New Year Askesis and Bodily Goals

New years come as if they are the moons themselves that renew each January. Each one has a face if you look closely, and shadows from the past mark the features of the year to come. What is and has been for whole revelations are revealed through a light that reflects back from a source that I know all too well. It’s illumination remains, and my hopes and dreams are illustrated on future night skies. Again.

Last January was welcomed with an opening up my living space and the sound of two voices with a single guitar resonating off of bathroom walls singing about birds and sanctuaries. The yellow bathroom light brought about the first rise of the sun. And then the song was left unfinished, unpolished. A tone of disappointment for a hope of deep love echoes still.  Did this set the rhythm of connection and loss? What changes these moments make.

As some friends and lovers departed to places far away (across the country, out of state, out of touch), my deepest bonds returned. Brought back from the west coast to the east, my most faithful mirror visited twice after a year of thousands of miles between us. I saw her again as the year came to a close, and I am grateful for the ways that her voice has been a hug to my ear during so many of these difficult months. The same is true of another good friend. Its wonderful to think about how far we have come and the lengths that we will take to eat a good meal together. Of course, another wonderful homecoming occurred when my first baby came into my life (that’s my cat, and I have grown a new kind of non-human love for him).

It has been a year rich with family as well. Our maturity this year might bring me closer to my brothers in years to come. Many unusual circumstances led to seeing my family multiple times in various places across the country. Idaho, California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. As I connected with my extended family back in the state of my birth, this meant for me a reconnection to my roots and gave way to a most unspeakably personal moment with my great-grandmother before she passed away in June. Her life has held a family, a lineage, and a great portion of my identity together. Being with her after 11 years since our last visit and just a day before her death was one of the most important things that I did this year. Her last look may have been directed to me. That, along with the weak squeeze of her hand and her faint smile at the good news in my life are now the most tangible memories that ground my connection to her. After nearly 108 years of her life, I am so glad to have shared that one moment of that one summer night with her.

This year has been marked by great growth, incredible challenges, and a stretching of myself in new directions that I could not have anticipated. With the start of the spring semester, which always begins in the coldest of winter, I met my first students. They cultivate poignant struggles. And after a semester of learning myself, of reading through key passages to my own realization in front of their watchful eyes and open ears, their experiences gave me reason to stay on the course of my goals. The first semester of teaching balanced out the two years I spent trying to figure out if I really needed or wanted to be doing academic philosophy.  Now, after those first two classes, then my summer group, and this last class in the fall, I’m so grateful for the teaching and learning that has occurred with my students. They have motivated me to remain a humble learner myself.

The newness of the year was incredible. I didn’t decide to live in a new place. I didn’t change my career plans. But I did dedicate myself to the challenge of loving and trusting someone more than I have ever been able to do before. Through this experience I have gained a new understanding of my self, my limits, my fears, my gifts. My weaknesses were emphasized as places for careful attention and growth, not spots for perpetual failure and pain. My limits were frustrated. Rather than closing in, I made them stay. Open. I felt the difference that stillness, patience, trust, and not-knowing brings. And the things that I have learned about myself and her have even exceeded the many wonderful memories that came out of our adventures. We went to Pittsburgh, New York a handful of times, DC twice. I’ve gained new tastes, taken loads of pictures, met new friends, and gained new flexibility with all the little things that have previously been able to drive me crazy. I felt a new way of connecting with someone, of being understood, of seeing someone through their layers. If nothing else, at least we know now that it is possible to have the sort of relationship that we hope for. At least in some ways.

And the most amazing thing has been my connection with others. This year contained the anniversary of my cousin’s passing, a beautiful person with whom I had a connection that was unique and hard to explain. But she, like my great-grandmother, is one who has shown me a real possibility for connections and relationships. I am left wondering how we mark our connections with others. What is real? What is true? What is valuable? What makes sense? Some of the most important and lasting connections this year will reside in my memory as those that were left incomplete, unspoken, and hardly reasonable for most people. From the outside looking in, one might think that those connections were insignificant, or simply nostalgic at best. But I am not so sure. Dreams have kept some people closer to me than emails. Distant memories and unrealized future holidays have reserved a space for possible relationships.  And I don’t know what to make of those in relation to some of my everyday, face-to-face encounters.

If there is one word that captures the year it is “movement.” Literally, in addition to all of the places already listed, I also found myself in Boston and crossing the border into Canada for conferences. And with that, I felt the highs and lows that come out of following your passion and encountering human disappointments. It happens. Everything above are memories that have and will continue to shape me. The image of all this traveling leads to a picture of expanding, pulling, drifting, straying. This year, I have moved out, beyond my locale, taken myself to new places. And when I returned each time, I came back changed. This is not just a cheesy way of talking about a year’s worth of experiences. It is a way to embody a lived askesis. The movement has often been geographical and quite literal–taking me to new places, putting me in new situations, placing me within new relationships and interactions with others. But the effect has been ontological. And perhaps ethical. I am changed, transformed, and becoming more open to the process and its effects. I am not discovering myself in this process, I am becoming myself each day.

My goal for the new year is to experience this movement in my body itself. Through cars and planes and trains I have covered this entire country multiple times in just 365 days. Now, I want to experience the same openness to change by directing that askesis into my bodily experiences. I am not sure how to go about it just yet. But I have some ideas. They have to do with limits. With challenges. With experiments. And I imagine that rhythm will be present. Other people, too. And probably even some fear. But joy, pleasure, excitement, play, and fun are also part of touching the uncertainty of one’s bodily limits. Practicing new and multiple practices will be my focus.

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