As the Chinese New Year approaches, I’ve been seeing a lot about it being the year of the rat. I was born in the year of the rat and have always pictured a disease-infested rodent whenever the topic comes up. Not a very pleasant image! But it turns out, rats are pretty cool, if you believe in the Chinese Zodiac. According to Chinesenewyear.net, rats are clever, quick thinkers and successful, but content with living a quiet and peaceful life. Optimistic and energetic, people born in the Rat year are likable by all. Because of their independence and imagination, they are suitable for creative jobs, including authors, editors and artists. Finances will reportedly be booming for rats for the entirety of the year. So, if you were born in 1936, 48, 60, 72, 84, or 96, congratulations – our income could double this year!
Of course, I left out all of the negative stuff the site says will happen to rats this year. Who needs that? Which got me to thinking, why do we look to the Chinese Zodiac or astrology or numerology or Feng Shui or any other system of information that claims knowledge about who we are and what will happen to us?
I am actually open to almost any source of information. I think fearing information from “alternative” sources is just superstitious, or it was embedded in our brains that it was evil or a sin as children in church. I find it somewhat amusing now to think that I believed if I read my horoscope, I’d go downstairs to the warm room for eternity, but that’s what my minister said when I was 10 years old, and I believed it for a long time. I find it less amusing that I am still afraid of Ouija boards, which began when I saw the movie the Exorcist over four decades ago. No way will I touch one to this day! We all have our peccadillos, right?
I’ve seen faces turn alarmed when I’ve suggested a book to read that was written through channeling, a process where the person does not believe they are writing it, but some entity is speaking through them. I’ve seen that same alarm in a group of people when someone shares they are a psychic or a medium. We seem to be comfortable with big systems based on things we can’t prove, like astrology or numerology, or frankly, even religion if you think about it, but when it gets personal, like someone being able to read our minds or tell us something about the future, we run for the hills.
I became less judgmental about all of these alternate sources of information (except for the Ouija board of course) as my mindfulness practice expanded over time. Interestingly, it was not the non-judgmental aspect of mindfulness that caused this shift. It was the realization that we are just a tiny part of the cosmos and truly don’t know a whole lot beyond our immediate proximity to whatever it is we’re focused on. Are aliens real? Are they living among us? I have no idea, but why does it matter? Are channels or mediums really communicating with someone or something from the other side of the veil or perhaps even another dimension? How in the world could I know? And again, why does it matter? Does the Chinese Zodiac influence what happens to me in any given year? Who really knows? If it’s all of the good stuff, I hope so, but if it includes the negative list of ailments I’ll suffer this year, I hope not.
Instead of focusing on how the information was gathered or who has special abilities, I simply focus on the information itself. If it resonates with me, I accept it or search deeper. If not, think Ouija board, I ignore it. That’s the great thing about having free will, assuming we do have free will and aren’t being controlled by alien overlords, which again, I don’t know for sure.
Information is just information. Data is data. It’s not the information that actually matters most, it’s our interpretation of the information. There are widely and long-held beliefs that are later shown to be false, like the earth being flat, although there are folks out there trying to overturn that ruling and still believe it’s flat. There are many, many “evidence-based” studies by scientists that turn out to be completely wrong and are overturned or retracted ranging from how the universe works to what we should and shouldn’t eat every day. Coffee causes cancer. Coffee prevents cancer. Butter is bad. Oh, butter is good. Red wine, eggs, bacon, beef, beans… crazy-making.
So back to the year of the rat. Why should I care that astrologically (from a Chinese point of view), I’m going to make lots of money this year, but I might also have health problems? For me, I don’t put much stock in it, but I do find it entertaining. I also find it interesting that there is a correlation between the Chinese Zodiac, general astrology and numerology. While I don’t have time to study it in depth in order to determine if I’m controlled by the stars or my date of birth, the commonality across these systems of information lends credibility to the idea that there’s probably something there that’s real. The fact that I don’t feel resonance or dissonance when reading this information tells me it’s probably not that important in my life right now and so I move on without discounting it, but without living by it either.
The real question, I believe, is why we turn to these alternative sources. What are we looking for? I think a lot of people are looking for validation, justification, comfort, or even hope. When we feel like we have no control over our circumstances, we’re seeking a reason for our struggles or difficulties. When we feel unloved, we feel better if it turns out this is a bad month or year for love under our astrological sign. If we feel afraid of what’s happening in the world, any information a psychic shares that says it’s going to get better is reassuring. And since I have no idea, and neither do you, as to what is real or not, if it makes someone feel better, or even if it’s just a source of entertainment, except for the Ouija board of course, why judge it or criticize those who follow it? Set an intention to be less judgmental about others’ beliefs and another intention to be open to ideas, wherever they come from. You don’t have to live by something you don’t believe in, but neither do you have to throw away or ignore information that might benefit you in some way, if you can remove the judgmental glasses you view the source through.
I do think a lot of our insecurities and fears can be eased through mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness allows us to get to know ourselves better, to stop judging ourselves so harshly all of the time, to broaden our perspective of life and to recognize that we are never alone. Our perception of time and space expands. Our judgments of petty events and circumstances diminishes. We can take in much more information from a multitude of sources (except Ouija boards) and discern whether it’s “right or wrong” for us based on how our minds and bodies feel when we examine it.
I truly believe that a lot of our problems stem from a lack of loving ourselves. We can’t genuinely love others or appreciate everything that surrounds us if we don’t first love ourselves. So instead of the year of the rat, I’m declaring 2020 as the year of you. And me. This is the year to focus on expanding love for ourselves so that we can share that love with others at a time in the world where it’s really needed.
Consider turning inward and focusing on how you feel about yourself. Think about all of the criticisms you inflict on yourself on a daily basis. This has really hit home for me in the last couple of weeks during both live workshops and online trainings. At a recent development retreat on mindful leadership, one of the participants recognized that she calls herself stupid a lot. Another noticed that she has a deep belief that she must stay busy all of the time or she’ll be judged as lazy. Whether in our online mindfulness coaching classes, during retreats and workshops, or through our coaching certification program, I’m hearing lots of people basically saying that they don’t deserve to feel content or who are trying to increase their self-esteem through external actions, which is basically seeking outside validation. Unfortunately, external validation doesn’t last. To achieve joy, we have to recognize and appreciate how wonderful we are first. We’re miraculous! And once we know that, we have more to give to others, whether it be energy, compassion, love or support.
Mindfulness helps us to see we are not only lovable, but that we are all actually love itself. Love is an energy and whether you believe in God’s love or nature’s love or some alternative form of systemic energy, love is what we need more of in the world today and we’re basically made of this energy. We just lose connection with it through all of the garbage we collect as we go through life.
So let’s start taking out our trash. Let’s make this the year of you. This is the year we can reconnect with ourselves, love ourselves, enjoy how great we are, enjoy life through this new perspective and share all of that love with others.
Starting today, take just a few seconds to tell yourself that you love you. Seriously, put your hand over your heart and simply say, “I love you.” Do not be alarmed if this makes you feel teary or if you even cry, as this frequently happens the first few times because we are not accustomed to feeling compassion for ourselves. We’re great at providing compassion for others, but not so good at doing it for us. So today’s the day. I love you and I want you to love you. So just give it a try, every day, before you head out in the world. If it’s difficult at first, hang in there. You’ll get better at it. And as you do, you’ll experience increased love and compassion for others. Together, we can make this the year of you for all of us.