My 2018 Year-End Reflection or Learning to Give No F**ks by Christina Knowles

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So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want to do some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

That was an excerpt from my 2015 year-end blog—a year where I watched loved ones suffer with illness, a year where I struggled to find balance and peace amidst chaotic situations. Yet, I still felt good at the end of that year, having learned the secret of happiness. I had the epiphany that living in the moment, being aware and thankful is where contentment can be found, and realized that happiness is often just a choice. I wish I could say that since then I’ve been totally awake, that my life has achieved that balance I spoke about, but it has not. At least not completely. Shortly after that, some major tragedies struck, and I lost my footing for a while. However, I am progressing from one year to the next. I’ve had some bumps in the road, but now I’m picking up speed.

For example, 2018 brought me a new level of self-awareness that, in and of itself, has been an epiphany of sorts. I may not have perfect balance or peace at all times, but I know who I am, what I want, and what I need to work on in greater clarity than ever before. This past year has been a year when I learned a great many things about myself and about those around me. I faced great sorrow and great joy, which is usually the case every year it seems.

2018 was the year where I learned how to live without my sisters, or maybe, it was when I learned that sisters don’t have to be blood-related, and I was about to lose a third sister. I watched in fear and anxiety as my best friend of the past 13 years packed up and moved across the country, embarking on her new journey. I flew out to see her when she’d been gone barely two months. She’s always been a kind of guru to me, and while there, I sat on a huge rock, staring into the vast Pacific Ocean and learned to feel at one with the universe. We laughed until we cried, and we sat in silent meditation together each day, and I wondered how I’d ever get through life without her physical presence each week, but I also realized how our friendship had shaped me and helped me grow throughout all these years, and really prepared me for this reality.

I leaned more heavily on my book club friends and found them to be warm, generous, kind, and loving. They taught me, and still teach me daily, that there are good people all around me, and no matter where life leads us, there are friends to be made and fun to be had.

There were other struggles in 2018. It was a year when I stood up for myself and found a depth of strength and resilience I never really knew I had. I also found an inner peace that overflows to cover any negative circumstance, and I learned that nothing is good unless I think it so, and thinking it makes it thus.

It was the year when I examined myself and found me wanting, and loved myself unconditionally anyway, and as a result, I committed to my self-improvement without judgement. Looking at yourself honestly and still loving yourself is the most comforting of experiences. It equips me to work on myself with no stress or anxiety. But honestly, it also helps when you’ve learned “the subtle art of not giving a fuck.” I read the book by this title, authored by Mark Manson, and took it to heart. I’ve learned to say, “I don’t care what they think,” and mean it. It doesn’t mean I knowingly annoy people or hurt them; it just means that I do what I think is right according to my own ethical standards, and no one else has to agree with it. I care what I think, and those closest to me. That seems sufficient to me.

2018 was yet another year when my husband, the love of my life, was my rock and gave me strength to face every day amid all the changes coming my way. Together, I think we both became even more open-minded. I thought I was open-minded before, but as many of us do in the face of this radical and vitriolic political climate, I became more and more closed off to the concerns and reasoning of the “other” side. Throughout the year, I read many books that I found particularly helpful in showing me where I might be wrong, and to reconsider the truth of my opinions. I have distanced myself from political parties and have gone back to looking at individual issues, and I’ve tried to see things from the perspective of those who disagree with me. I still retain most of my political views, but I’ve recommitted to seeking truth, instead of confirmation.

On the lighter side, I did some other awesome things this year like taking a psychology/nutrition/health class, a class on dying, and an online Spanish class. I read 77 books, spent more time with my wonderful daughter, built an awesome patio with my husband, and threw a fabulous party with my numerous friends. I’ve spent less and less time at home doing work that should be done at work, and more time pursuing things that make me happy. I’ve made some strong relationships and connections this year, and I’ve tried to give of myself and to be open to helping others without over-stressing myself with busyness.

All in all, considering the major changes I and the country have undergone this year, it was a year of general peace and personal growth, and I look forward to using the tools I’ve gained this past year to make a choice for peace and joy every day of 2019.

Happy New Year!–Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2018

10 Tips to Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions by Christina Knowles

img_1314Reflecting on life is common this time of year. Some feel as though another year has gone by and wonder where the time went and feel disappointed and unaccomplished. Not me. I like to reflect on the year in order to make plans for the coming year. I see each new year as a fresh start, a chance to stop and take stock, decide what’s really important to me right now, and to make sure I don’t waste a whole year without even realizing it. I reevaluate my goals and adjust accordingly.

 

Yet there are those who look upon New Year’s resolutions with disdain, suggesting that failure in realizing these goals is inevitable and merely contributes to frustration and disappointment. I don’t see it that way. I like to make lots of resolutions because I usually keep at least half of them, so the more I have, the more I keep. This year, I started a second blog, published a collection of poetry, gained a basic proficiency with Photoshop, and reduced the amount of work I take home in addition to several personal things I won’t mention. Did I complete all my goals? No, but I’m perfectly satisfied with what I did accomplish.

 

So, because I’m pretty successful in this area, I thought I’d offer a few tips that help me in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.

 

  1. Make sure your resolutions are things that you really want to do, not just what you think you should do, or what someone else suggests you do. It’s human nature to be inspired to work for something when you really want it. Sometimes, we try to force our desires to fit things that we think are good for us, but our heart is not in it. If your heart is not in it, you probably won’t do it.
  2. Make realistic resolutions for the things that you are slightly less enthusiastic about. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 40 lbs.,” say, “I’m going to completely stop eating at fast food restaurants.” A change like this may inadvertently get you closer to the more difficult goal.
  3. Make small incremental changes throughout the year, rather than jumping in full speed. Start slow and create habits without burning yourself out. Committing to doing yoga twice a week for a year is better, in the long run, than spending five days a week in the gym for one month and quitting.
  4. Celebrate small successes and let them encourage you to think bigger. Instead of deciding to write your first novel after several years of not writing, start journaling or blogging or writing short stories. Practice writing short things and get used to expressing yourself regularly. Not only will the task of writing a novel seem less daunting after a while, but your writing ability and creativity will have grown, so your novel will be better. This concept can be applied to all kinds of goals. This sounds like the same thing as number 3, but here I am talking more about practicing something to improve proficiency and build confidence.
  5. Put your resolutions somewhere you will see them regularly. Re-read them at least once a month to remind yourself of your goals, to adjust your methods, and to get yourself back on track if necessary, or hopefully, to check off goals that you have met early. Checking things off your resolution list is not only gratifying, but inspires us to tackle the next goal. As the year-end nears, I find myself gaining a renewed determination to knock things off that list. It feels great!
  6. Tell someone else about your goals/resolutions and ask them to check in with you periodically to ask you how you are doing with them. Be sure they understand that you don’t want to be nagged. That’s different than just a friendly check-in, which leads to number 7.
  7. Do not ask someone to hold you accountable. A friendly check-in should be framed as interest, not accountability. It’s my understanding of human nature, that as soon as someone appears to be telling us to do something, we react by not wanting to do it at all.
  8. Reward yourself for every goal you complete, or for larger goals, you should treat yourself for completing significant steps toward the goal.
  9. Make sure these rewards don’t sabotage your goals. The reward should not be taking a break from the good habits you are forming, but should be something unrelated that you enjoy. Building a habit or routine that helps you reach your goals can be derailed quickly by associating reward with stopping or taking a break from working toward your goal.
  10. Don’t feel bad or criticize yourself for the resolutions you don’t keep. Praise yourself for the ones you do keep. At the end of the year, count up how many successes you had, re-evaluate the rest, and if you feel like you still want to meet the goals you didn’t succeed in, add them to your next New Year’s resolution list, knowing that you are bound to meet some of them, so you’re better off than not making resolutions at all.

 

Why risk feeling like you let a whole year slip unconsciously by, regretting inaction, and missing out on the things that are most important to you? Don’t let your life slide by, lost in the hypnosis of everyday life. Take the necessary steps to move toward accomplishing what really matters to you.—Christina Knowles

It’s That Time of Year by Christina Knowles

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I believe it’s our experiences, good or bad, that make us change and grow. Overcoming conflict, enduring pain, learning to adjust to new circumstances, and coming out the other side stronger and more compassionate are the points to human existence. Whether or not it is our “purpose” bestowed upon us by a divine orchestrator or not is irrelevant. How we handle these struggles gives our lives meaning. Well, it’s that time of year again. The time when we stop and take stock of where our lives have been and where they are going to see if we need to redirect or to set new goals if our old ones no longer represent who we have become since last we did this.

So at the end of every year, I reflect on the major events in my life for the past twelve months and decide on a course correction for the next twelve. As usual, this year was packed full of change, tragedy, joy, and life lessons. This year my son and his wife moved to Florida, taking my two little grandchildren far away, which has been difficult. At school I started teaching AP classes, creating stress and an even greater workload challenge, but it has also refined my teaching skills. But the three major life events this year that have affected me in the most profound ways are, in chronological order, definitely not in order of importance, publishing my first novel in paperback, leaving the Christian faith again, and my mother’s death.

I started 2014 by publishing The Ezekiel Project in paperback. Publishing and marketing a novel has made me grow in ways I never anticipated. It was a huge milestone to accomplish, and it really solidified my need to pursue writing as my life’s ambition. It’s what makes me happy and fulfills my need to express myself. Publishing my novel was an intimidating thing, putting something out there for all the world to see and judge. I remember the day of its release, I had a free digital promotion and 18,000 copies were downloaded. The idea of people out there reading my novel, either loving it or hating it, judging me as a writer, possibly even as a person, was terrifying. I felt more vulnerable than I had ever felt in my life.

But after the initial fear waned, I felt more confident and willing to put myself out there without worrying about getting the approval of others. They like it or they don’t, but I need to do it. Acceptance aside, publishing my novel has caused me to focus on my passion and has given me joy. But beyond that, it made me develop as a person. I faced a fear, overcame it, and now I’m less afraid to take risks. I realize how many years I wasted fearing rejection or criticism.

Publishing my novel was not the only goal I had for this year. Having struggled with my faith since 2008, I decided to get serious about my spiritual growth. I took a class on how to study the bible and started attending a small group bible study. However, the more I read the bible, the further away from spirituality I got. I thought I must be doing something wrong, so after reading about strengthening my faith, I committed to ninety days of devotions, which included studying the bible, praying, worshiping, and journaling. It seemed to backfire.

Before too long, I realized that I didn’t believe the bible at all, and if it was true, I wanted nothing to do with the twisted morality I saw in it. This led me to begin questioning the whole basis for my belief in God and the foundations of faith. It turns out I don’t really have any faith and could not continue in my practice of the Christian religion. But I’m okay with that. I don’t need a god to get through life, I don’t need to believe in an afterlife for comfort, and I don’t need religion to be a caring, moral person. I rejoined my secular humanist group, consisting primarily of atheists and am enjoying their thoughts and views on the world, which are much more in line with my conscience anyway. Of course, I do have to deal with upsetting my family, and particularly, my Christian husband. But while it may be disappointing to them, it does not affect our love for each other or the way we get along, and we respect each others’ beliefs.

I guess you could say my lack of faith was tested when my mother passed away in November, causing some people to think I would return to my faith for comfort. Losing my mother was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. It has been a roller coaster ride of hospital visits and close calls for the past few years. Each time she would bounce back and recover, so it was a bit of a shock when she finally let go and went to her rest. I had the privilege of saying goodbye, holding her hand as she passed away. I loved my mother with all my heart, and she was very strong in her Christian beliefs, but still, I felt no stirring of faith or belief return.

Instead, I realized that I had the strength within myself to endure this tragedy, to accept the grief, the pain of losing my mother without any divine help. In fact, I resented the implication that somehow non-believers “grieve with no hope” as the bible states. I don’t need the hope of an afterlife to make me feel better. This life is full and beautiful and quite sufficient.

My mother’s death confirmed to me that I am strong enough to endure tragedy and resilient enough to carry on. My mother’s passing was very difficult, and I loved her. There is nothing quite like losing a mother. I will always think of her, miss her, and need her, even though I’ll have to go on without her. She was proud of me, and I was a good daughter, so I am at peace knowing that. She knew I loved her very much, and I was there for her till the end. Losing my mom made me even more determined to live my life in a way that would have made her proud, but I can’t believe what I don’t. However, I can make the most of this life, helping others, being kind and compassionate, and not letting fear block me from chasing my dreams regardless of obstacles. I am determined to not waste time, to love freely, be myself, accept others for who they are, and to “live fully and die full.” My mother lived life according to her beliefs and conscience, and I intend to do the same. They just happen to be different from hers.

So as this year ends, and I look forward to the next, I intend to stretch myself, take risks to follow my dreams and focus on what is important and to cast aside what’s not. I will prioritize life by loving those around me, touching the lives I can, and I will try my best to not worry about what I cannot change. I want to be kind, adventurous, gentle, and to remember that the world can be a beautiful and good place, to notice that good on a daily basis and do my part to make it even better. That will encompass all my New Year’s resolutions for the coming year. So even though there have been hardships and pain this past year, I am grateful for 2014 and all it has taught me. Happy new year!—Christina Knowles

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