There’s a “what” of Just Transition, namely the five principles we can all strive to weave into our Good Work. And there’s also a “how”, which are the practices we lift up as ways of showing up to the principles. We name practices like collaboration, strengthening our connection with place and nature, tapping into and expressing our creativity and imagination, storytelling, becoming skillful at conflict resilience as foundational ways of being in preparation for a culture centered on care; work driven by cooperation; and economies whose purpose is ecological and social well-being.
There’s one more on our incomplete list of Just Transition practices that ties back into my September reflections: mindfulness. I’m setting the intention to finish this year practicing mindfulness in my Good Work, which is not separate from my life. Mindfulness, according to my colleague Micah and based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition, means paying attention, on purpose, moment to moment, without judgment. What intention is emerging from your September reflections?