by Pari

Yesterday, after I took the kids to their father’s house, I spent the first Christmas in 19 years alone.  It was a good day . . . contemplative. On a long walk, under the kind of blue sky that stings it’s so gorgeous and clear, I realized that much of my life has been ruled by obligation. 

How much of yours is too? 

It’s easy to see how this happens. Our various life roles come with obligations: parent, spouse, partner, child, writer, friend, worker, manager and so forth — each is at least moderately defined by the social circles and cultures within which we live. Yesterday, while staring at the bare winter branches against that stunning sky, I wondered what it would be like if I could transform at least ¼ of the should themes in my life into want-to themes. What if I framed my daily writing requirement into a privilege?  What if I looked at exercise as a time for joy?  What if the deep emotional work I’m doing isn’t so much a shedding of the old as an exploration of the unknown?

I first studied reframing intensely in graduate school. There, while training to be a therapist, I saw how powerful it could be. Indeed, much of therapy depends on reframing to be successful for without viewing things anew, a person stays mired in his or her uncomfortable present. In more recent years, my practice of daily gratitude forces me, on occasion, to apply the technique when I most want to pity myself . . . or when I want to blame others for something in my life.

As happens frequently with my walks, I had a small epiphany. I realized that many of my New Year’s resolutions also stemmed from a center of obligation. (Do you see how insidious shoulds can be?) So how could I reframe my heavy sense of have-to around this time of year into can’t-wait-to

Here is the beginning of what will probably take me most of the week to settle into, but I thought I’d share my resolutions so far . . .

In 2012, I can’t wait to

  1. reward myself for trying something new without any thought to success or failure
  2. dance as often as I can
  3. look for an adventure and take it
  4. eat dessert first  
  5. relish days when I don’t have to do anything
  6. play as much as I think while writing
  7. embrace . . .

So what about you?  What New Year’s resolution do you want to stand on its head?

17 thoughts on “Reframing

  1. Sarah W

    I want to give my children time (instead of begrudging it).

    I want to enjoy the wait as much as the rush to action.

    And I'm borrowing your #6.

    Thanks for the introspection break, Pari!

  2. Pari Noskin

    You're welcome to #6, Sarah. And I love your other two! One of the things I decided is that since I only have my kids 1/2 the time now, I want to make it 100 percent quality. It's made a real difference in our relationships. But I still feel a bit sad about missing that other half.

  3. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy the present. To stay in the moment. To relax and to breathe. I'm usually smart enough or lucky enough to find my way out of any dire situation. "There but for the grace of God go I" is a common refrain running through my head.

  4. Pari Noskin

    Stephen, I've been reading a lot of Buddhist texts right now and they're a mixed bag for me emotionally; the idea of being in the present, not planning or craving more, is so wonderful. But then I start beating myself up for being attached to this world and undo the good vibes <g>.

    I also know that refrain well and repeat it too. It's just another riff on the gratitude.

  5. David Corbett


    A lovely note for a reflective time. I think the underlying emotion of "should" is fear. There is a safety in fulfilling obligation — we stay connected to others, feel less alone. The freedom to enjoy life is, strangely, a solitary move, even if that movement is toward another person.

    Pema Chodron (speaking of Buddhists) thinks of fear and hope as two sides of the same coin — we hope for a better tomorrow as a way to mask our fear of death, or out of fear of the weightless present. She challenges her readers with this: To give up fear, we must first surrender hope. (I've written this here before, and excuse the tedious repetition.) Put another way, she says: Things become much clearer when we realize there is no escape.

    In a sense I feel that same sentiment in what you wrote. A desire to enjoy without promise, for the sheer adventure of the pleasure. It is a difficult way to live — impossible when raising children, or when other responsibilities command a "realistic" POV — and one must be comfortable not just with one's solitude but with "pleasure without promise." It takes a special kind of courage — by which I don't mean a "better" form of courage than that required of duty.

    But I have felt that solitary courage in you, and heard it in your words. You have exhibited the courage of duty most of your life, as you said, the putting aside what you wanted or needed for others. Now it's time for another path — or so I gather from your postings.

    I love the image of your epiphanic walks. And I think that gentle metaphor, walking toward your epiphany, is a wise one.

    Happy holiday, my dear, and all the best in the coming year.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Not that I've made any resolutions, but I get that this is a great way of being more gentle about it. I tend to order myself to do things, which may work, but is probably not contributing to inner happiness. So like this:

    I am looking forward to letting myself enjoy marketing, giving myself a whole day a week to do it in a relaxed and interesting way.

  7. lil Gluckstern

    I was taught that the Tao symbol was always circling, changing. So I may feel sorrow in the moment, but it will change. Peace comes through acceptance, or something better. I was shopping and watched a woman herding her teen daughters through Safeway. As she said, "Watch out.' this man and I looked at each other. "It's Christmas," I said, and we both laughed. I felt lucky to go from irritation to laughter with some one else. To me, we just keep doing what we're doing until we need to do something else. If we pay attention, it changes. Actually, even if we don't pay attention, it changes. We just have to notice.

  8. Reine

    Hi Pari,

    Good thoughts, all.

    In the new year I just want to keep doing whatever it is I do, whether or not anyone understands. It's not that I don't care. I do. It's just too depressing to stop and notice. Then I want to fix it to be understood. Then I try to fix it. That destroys the meaning. That's like destroying myself.

  9. KDJames

    Pari, I spent Christmas Eve alone for the first time in… in forever, I guess. And I was fine with that, as there were good reasons for people to be elsewhere at that particular time. But it was weird. I didn't feel particularly festive until the next day.

    Obligations. Yeah, plenty of those. I try to keep in mind something my mom told me once when I was complaining about my "to do" list. She said instead of thinking of them as things I "had to" do, look at them as things I "want to" do. She also said I should first just cut the list by half, because half that stuff you really don't need to do at all. Especially during the holidays.

    I don't make resolutions at the New Year. But I made a few during the course of the past year. Mostly they involved convincing myself I am strong enough to take a few risks and also not worrying so much all the time. Ahem. Well, I'm trying.

  10. Pari Noskin

    The idea of fear and hope as two sides of the same coin, stone, is something I'm going to have to sit with for awhile. It rings true. But so much of Buddhism feels so nihilistic sometimes. I know it's not, but that grabbing yearning for meaning in attachment is strong within me, I guess.

    As to living within the solitariness, the moment of it, I think that's what I'm exploring right now; it takes more effort to listen to one's own quiet — especially after so many years of putting obligations first — that sometimes I wonder about the voice inside . . .

    I like the idea of walking toward epiphany though. It's as comforting as some of my wonderful dreams of walking, always walking to the next horizon just to see what's on the other side.

    I'll be curious to hear if the permission allows the pleasure . . .

  11. Pari Noskin

    Hey all,
    I'm having such troubles with the Captcha, that I'm going to respond to everyone in this one piece:

    You're right about that symbol and it's a powerful one to live by. I've been talking to my adolescent children about it because it's so instructional. Change as the only constant.

    I don't think we need to live in a place of wanting others to understand us, to try and change ourselves somehow to some unvoiced expectation from without. But I have noticed in my own life a tendency to do just that — to try to anticipate others' needs or desires and, in the process, to change myself again and again rather than paying attention to what's within. To me, at least from what you wrote in your comment, it sounds as if you can hear what's inside and that you respect it intuitively . . .

    I think the holidays magnify certain periods in our lives. I don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday — but it represented family until this year. Now that's changed.

    Your mother's solution to the to-do list is exactly what I'm talking about — including the cutting of much of what we think is necessary — and then reframing the rest. Do you apply her advice?

    I know you're strong. As to not worrying, perhaps you could simply embrace it instead <g> "I will worry massively about small things at least once a week." and see if you're as perverse as I am when I try to order myself around. I usually end up doing the opposite . . .

  12. Reine

    Hi Pari,

    Thank you.

    By the way, I am glad to learn that I'm not the only one having trouble with the new Captcha. I thought my myoclonus was getting worse! Last week I actually didn't post on one or two of the blogs, because I couldn't read the Captcha, nor could I make any sense of the alternative voice version. How many blind, but hearing, spam malware thingies can there be trolling the blogosphere?

    And– did you notice that, including you, there are at least 3 people commenting here today who are trained in psychotherapy?

    –OK, this is my umpteenth attempt at posting. If this doesn't do it, I will have to give up. Did I say that!?

  13. Reine

    OK that was too much. Now it wants accents grave and umlauts. I love the Rati . . . but this is making me nuts.

  14. Pari Noskin

    Sarah, I AM amused.

    Reine, I'm going to talk to our web guy . . . this is getting really really frustrating.

  15. Jenni L.

    Hi Pari,

    I'm just getting caught up after a nice long break staying mostly off the computer. I love the idea of reframing. I think it's a survival strategy in today's modern world. I've spent many holidays alone, and at first it was really difficult, but after a while, I looked forward to the time for introspection. This year my husband and I got to spend the week before Christmas at the Oregon coast, where the weather was unusually beautiful. We didn't bring his kids, and it was one of the best Christmases I've ever had simply because we focused only on us, we de-stressed, and we enjoyed the beach with our dog. We celebrated with the kids when we got back, and that was chaotic, but we've been holding on to those moments when we felt totally free on the beach.

    There is a really good book on re-framing for families going through separation or divorce called Mom's House, Dad's House. It focuses on the positives that come of these situations and gives some great ideas for creative thinking and strategies for the tricky situations that can come up. I read it when my first husband and I divorced about 15 years ago, and it helped me re-frame the situation not only for myself, but also for the children and even for their dad. Rather than seeing the family as "torn apart," I was able to reassure the kids that even though we no longer lived under the same roof, both parents loved and wanted them and we would both continue to parent them. As issues have come up over the years, I've gone back to that book over and over again to help me creatively think through options, solutions, and ways to communicate with my children and their dad. My children are adults now, but I still have a copy of that book on my shelf.

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