At the beginning of every year there’s usually a lot of hype around trying to be the “new” you. While I totally understand the motivating power of New Year’s and support any path towards positive change, I have to be honest and admit that any attempt to chase after the “new” me has always left me feeling a little worse. It was around this time of year—deep in the trenches of February—when I would surrender to that invisible force working against me, pulling me under as I tried to swim in earnest towards the surface. Change, however clear or necessary, seemed impossible and I could never for the life of me understand why it was so difficult to manifest the results I so desperately craved. Everything—my happiness, my wholeness, my sense of self—was riding on my success, and so I would put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to deliver results. But after years of “New Year. New You!” disappointment, I arrived at a place where I could no longer endure the overwhelming feelings of shame that washed over me as I proved to myself (yet again) that I, Chrissy Carter, was a huge failure.
Consumed by emptiness, I would seek solace in the tender embrace of the “old” me. She would wait patiently for me and then soothe my pain with her stories and all of the familiar habits that made me feel so miserable and yet so comfortable. The only space I could find away from her presence was in my yoga and meditation practice, which offered me the support of a good teacher—firm, loving, and with my best interests at heart. Over time I cultivated the courage to step out of the vicious cycle and look for answers. Here’s what I’ve learned: Change doesn’t happen simply because you want it to. If you want to change your life, you must first change your mind.
Unfortunately, the mind doesn’t like change. It likes familiarity. It would prefer it if you just kept doing what you’re doing. Our brains crave consistent, predictable results—anything with a proven track record of keeping you alive. Our senses gather an overwhelming amount of data from the outside world but the brain only registers the information it can fold into your current paradigm. This explains why, for example, you’ve never in your life seen or heard anything about knitting, until one day you learn how to knit and then all of a sudden everyone in the world is knitting right in front of you—on the subway, in restaurants, at coffee shops . . . everywhere. Your best friend has been knitting for ten years and you had no idea until now. That’s how the mind works; we’re hard-wired to reject anything that doesn’t fit neatly into a pre-existing file.
Meditation gives us a front row seat to our own mental process. I have to warn you: it’s no picnic. Meditation is not some magical state of bliss where unicorns graze in strawberry fields and all of your problems float away like bubbles. The practice of meditation is merely the practice of concentration—you attempt to direct your attention to one thing but end up watching your mind drag you away from what you’re doing so it can indulge in its regular mishigas. Our job in meditation is to gently guide our attention back to our chosen object of concentration. It’s an annoying job, but with practice we become more tolerant. If we can stick with it, patterns begin to emerge, and that, to me, is where it gets interesting. When you can observe the same thoughts pop up over and over again, or even start to link those thoughts to your behavioral patterns and reactionary tendencies, it gets you thinking: Where is it all coming from? What force is churning out this particular brand of thinking, and how do I unsubscribe from their mailing list?
If we follow the breadcrumbs of our thoughts back to their source, they will lead us straight to our beliefs. Beliefs are created by our accumulated past experiences, or samskaras. The mind is always trying to draw a parallel between what we’re experiencing right now and what we’ve experienced in the past; as a result, it can be almost impossible to discern whether we’re reacting to what’s happening in real time or simply reacting to something that happened to us years ago. Years of disappointment, for example, may cultivate the belief that it’s just never going to happen. As small disappointments arise in the moment, we may fail to see them for what they truly are because we’re too busy looking for evidence to support our established beliefs. Our reactions are waiting in the wings, ready to go on stage and repeat the lines they’ve recited a million times. “Of course this happened,” you say—you knew it would. This is not living in the present moment, but rather living in the shadows of the past.
In order to embrace something new, we have to let go of the antiquated mechanism driving our current reality. Change, therefore, is a kind of grieving process where we mourn the stale, limiting beliefs that keep us chained to the mental and behavioral patterns we’ve outgrown. The reason change can feel like an uphill battle is because we’re carrying our baggage—our samskaras—up the hill with us; it’s really hard to move forward towards the “new” you with the “old” you strapped to your back. Change is only possible when we’re ready to let go and embrace the mentality that will give way to new patterns.
Meditation invites us to develop a relationship with ourselves. You will begin to turn inward for support, clarity, and guidance. You will look within for the answers and give up your quest for your missing piece. Every time I sit, I can see the thoughts that are so obviously corroding my efforts to change. Meditation helps me fight for the positive choice, and even if I try and fail (which I often do) I continue to show up because I love myself. To me, this is what it means to live my yoga. It’s no longer about searching for the “new” me because now what I want more than anything is to be with the real me. I’m forever grateful to my practice for introducing us and for teaching me to be at h(om)e with my Self.