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Helpful Tips for your MFA Program

 

Letter from the Editor

 Karen Barr

 

This issue, rather than posting how-to’s, I want to talk about January. The month of transformation.

For many, the holiday season is marked by indulgence. We eat, drink, celebrate, and spend to excess, appeasing our guilt with the assertion that it’s a once a year occurrence. We become kinder, compassionate, more lenient with ourselves and with others. Once the gifts are unwrapped and the boxes hauled to the curb, we begin taking stock of our lives, what we accomplished throughout the year. Which goals were met, which weren’t, what we’re grateful for, what we would prefer to leave behind. We spend the final moments of our trip around the sun reminiscing about the past and offering toasts peppered with promises for a better future.

When the first day of the new year dawns, as with the flip of a switch, our tolerance and generosity are replaced by a harsh taskmaster – New Year’s Resolutions. We become physical, mental, and emotional hostages of our envisioned future selves as we begin making our list of demands.

Mandates to lose dead weight, whether it's from our relationships, our possessions, or our own bodies. 
Obligations to increase our endurance, production, grades, education, income, social skills, mental or physical abilities. 
Orders to stop smoking, drinking, eating sweets, swearing, biting our nails, spending so much time on social media, television, video games. 
Directives to read more, write more, exercise more, clean more, connect more, travel more, acquire more, donate more, be more environmentally responsible, become more assertive, save more money, spend more time with our kids, spouse, pets, get more organized, become more independent, make more friends, more money, pray more, volunteer more.

 

My challenge to you in 2019 is to let go of the pressure that comes with this kind of More or Less mentality. None of these goals is wrong in and of itself. But it’s easy to see how quickly they can consume our joy. I’m not suggesting that your resolution should be to ‘become more joyful.’ I have a hard time envisioning how you would tick ‘increased levels of joyfulness’ off your to-do list. Nor am I saying that you give up on trying to improve yourself or your lot in life.

What I am saying is that there are kinder, less restrictive ways to go about it.

 

There are two elements that I have found not only help me achieve my goals but allow me to enjoy the process.  They are gratitude and acceptance and they go hand in hand, as you can’t really have one without the other.

 

Let’s start with acceptance. To some, the word might have negative connotations. It might signify defeat or weakness. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth for it takes great courage and strength to practice true acceptance.

I accept for instance, that at my age, I will probably never climb Mt. Everest. (If I had even the slightest desire to climb mountainous terrain in a white-out blizzard with frostbitten fingers and toes, sleeping in a canopy that hangs off the side of a cliff at night, which I do not, thank you anyway. But even if I did have that desire, I don’t look at that as a negative. I look at it as I may possibly live longer by not climbing a 29,000-foot mountain.)

I also accept that no matter how much makeup I wear, what style of clothing I put on or how much modern ‘slang’ I use, I will not pass as twenty-seven anymore. And I’m okay with that. I’ve accepted the fact that I am now part of the ‘older’ generation. But more importantly, I realize that I still, at times, have feelings of inadequacy, or anger, or frustration at no longer being a part of the generation that “moves the world.”

I still have days when I look in the mirror and lament over the girl I used to be. I have moments when I feel hatred or disgust toward the stranger looking back at me.  And that’s okay too! It’s natural to desire youth. It’s hard to watch your skin wrinkle, your hair and nails become brittle, your once perfect figure spread and widen. What’s unnatural is to try to deny those feelings. To berate ourselves for having them, or deny that they exist.

 

So, acceptance, as we’re looking at it, means treating ourselves as valid and whole. The focus is on accepting our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and bodily sensations. Things that are beyond our control. Acceptance is saying it is ‘OK’ to think what you think, to feel what you feel, when you think and feel them. It’s a compassionate stance. This kind of acceptance is a powerful place from which to make behavioral changes.

 

One of the reasons that so many New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside is that they are based on insecurity and approval from outside sources. We feel a need to conform to the world’s view of perfection rather than our own. Another reason for failure is when we're trying to face change, we are confronted by negative memories or emotions from past experiences. Learning to acknowledge them, to tell yourself it’s OK to have those thoughts and emotions is the first step toward change.

Saying “no, it’s not ok to have those thoughts or feelings” is limiting. It is a non-compassionate stance. It suggests that something about you is broken or invalid, that it must be ‘fixed’ before you can accept yourself for who you are.

 

The next time you make a decision to change for the better, practice telling yourself that it’s OK to feel resistance. Embrace it. You’ll be amazed at how quickly that resistance subsides.

 

 

The second thing I mentioned was gratitude. I know. You’ve heard it before. But there’s one little word that is connected to gratitude and I can almost guarantee that if you use that word daily, in multiple situations, it will change your entire outlook on life. It will change the way you look at ‘change.’

That word is, Get.

You can use it for nearly anything, any situation. But we’re going to use it mostly to replace those negative words like, “have.” For instance, “I get to get out of bed today,” shows an entirely different attitude toward life than “I have to get out of bed today.”

“I have to eat healthy food” is replaced by “I get to eat this healthy food.”  “I have to go to work today” is replaced by “I get to go to work today.” “I get to exercise today” instead of “I have to exercise today.”

Using the word Get, even in those times when you’re feeling wronged or persecuted, can change how you feel about that persecution.

Do you see how this works? Gratitude is a state if mind. And I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of situations that arise in life where I feel less than grateful when I’m going through them. But it’s also a feeling and remembering to use that little three-letter word can make all the difference in how you feel about yourself and the world around you. By looking at even the most difficult situation as a chance to show the world who you are and what you’re made of, you’ll slowly begin to see everything in life as an opportunity instead of a hardship.

 

Acceptance and gratitude. Two fundamental practices that will enable you to not only attain your goals in the coming year but allow you to do so in a less demanding and more constructive way.

I hope you find these tools useful in transforming 2019 into your most productive and joyful year yet.

 

Karen Barr
Editor in Chief

 

 

 

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