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Taking Inventory Of Life

Many people take the occasion of New Year's Eve to make resolutions of all the many things they are going to do to change their lives for the better, such as losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking or other bad habits. This, in itself isn't a bad idea, as far as it goes. I have come to believe, however, that we can use the whole month of January and embellish upon the traditional idea of resolutions in a manner that will be much healthier in every way for us all.

Think about it -- how successful are you with those resolutions you usually make? Do you find yourself at the end of the year having accomplished them all with flying colors? Or are you like many of us who have tried the resolution idea and finally decided it's just not worth it? Do you do really well the first week or so at most, and then just slowly fizzle out? Do you find yourself at year's end remembering those resolutions and feeling like a failure because you didn't succeed? According to those who study such things, most people fall into the latter category; they basically set themselves up for failure from the start. They set goals that are too high, which makes them completely unattainable, or that are not as much what they want as what they feel they are "supposed" to want. No one enjoys feeling like a failure, so the end result becomes the choice not to make any resolutions at all eventually. After all, if you don't make them, you can't break them; and, if you don't break them, then you don't feel like a failure.

However, there is another way to approach this whole idea of taking advantage of the fresh start a new year offers -- one in which we set ourselves up to succeed, instead of failing. This concept is one that is a real "win-win" proposition, if you're willing to give it a try. I hope you will see some merit to the idea and tailor it to suit your own lives.

It began for me when I married a man who was serving in the military, and often had to work for at least part of the New Year's holiday because their duty is on a year-round basis. Not being a party person, and especially not without my husband, I decided that, instead of moping about being alone, I could make the New Year's holiday into whatever I wanted it to mean to me. Over the years, what has evolved has become my "January Inventory" which begins then and lasts at least all month. Much in the same way that businesses use the period after the holidays to take inventory -- see what they have taken in, what has gone out and what the overall state of their business is as a result, I began doing the same in a personal way. What I do now, instead of partying on New Year's Eve, is to begin my own personal "January Inventory" in a quieter way of ringing out the old and in the new. It's a great time to do this for several reasons. First of all, we all consider January to be a fresh new beginning. Second, for many of us, the weather is far too inclimate to be out doing other things; so it's perfect for taking time for some quiet introspection. So here's how the idea works...

First of all, you need to make some time each day for solitude; it is during the quiet times that we come to see things most clearly. The amount of time you do this is up to you. Some people have more free time than others; and some people are much more interested in making that time, if it will better their lives, than others are. The nice thing is that, like all parts of this plan, you are in charge. There will be no one telling you how you "should" do anything, no one to judge you as "failing" and no one to impose their ideas upon you. There will only be suggestions to serve as a starting point for you. Think about it. Can you get a sweeter deal than that?

Now that you've made a date with yourself for whatever amount of quiet time you are able to spend in contemplation, we reach our first step -- celebration. Yes, you heard me correctly -- celebration! Don't panic on me here -- this is not one of those celebrations that require lots of advance preparation and wear you to a frazzle. Quite to the contrary, this is the kind that energizes you with joy and quiet pleasure.

Before you even begin to think about this new year, think back over the last one. However, let's not do it the way we used to do, thinking only in terms of how badly we failed at our past resolutions. In fact, let's just throw the whole "resolutions as we know them" idea in the trash right now and start fresh with a new perspective. So, as you think back over 2000, consider only the things you did well. It may seem hard to even grasp that at first, but you can do it. They don't have to be things like winning the Nobel Prize or even the Pillsbury Bake-off! Start with the little things, and make a list. Did you drive your elderly neighbor to the doctor because she wasn't able to do it for herself? Write it down. Did you see that your family's emotional needs were met the best you could? That's a big one! Did you take time to show your pets you love them? That counts in my book! Did you do your best at whatever your job is -- be it a full-time career outside the home, a full-time homemaker or something in between? Good for you; that's another one! And most of all, did you take time to do something good for yourself? If so, pat yourself on the back right now because you've just earned yourself some big extra points!

You see, we women tend to forget that all the things we do each day to make life good for those whose lives we touch are things that demonstrate our best qualities -- love, compassion, caring, strength and, of course, the ability to juggle 40 balls at once and not get hit on the head by too many of them at a time. We often tend to get so focused on the balls that hit us -- when we consider ourselves to have failed or let someone important to us down -- that we allow that to cancel out completely the many balls we do keep in the air! So, instead of seeing our failures, let's focus really hard on the many attributes we have. Okay, I know you're probably saying, "Oh, I don't do anything special; I'm just an average person, and not worthy of any kind of self-celebration for sure." But I'm here to tell you that you are very, very wrong. We are all worthy of celebrating, just for doing our best on any given day with what we have to give. Nowhere is it stated that we have to get through this life being constantly perfect. All we are supposed to do -- indeed, can do -- is be the best "us" we can be at any given time. So take a little time every day this month and think back to a time when you did something for someone else that made their life better because you were in it, and maybe even warmed your heart at the same time. Allow it to warm your heart again, while you remember that your life is worthy of celebration every day -- for being alive, for being your unique self and for adding more light to the world than you probably ever begin to realize as you do it!

We women have a lot of trouble wrapping ourselves around this whole concept of being worthy of praise and pride in ourselves. Did you know January is "Love Yourself Month"? But I'd bet you that, if I were to ask you to make a list of all the people you love, your name would not even appear on it. It quite probably would not even occur to you to include yourself; and, if it did, I bet you'd feel guilty about it. You'd list everyone from your family to your friends to your co-workers to those who fill small places in your life in all kinds of ways to absolute rank strangers; but, if you did make the cut, you'd probably be at the end of the list. This is a very unfair way to see your self-worth. Just the simple fact that you are here proves that your presence is important in the universal scheme of things. Loving yourself doesn't mean you are conceited; it means that you recognize that you're a masterpiece of a higher power, put on this earth for a greater purpose, and that -- like any and all creations of this master -- you are most certainly worthy of love, respect and celebration. The cosmetics scion, Charles Revson of Revlon Cosmetics, once said, "God don't make junk". It's a crude way of expressing it, but the man was absolutely right. You have an innate value as a human being with a unique contribution to make to our universe. There isn't a single other soul who can give the same gifts to the world that you can in the same way you can, because that gift is yourself. So let's start the year by celebrating who we are and the good things we have managed to do with those gifts we have been given so far.

Now, after you have spent some time honoring yourself for your worth, accepting love for yourself from yourself, we move into the next phase of "January Inventory". As you remember all the things you've done over the past that have been good and begin to get comfortable realizing that you have a unique gift to give to the world, let's expand upon that. How can you use the qualities that are uniquely yours to make your little corner of the world an even better place? Do you have a great sense of humor? Well, the world can never hear enough laughter! It's the music that makes our hearts smile! So, as the old song says, "Make 'em laugh!" Or maybe your strong suite is being compassionate, with a heart as big as all outdoors. Well, there is an awful lot of pain and suffering of all kinds in this world that can be addressed; and a well-placed hug with a smile and some encouraging words can do wonders to take the edge off some of that pain. How about patience? Are you a person who never gets spun out over little things, who can explain things over and over again without wanting to pull out your hair? Do you enjoy showing others how to do things that you have mastered, but they just can't seem to "get" on their own? How about reaching out to teach them, to work as a tutor, to take a younger person under your wing and mentor them? Or even to mentor less experienced adults? Possibilities to improve our little corner of the world are endless, and what may be my strength may not be yours. But I bet you know deep down inside what yours are, if you really think about it.

So how about taking those strengths and thinking of ways to put them to use to make this world a better place? Remember -- you don't have to be the first person to establish a colony on Pluto or discover a cure for a deadly disease. But there is always some small things each of us can do to reach out to someone in need to help them. When we help others, we also help ourselves because it reminds us that we do have value and that we can make a difference, no matter who we are or what our status in life may be. When Frank Capra gave the world the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life", he did far more than create a holiday masterpiece. Capra gave us a classic reminder that every single one of us is needed by at least one person, and usually many more, to make their lives turn out the way they are supposed to. So use some of your daily solitude to think about small deeds you can do that may seem very large to those who can't. While you're at it, keep your eyes open for opportunities that arise for all of us to put those strengths into action; and, when you recognize them, do them! There have been an awful lot of promises made at this time of year regarding making changes in our lives. If you must resolve something, resolve to be open to the opportunity to give of yourself when the chance presents itself to you! Don't make promises you can't keep or don't want to keep just because you think you should. But be open to the opportunities that may arise; then ask yourself if this is something that you can do with sincere love and joy. You see, if you are just coming from a place of duty, and not one of love and joy, you aren't being honest with yourself or anyone else. It taints whatever you do, even if no one can put their finger on exactly how. So make sure your heart is really into accepting the opportunity before you step up to meet it.

There is one final part of this "January Inventory" -- taking stock of your own self. Do you remember as a child what your dreams were? How did you envision your life as an adult? How did that vision change as you grew and matured? Because, if it hasn't changed any at all from the time you were a preschooler, then you have some work to do on yourself. But, for most of us, our priorities do change as we live and learn. So take some time to think of what you consider to be your real priorities in your life today -- not the things that you feel "should" be or someone tells you "ought to" be. Dig down deep in your heart and ask yourself what really matters the most in your life today. See if you can narrow it down to five or six things. Make absolutely certain that you are one of those things, preferably at -- or at least near -- the top of the list. Post the list all over your environment as a reminder that you are consciously choosing to put forth your effort to live your life in a way that honors these things now instead of just flying through life willy-nilly, and never doing justice to anything.

With your newly-set priorities in mind, look at how you are living your life. Are you honoring the things that matter to you? Or are you too busy taking care of the "shoulds" and the "ought to's" and paying lip service to them instead? If one of your top priorities is your family, do you make time to enjoy them and tell them how important they are to you? Taking care of your duty to them is good; but making time to enjoy them, to listen to them with your ears and your heart, to talk with them, to share in their joys and sorrows is far better. The same thing applies to others you are close to as well. Is your career a top item on the list? Are you doing work each day that fills you up, excites you, challenges you and that makes you feel blessed? Or do you have to drag yourself to work each day, watch the clock the whole time you are there and start dreading going back tomorrow the minute you get into your car to leave today?

Our life priorities are unique to each of us, and don't have to meet any criteria but our own. But, if we are not living in accordance with them, we are not living honestly. When we put off time with our family till later because we know they will forgive us if it hurts when we ignore them, we cheat them; but we cheat ourselves even more. If we hate our work, then we can't possibly do a good job or reap the rewards that come with it -- and I'm not talking about financial rewards, but satisfaction that comes from a job well done. If we have one set of priorities in our heart, and another we are living by, then we are not living our own lives. We are living someone else's idea of our lives; we have given our power over to whomever controls the "shoulds" and "ought to's", and are abusing ourselves in the worst of ways.

When the desires of our soul -- not our material desires -- line up with the way we live our lives each day, then and only then do we know what it's really like to live a full, rich, contented life. So take some time to think very seriously about what you are doing with your life. Who holds your power? Who's in the driver's seat? If it isn't you, then it may be time for you to trash those old ideas about making and breaking the same old resolutions every January, and begin "January Inventory" in a new way.

It could be time for you to pull out of some of those activities that you feel obligated to do, but no longer enjoy, have time for or are simply too tired to do. It may be time to rethink big choices like careers and lifestyles. It might be time to think about your relationships and weed out those which are toxic drains to your spirit, if you cannot improve them. It may be time for you to rethink just how long your family is going to keep forgiving your never making time to show them you care; where is it written that you have an unlimited ticket to treat those who should mean the most to you poorly? It may even be time for you to think about how you're spending your free time now, and ask yourself if you'd be better served to use that time to do something to improve yourself physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually instead of just being a television zombie or a mall rat or even -- brace yourself -- a computer addict!

The new year offers us endless possibilities to enrich our lives deeply in our hearts and souls. The question is this -- are you really, truly content with your life as you are living it now? Or is it time for you to take "January Inventory", and gradually begin working on aligning your true priorities with how you're living your daily lives? Only you can answer that question, and only you can make sure that the answer is one that makes the coming year one that fills you up in every way instead of draining you dry. I'll bet that when you begin living life according to your true priorities, the issues you have generally made resolutions about in the past will fall away; because, as we find more peace, happiness and fulfillment, the need to overeat, smoke or fall into other behavior patterns of excess will lessen more and more. We will no longer need to use them to fill the emptiness within us.

I hope that you will choose to live your life with authenticity. I know doing so will bring you great joy and peace!

� Mary Lynn Hatfield
Steel Magnolia