2016 was a year of struggle and massive growth for me. It was hands-down the most unstable I’ve ever felt, and yet the most adventurous and free.
I visited three countries and a Canadian province, lived in FIVE different places in Ontario in a half year span, became a certified meditation teacher, learned to speak Spanish, gained 30 pounds, celebrated my 30th birthday, rekindled two of the most important friendships of my life, and spent 10 days in complete silence.
You don’t go through a year like that without learning a thing or two about yourself and about life in general. Here are some of the most important life lessons I learned in 2016.
Lesson #1: Pay attention to synchronicity
Do you ever feel like “the stars align” or that things just fall into place? That’s synchronicity.
Here’s an example: Shortly after I decided to take a year off work, I started looking for jobs. I was pining for a job working at a university, and I badly wanted to live in Toronto. I overhauled my resume and started pouring all my free time and energy into applying for jobs. To my horror, I never got a single call for an interview. But one day, I got a message from a friend from teachers’ college who was looking for teachers to work at a summer camp for international students. She gave me an interview and hired me on the spot! Within a week, I had my bags packed for six weeks in the city. And you know what? Even though I had a blast in Toronto, I realized I actually didn’t want to live there. I got my wish to live in Toronto without relocating my entire life there and then realizing that it wasn’t the place for me.
Another example of synchronicity in my life is meeting I.L., a guy I developed a relationship with while I was in Mazunte. When I arrived in Mazunte, I was stumbling around awkwardly on the beach with my backpack, looking for the guesthouse I had rented for two days prior to my yoga retreat. He saw me looking lost and directed me where to go. I thanked him and went on my merry way. Later, when I was lying on the beach, I not-so-subtly rolled underneath an umbrella in the sand to get out of the scorching sun. I didn’t know who it belonged to, but dammit, it was HOT, and I figured that I would just stay there until the owner kicked me out from underneath it. As it turned out, he was the owner, and his brother was the owner of the guesthouse I was renting. With his limited English and my even more limited Spanish, we struck up a conversation, and the rest is history. Prior to meeting I.L., I hadn’t felt a connection with any of the guys I’d dated. Spending time with him showed me that I am actually still capable of connecting with a man on a deeper level. My relationship with I.L. also taught me to push past my feelings of fear surrounding falling in love. When I realized I had developed strong feelings for him, I immediately started backing away. But my lectures in yoga class at the time were focused on opening your heart and not closing to love in order to reach a higher state of consciousness. Because of this, I was able to ask myself why I was backing away from something that was clearly really good for me: here I had a man who treated me like a princess, who was able to open up and be vulnerable with me, who didn’t back away from me when I was vulnerable with him — why would I walk away from that? Now, I’m so grateful I was able to “show up for my universal assignment”, as Gabby Bernstein says, so that I didn’t have to learn it again later on.
Every person and we meet and everything that happens to us has a lesson to teach us if we are open enough to tune into it. There are no coincidences.
Lesson #2: Follow your heart
For most of my life, my motivations were based on what other people might think of me, or how I would be perceived in general. I wanted to be thought of as successful, put-together, smart, and pretty.
It’s amazing, though, the shift that happens when you drop society’s expectations for your life and start focusing on connecting with your heart and what it truly wants.
Following your heart includes ignoring the naysayers. People might not “get” what you’re doing — but they don’t have to. And people will rarely tell you this to your face. Instead, they’ll make backhanded comments with subtle undertones of disapproval simply because they don’t understand.
This can be frustrating, but I have to remind myself that this is my life, and my heart, not theirs. Honestly — who else are you living for?
Whenever I tune out what my heart is saying to me, I end up feeling cold, disconnected, anxious, and empty. If it feels icky, that’s probably because it is.
On the other hand, following my heart has led to the most joyful moments of my life. It led me to Costa Rica, which literally changed my life for the better and laid the groundwork for my future. It led me to Hridaya Yoga, where I was finally able to let go of the hurt and resentment I was holding onto, and where I met people who etched themselves into my heart forever.
I used to make decisions by weighing out the pros and cons (so logical!). Now, I simply try to connect with my intuition — with my heart.
Lesson #3: Stop playing the victim
For the better part of 2016, I felt a sense of injustice. I had tried to be a good person all my life, so why was all this bad stuff happening to me? It didn’t seem fair.
Every time my mind went into that victim mentality, though, I started hearing a friend’s voice in my head. She called me out pretty early on when I said that my husband had left me. It made me realize how even the language we use can empower us or weaken our spirit. By using that language, I was chipping away at my self concept, at my power.
Once I made the decision to stop playing the victim and take responsibility for my life, everything changed. I felt empowered. My entire perception of my divorce shifted, and everything started to make more sense. I stopped seeing things through the lens of someone who had been wounded, taken advantage of, and started seeing them as opportunities for reflection.
Getting defensive about things is useless. It doesn’t help you learn. It doesn’t help you grow. It keeps you stuck. I don’t know about you, but feeling stuck is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt.
By the end of 2016, I was no longer a victim. I wasn’t even a survivor. I was new. I had a clean slate. It was my choice to take the reigns. It was my decision to use my past experiences for growth without dwelling in them any longer. I had to acknowledge that there was a reason for all of this, and that I could either look at the situation as A) my life being ruined, or B) starting a new chapter.
It might be hard to see from where you’re sitting, but you DO have a choice. No one can make you feel anything. You — and you alone — are the one who decides how you feel. It takes a lot of work to change your thought patterns — for me, hours and hours of therapy, meditation, yoga, talks with friends and family, reading, journalling — but it’s well worth it. Who wants to be the victim when you can be the hero of your own story?
From what I’ve heard, 2016 was a difficult year for many people. But in numerology, 2017 is the start of a new cycle. It’s a time for positive change, for new beginnings. For awakenings. Loose ends are tied up, baggage has been dropped off or lost in transit.
Whatever 2017 holds for you, may it be full of learning and love.