by Mick Krasner, MD
New Year’s resolutions bother me. Always have. Perhaps that is in part because I have trouble committing to something that I wish to change about myself. It seems to me that these resolutions are couched in a commitment to do something to counteract another problematic thing, such as resolving to exercise daily or losing weight in an effort to counteract being sedentary or overweight. They rarely reflect an appreciation for positive attributes and qualities, or to cultivate ways of being that are more prosocial and reflect qualities to nurture.
Since the turning of the new year before the pandemic began at the end of 2019, my wife, two close friends, and I have made a ritual of sharing a meal and discussing what attribute or quality we would like to incorporate as a guiding value or characteristic for the upcoming year. Each of us encapsulates that attribute into a single word, like generosity, or connection, or community, or open-heartedness. And then, after we discuss our respective guiding principles, we check in with each other from time to time when we have a chance to be together several times over the ensuing year and remind each other of that focus. We ask each other questions like how is it going? What have our challenges been? How have our actions and behaviors reflected our word?
Unlike a more traditional New Year’s resolution where we can sometimes measure outcomes by specific quantities or specific behaviors, these commitments ask us to reflect in a deep way about priorities, relationships, and what it means to be awake to the flow of our lives. It can be challenging to respond to the question of how we are doing with the guiding attribute. Yet, every time we reflect on the word and the meaning, for us within, the word becomes like returning home to ourselves and our relationships. Intimate and more distant, with the possibility that the moments we live can be informed by vitality, attentiveness, and presence.
A year ago, my word was engagement. I distinctly remember how that word came to me, as I contemplated the year ahead. I knew then that I will be leaving a 32-year medical practice at the end of the year. Sensing the significance of this transition and knowing that part of me would easily project my energies into exciting and creative activities I was planning to be engaged with. I had an intuition that engagement was exactly what I needed to attend to the work that was still very much in front of me. And, in fact, I had many moments during this past year when, although not being pleased about a seemingly endless number of things that I don’t like about aspects of my work, the word engagement brought me back to the present moment. The care of a patient and their family, the relationship with a colleague or office staff, my relationships with my children and life partner, and my relationship with the larger community within which I live- all these became opportunities for presence and engagement.
A few weeks ago, I was asked by my office manager to facilitate a half-day office staff training and to use this opportunity to share with them what has become a growing aspect of my professional identity as a Mindful Practice in Medicine facilitator. Two days ago, 30 staff members- my physician colleague, NP and PA, nurses, medical assistants, receptionists, and the rest of the office staff- practiced an insight dialogue around the theme of Uncertainty. I found myself fully engaged and experienced the staff’s reciprocal engagement. At the end of the session, a beautiful sheet cake was rolled into the room, celebrating my years of work. I felt the joy and appreciation of my office family with whom I have spent many years and a large portion of my waking time. In this experience, I discovered that engagement had become for me a two-way experience in which many other qualities such as sharing, generosity, caring, respect, and even love are present.
What word will guide your upcoming year? What attribute would you like to cultivate? What value would you like to use to bring you back, over, and over, to your true home in your work, with your family, and in your communities?
Whatever it is, may you find joy, safety, health, and ease in the days and year ahead.