The 8 Valuable Lessons 2020 Taught Me
From the importance of humor and asking questions to the wisdom of nature and the benefits of digging deep to live in integrity, 2020 had a lot to offer
I remember one year ago — there was much hope for 2020, much talk of 2020 Vision and yet …
What kind of year did you experience?
It certainly wasn’t the year I was suspecting. Thinking it was going to be a year of expansion outward, instead my 2020 was about going inward, rooting out some bad habits and developing trust in my body and my inner guidance.
What did you learn this year?
One thing I learned is that traditions exist for a reason, so for my top seven lessons of 2020 let’s give a nod to that suspense-building tradition of New Year’s countdowns and work our way from #8 to my most valuable lesson of 2020.
Why 8, you ask?
Why not, I retort!
Let’s get started.
8. Momentum Only Happens If You Start In the First Place
This may seem obvious but let me explain.
Entering 2020 at age 47, I felt burnout by the daily grind of working the same job for 16 years. So I was excited that I’d decided in fall 2019 to quit that job at the end of March and start life as a freelancer.
At first, I enjoyed the freedom but by summer I found it was often hard to get going in the morning (especially in the dog days of August which are brutal here in Japan).
However, I learned that on the days where I just said, “Get up and get going” my lack of energy would disappear and then, like a rock rolling down a hill, I’d gain momentum and accomplish (most of) my goals.
Thus, next time you find yourself lacking the drive to get going, see if you can just get up and go. Put your body on autopilot and give your mind a rest. That means ending any rationalization for not moving.
For example, I do this with a daily cold shower. I don’t think about how cold the water will feel. I just go through the motions of taking off my clothes, turning the water to cold and then stepping underneath it. A few minutes later, I’m done and I feel freakin’ great!
I’ve never been a fan of Nike shoes but their ad campaign “Just do it” resonates for a reason.
7. Music Is Still The Best Medicine
How many times do I need to remember this lesson? You see, I love to listen to people chat about all sorts of topics. Usually, I listen to podcasts, but I also like audiobooks or YouTube videos.
The trouble is sometimes I get carried away listening to all this pontificating and I forget that my body needs to freakin’ groove sometimes. Or sometimes, my heart needs a good cry. Other times, my soul just needs to freakin’ elevate on wings of psychedelic goodness!
Even more, music is a way that we can come together as humanity. This was a message that felt even more poignant in 2020. Thankfully, back in early March, I discovered the YouTuber sub-genre known as “reaction videos.” These are where people watch and listen to a music video of a song they’ve never seen or heard before.
And the first person who created these videos who I discovered turned out to be a constant companion, a man who could always make me feel better because he has such a generous soul, a love for music and the deep understanding that music really is the great communicator.
Thank you, musicians.
6. Asking Questions Is Just As Important As Providing Answers
Boy, in 2020 everyone had an opinion, right? And many of them were very strong opinions, the kind of opinions people broke relationships up over.
I’m a social chameleon and am adept at building bridges between different camps so this aspect of 2020 may have been the hardest on me psychologically.
Fortunately, in early May, I heard some great advice on a personal growth podcast: In relating to others, rather than promoting your beliefs, focus on asking questions and fully listening to the answers. Also, watch for times when you feel self-righteous about things. Ask yourself why you are feeling that way. And then listen to your heart and your intuition to hear possible answers.
As challenging as the rest of the year was, it was less difficult once I started doing this and I was able to maintain many friendships with people who have very different experiences and opinions about what is going on.
Thus, I feel reasonably well equipped to enter 2021 fulfilling that role of bridge builder. I suspect bridge builders are even more needed today than we were one year ago.
Here’s one technique for how to do this when you are having a conversation about something you feel passionate about. First, notice the rise in your emotions. Then, before speaking your mind, stop and see if you can instead ask questions.
Often, we are not hearing each other well, so one way to frame it is to say, “I’m hearing you say (fill in the blank), is that correct? If not, can you clarify your idea for me?” Wait for their answer and then you can ask them simply “Why do you feel that way?”
See if you can tap into your empathy for this person as you do this. It takes some practice but I think you’ll find it’s worth it. If nothing else, you’ll reduce the negative feelings that getting angry promotes.
Last, many people in these high-stress times simply want someone to listen to them and when we provide that ear, we can make a connection with them and possibly have a fruitful conversation for both of us.
5. Humor Is Essential For Living in an Inhumane World
2020 was a really heavy year and one of the best antidotes to weighty times is a good laugh.
Unfortunately, over the past decade, it seems to me our world has become increasingly uptight and one of the most worrying results of this trend is a backlash against comedy.
Movies have been made about this and I wrote an article about it last summer (link below), so I won’t belabor that particular point. I also want to recognize that this is a challenging issue because, in part, the backlash against comedy is a result of increased sensitivity which I think is, for the most part, a positive development.
Stop Killing Comedy or You’ll Kill Us All
Time travel to my past to understand why laughing now will save our future
In terms of 2020, what I noticed both in myself and in others, is that when we came on too strong with our opinions, we lost much of our ability to lighten up. And that became a vicious cycle, which made life a lot less enjoyable for everyone, including ourselves.
The last point I want to share relating to humor is my concern that as Big Tech companies understandably attempt to clean the pollution of their platforms, they are, due to the high volume of posts, relying on Artificial Intelligence to aid this process and sad but true, A.I. sucks at understanding humor. As a result, many people are getting caught up with suspensions from social media platforms merely for making a joke and, well, I think we need more laughter right now, not less.
4. The Wisdom of Nature is An Endless Resource
I’ve always loved Nature. That said, like most modern people, I am often indoors, cut off from it.
But with no regular job from April onward, I made an extra effort to get outside daily and soak up Nature.
This seemed especially important in the spring when emotions were high and I often felt frustrated by the discourse on social media. Often, I would suddenly shut my laptop and just get out.
Mostly, I took long bike rides— I had a string of 1,000 kilometers per month through September — usually on riverside bike paths. I took many photos like the one in the header of this article and then would find somewhere isolated to have a picnic, or record my thoughts into my iPhone (some of which became podcast episodes like the one below).
In addition to these activities, I’d often just observe and listen to the natural world, tuning into it for wisdom. A few messages kept coming through. They were, “Everything is okay, this is an abundant world and its nature is change, no need to resist it.”
Pondering those things gave me a strong sense of relief and confidence that, despite what it may look like in the human world in a crazy year like 2020, there’s a natural rhythm to all of this.
In addition to learning from the nature of the Earth, I also learned from the nature of the heavens and how they may relate to our inner nature. I delved deep into the long, fascinating history of astrology, testing it to see if there was anything to it, and found many lessons.
One of the most important was recognizing that we live in a Universe that is full of cycles. This means that difficult years like this one will pass, so develop some patience and, on the other hand, the positive years will pass, too, so be grateful for them.
In terms of our human experience, we live only in the present yet we can take the lessons of these longer cycles and apply them to each moment. We can find gratitude in the smallest things and also develop some patience in the face of moment-to-moment adversity.
And last, my study of astrology compelled me to focus my attention beyond the natural world on Earth and toward the stars and planets. For example, in December, every clear evening I watched Jupiter get closer and closer to Saturn until the two “met” in their 20-year Grand Conjunction on the Winter Solstice, the last of the major events of this amazing year in the sky. By doing this, I increased my sense that I am connected to this whole shebang; a part of the cosmos, not apart from it.
3. Plans Can Change And That’s Okay, Even if It Doesn’t Seem Like It At The Time
I had this wild plan that I came up with in the fall of 2019: I was going to quit my job, fly to America, and take a cross-country train trip and write a book about the state of the union from the perspective of an ex-pat who has been living abroad for 16 years. It seemed well-ordained and I took the steps to make it happen.
And then COVID-19 brought that plan to a screeching halt.
March was a month where I was constantly fighting the idea that my plan may not go forward. I realized toward the end of it that it would have to be delayed, so I was able to change my plane ticket to early July.
I still had hope in April and May, thinking perhaps Covid-19 would abate in the warmer months. However, I began to realize that the trip was not to be. Why? Well, the whole point of the trip was to travel in a way where I could freely interact with people and follow my intuition and synchronicities to have an adventure that would make for a compelling book. With many people staying indoors, not traveling and social distancing, it seemed like this plan was going to be very hard to fulfill.
That was really hard for me to take and I went through some pretty dark days realizing I’d quit my job to chase this dream that wasn’t going to happen and, well, now what?
Well, now what turned out to be spending my year mostly by myself focusing on inner work.
Again, I was not always happy about this — by the time the heat and humidity of mid-August were wearing down any sense of momentum I had, I was really frustrated with this lesson.
That said, as the cool, clarifying air of fall came in, I started to understand that I needed this time to take care of some stuff inside of me. I’ll get to those results in #1. But first, hold your horses, we gotta do #2!
2. Breathe, Breathe, Breathe
Back in early March, I checked in with my Higher Self and asked two questions: 1) What is COVID-19 and 2) What can I do to stay healthy?
The answer to #1 ties into lesson #6 which was, “It’s a mystery.” I still feel that is largely true, though I’ve come to accept that as a more personal answer meaning, “Bryan, no matter how much you dig into COVID-19, you won’t get the answers you seek, so better to spend your time elsewhere.” That said, I am seeing more and more media coverage commenting on just how mysterious this thing is and how often the experts have gotten it wrong.
But when it came to #2, that Inner Voice, which isn’t always super clear, all but shouted, “Breathe, breathe, breathe.”
Now, this meant a few things. First and foremost, it meant paying attention to issues surrounding the breath. For me, this means getting fresh air daily and also continuing a daily Wim Hof Breathwork routine. All this means is, usually in the morning, I do three rounds of 30–40 deep inhalations and after each round, hold my breath as long as I can. And I follow that up with a meditation and a gratitude prayer.
I’ve been doing this Wim Hof Method since May 2019 and haven’t been sick since. Oh, there’s one more aspect to it — those cold showers I mentioned. Anyway, my well-being has improved a lot. I’d recommend it to anyone if they feel intrigued by the idea.
But that breathe, breathe, breathe had other, deeper meanings that seemed to underlie 2020. For one, when the George Floyd incident was caught on tape and his last words were “I can’t breathe,” I could see it as a metaphor for a culture that, in many ways, oppresses and enslaves us.
Do we give each other space to breathe on a personal level? What about our social systems, do they allow us to breathe?
There’s much more to explore there but I’ll leave it at that for now.
1. Integrity Matters
Again, I can thank astrology for this. At the start of the year, I heard from various astrologers how they’ve been anticipating 2020 for many years now because many major cycles were occurring in the heavens.
And most of them said that the key theme of this year would be the integrity of our structures and this meant both personally and collectively.
On the collective level, an analogy I heard was to imagine our social structures are a mansion. From the outside, all appears well and luxurious. But all this time, termites have been eating away at the structure. Then one day, a big storm comes and blows down the mansion.
Now, one could point to the storm and blame it for the destruction. But had that mansion not had a termite infestation, it would have stood up to the storm.
In this way, we can think of the storm as being like Covid-19 — we could blame it for the many problems we are now experiencing, or we could see that it was merely the catalyst that revealed much that is wrong with the structures of our society.
In other words, the integrity of said structures was not strong. Now I could point to just about every social institution out there and discuss serious flaws — from our political and media world to academia and our health systems, for starters.
The point is, when a global crisis hits if the culture has a structure built on shaky foundations, it’s not going to fare so well.
Now, to finish this with the personal, 2020 was the year that a structure I’ve built my life on since the 1990s no longer worked. And that structure was drug addiction (I include alcohol in the word “drug.”).
To fix this structure, I realized I needed to stop focusing so much on fixing the world out there because I had a restoration project that I needed to do “in here.”
I’ve always been a functioning addict. Even in the 1990s when my drug intake was more extreme and the drugs were more potent, I still went to work every day. Two weeks after I’d suddenly disappeared from my job, I called my boss from a treatment center and not only did he say that he and the staff were happy I was returning to health, he told me I could get a letter of recommendation any time.
But functioning doesn’t mean functioning to one’s potential. It was a half-life I was living. And for the past five years or so, my awareness that I should just live my life without drugs has been growing and 2020 was the year I finally committed to that.
Having said that, it took me all year! I quit for about a week three or four times — and always started feeling better — but then I’d slip back in. It was only when I got to this absolute low point in mid-November when I reached out to my friends on Facebook and admitted how lost and confused I felt by life that I realized I simply had to make a commitment: No more drugs.
This was really hard for me because I’m an open-minded person who prefers to say “Yes” to life. The thing is, my body was no longer responding positively to the drugs and I was mentally beating myself up for simply living my life as though I was a robot.
Ultimately, this was about living with integrity — I couldn’t very well tell people I was into personal growth or health if I was a drug addict, could I?
In addition, on a physical level, it was about integrity — to make the foundation of my body strong, I needed to quit.
So I did.
And now, about six weeks later, I’m doing well and going strong. I’ve much to learn, of course. But every day feels like a new, fresh start and I can thank the challenges of 2020 for gifting me this perspective.
So that’s it, folks, the valuable lessons this challenging year has taught me. If I could talk to 2020, I’d say, “Thank you, 2020. You were a tough taskmaster and I can’t say I was particularly happy to be in your class a lot of the time, but now that we are parting ways, I believe the results were worth the effort. Again, thank you.”
Having said that, I’m asking our new teacher, 2021 to maybe go a little easier on us! We’ll see, of course, but I have a feeling every one of you who read this have also learned some valuable lessons from 2020 and are much stronger now than you were a year ago. If not, no worries, one of the best things about this human experience is every moment — the Present — presents us with the opportunity to start anew! Best of luck to you!