It’s my birthday.
For most people, I think birthdays are largely about cake.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the cake. And the week-long celebration of making it through another year without being hit by a bus. (Did I mention I’m a clutz?)
There’s a bit of introspection that goes along with birthdaying once you reach a certain age, too. A kind of Well, THAT was interesting look-back over the year. (And is it just me, or do those birthdays seem to come much quicker, the older you get? I think my last birthday was, like, a week ago.)
For the past couple decades, I’ve been doing a birthday exercise that I thought might be beneficial to share.
Even if it’s not your birthday. (You can still have cake.)
Every year, on my birthday, I whip out the journals. Whether I’ve been a religious journal-keeper over the past year or not. If I can’t find the journal, I’ve been known to grab a notebook. Or scraps of paper. The medium doesn’t really matter, but I do like to keep it somewhere that I can (hopefully) find it the next year.
And that’s when the fun begins.
I spend a few hours writing down what I want to happen over the next year.
I’m not talking about realistic stuff here. Realistically, my next year will probably be spent cleaning up dog hair and trying to figure out what to do with fifty-billion-pounds of bok choy. But this isn’t about the way things are, it’s about how they could be.
The process goes something like this:
- Dream for a bit. If you already had the life you want, what would that look like? How would it feel? What would you be? Who would be with you? Where would you be? Get specific with yourself, even if it means you feel a little weird for a bit while dreaming.
- Collect some images, if you want. I’m visual, so I’ll sometimes flip through my stash of pictures and stuff to see if any of them resonate with what I’ve been dreaming about. I stick those down first, on the paper/journal page that I’m working on. If you’re not visual, skip it. There’s no real rules here.
- Start writing. You’re not writing down just random stuff about what you want your life to be, though. You’re writing A PERFECT DAY, as if you’ve already got whatever it is that you’re dreaming about.
In other words, you start the thing by writing about waking up. (When? Where? Who’s there? What’s the bed like?) You then proceed forward with your day, writing about it as if you’re documenting what you’re doing. If you want to be, say, Empress of the Whole Wide World, you might have breakfast delivered by cowering minions. If you’re wanting instead to be a writer living in a hut near a mountain, it might mean going out and catching fish or whatever. Whatever you think that a day would look like in your perfect life.
Take some time with this, and write the whole day, from the time you open your eyes, to what you do for work/play, to what you do when you shut your eyes for the day. Use as much sensory detail as you can. What you see, hear, smell — get really specific.
Most of my own have been fairly mundane, I have to admit.
I don’t really wish I could fly, or that I could take over the world with my cunning use of zucchini or anything. Keeping it on the level of reality has been more beneficial to me, personally, than if I’d thought through being some kind of superhero. I’ve talked to a bunch of people over the years about this Life/Vision process, though, and some feel that doing this as something truly extraordinary (or fictional) ends up being revealing on a much more metaphorical level. (I’m just too unimaginative for that. Ahem.)
The past few years have often been about business suits and clients and long weekends. After the big change in December of last year, and the subsequent life changes, I have a feeling that this year is going to look pretty different than the past few. I’m okay with that — change happens — but I noticed today when I was digging out my old Life/Vision exercises from the past couple decades…it’s going to be much closer to what the first ones were. I’m assuming this means I’m getting back to my roots or spiralling around to come back to where my authenticity is, only with the fresh perspective/knowledges of the other life-paths I’ve taken. (People say that things come full-circle, but it’s really much more of a spring-shaped spiral, like so:
You do come back around to the same place, but you’ve got all the experience of your time around, so you’re not really in the same place. You’re on a higher part of the spiral. I’m pretty sure that’s what the whole you can’t go home again thing is about: not about not going back, but about you not being the same, not the place. But I digress.)
Since I’ve been doing this exercise, I’ve noticed a few things.
- I’m much more likely to live as if life’s already perfect. Because I’ve seen it. Or, at least, written it. If I want, in my perfect view of the next year, to spend more time reading, I know that I’ve got to take the time every day to, oh, say, read. Goals go from abstract, why are we doing this again? kinds of things to very concrete, oh I SEE why I’m doing that action kinds of things. Duh, right? But it works.
- I’m forced to evaluate where I am in relation to where I think I want to be. If my perfect life vision is to be on a farm somewhere, and I look around at a city apartment with a soundtrack of car horns and screaming sirens instead of in a farmhouse with the sound of chickens and nothingness, then I’m clearly not doing something the way I should be doing it. It lets me stand back and take a good look at where I’ve veered off track.
- I’m better able to course-correct before it’s too late. Everything in life’s a sum of your experiences and decisions, of course. Getting really clear about what you want means that you can decide to experience the right things to get where you want to be. Plain and simple. You can’t navigate a highway without a map — your Life/Vision is just a really pretty, really detailed map. Seriously.
- Almost all of my life/visions have come true, at least in part. Sometimes, I might be barking up the wrong tree. Sometimes, I might find that what I think I want, I don’t really want, once I have some experience in that thing. Sometimes, things I want just may not be possible for one reason or another, having nothing to do with my own decisions. But every single year, I find that the important parts usually happen. Maybe I don’t end up driving a tractor in the woods (or whatever), but the important part was the freedom of moving, and that part happened. (for example — I only walk in woods. :>) The actual words sometimes aren’t the part you really want, but the extra awareness helps usher in what you really do. Go figure.
Before this post gets more epic than it already is, let me just sum it up thusly:
Life/Vision. Do it.
I’ll have an extra slice of cake to celebrate your metaphorical birthday with you, even. (Because I care, see.)
Happy birthday to me…and to you.