The Paradoxes of the New Year

The Paradoxes of the New Year

On New Year’s Day this year, a few close friends and I created our Mind Maps for launching into the new year. (See exercise below) Clarifying values, setting intentions, imagining how to breathe life into those intentions through wise plans, wise choices.

This quote from E.B. White succinctly states a paradox embedded in any intention to live an intentional life:

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day. – E.B. White

Annie Dillard said, “How you live your days is, of course, how you live your life.” So the intentions to both savor and be grateful for the miracles of life and the intentions to help other people find peace and healing in a long-suffering world can pull on the heart in equal measure.

Setting intentions, making plans to live a useful, contributory, values-based, common humanity-based life, maintaining optimism about making a difference in our shared world, runs into a deeper paradox, given the immensity of people’s suffering evident in the daily global news:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Determination is a powerful factor in coping with the challenges and crises that threaten our world today and sometimes overwhelm our capacities to face and deal with them. Is my diligent recycling and riding a bike to work rather than driving a car enough to reverse climate change? Is my tutoring a child in a local elementary school literacy program enough to open the doors to higher education and future economic opportunities?  Will my campaigning in the upcoming national elections be enough to turn the tide and protect federal funding for health care, scientific research, education for the dispossessed?

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. – Thomas Merton


So we create a mind map to create a clear vision of how we want to both save and savor the world, (I create a map every three or four months, just to make sure I’m on track) and then fill in the outline with specific tasks to achieve the vision. 

May this exercise prove fruitful in its guidance; we practice patience and compassion when things don’t always flow as we had imagined.

Mind Map Exercise

Mind mapping is a tool to help you clarify what’s really important to you, how you really want to shape your life and where you want to direct it in the coming year, in a way that draws on your deep intuitive wisdom as well as any logical planning skills you may eventually want to apply.  Mind mapping helps reveal what you know and deeply care about, even before that comes to conscious awareness. 

I began mind mapping about 15 years ago, and oh my, have the tools and techniques exploded since then.  Here’s a link if you want to explore further: http://www.mindmapping.com

Basically, mind mapping involves:

1.  Identifying one core value in the center of a large piece of paper – like wellness, creativity, community service, environmental protection, political reform, etc.

2. Identifying related concepts, drawing them in many different shapes and colors around or branching off from the central concept.

3.  Linking the “bubbles” of the elements to the core concept in different colors and kinds of lines: ___, – – – – -, …….

A Fun Way to "Map" New Year Intentions

This process, connecting elements radiating out from a central idea, is a visual, natural, fun way for your brain to generate and organize information and ideas; the map easily shows the relationships of many elements to the whole.  The visualization process can assist you in solving problems, making decisions, and planning next stages.  Mind mapping has been shown to help people retain information like in a business meeting or college lecture; it also helps increase people’s creativity in discovering new ideas. You will use mind mapping here to generate insight into your own values, needs, intentions for the coming year.

1. Collect one large sheet of blank paper and a set of colored pencils.

2.  Identify one core intention or priority you would like to explore.  “My Life/Work Balance in 2020” would be one place to start.  “My Health and Fitness” or “My Relationships” would be another.

3.  Draw a bubble titled “My Life” or whatever you choose to explore in the center of the paper, in whatever color you choose, in whatever shape you choose, however large or small you choose.  (Trust me, your unconscious mind will be making some of these choices for you in subtly revealing ways.)

4.  Begin to draw other bubbles representing related intentions and priorities all around the piece of paper.  Don’t bother to figure anything out yet, just let your mind “play.”  You can add or erase bubbles anytime you choose.

5.  Let your mind play and connect the bubbles with various colors and shapes of lines.

6.  Review your process a few times as you go along, creating space for anything you have overlooked to bubble up.

7.  Set aside your map for 10-15 minutes, then return and observe.  Begin to notice:

– What colors you have chosen for various elements of your map – Bright? Light? Dull? Dark?

– How simple or fanciful the shapes of the various bubbles are.  Are you more drawn to some shapes than others?

– Where are the bubbles in relationship to each other?  What’s close to the center and what’s far away?

– How strong or weak are the lines that connect the bubbles to each other?  Are some bubbles connected to almost all of the other bubbles, some to none?

8.  Simply let your mind percolate on your map, noticing especially any new insights that some elements of your life, work, relationships, etc., are more important to you than you thought. Or less. Or didn’t make it onto the map at all.

9.  For more advanced practice, review the moments you have already manifested the values and traits you aspire to live by. [from A Wise Way to Set New Year Intentions)  Add these memories somewhere on your mind map, and notice any new insights arising about your intentions for the new year.

Tony Buzan, one of the early popularizers of mind mapping, suggested doing a mind map every morning, to clarify priorities before generating any to-do lists. I create a mind map about every three months, just to make sure the life I’m living is coming from the life I aspire to live.

Blaise Pascal used to mark with charcoal the walls of his playroom, seeking a means of making a circle perfectly round and a triangle whose sides and angle were all equal.  He discovered these things for himself and then began to seek the relationship which existed between them.  He did not know any mathematical terms and so he made up his own.  Using these names he made axioms and finally developed perfect demonstrations, until he had come to the thirty-second proposition of Euclid.

– C. M. Cox