15 days later, my perspective on 2019 resolutions
Resolutions are a lost cause. It’s January 15, so your New Year resolutions are probably far down the sewer already. You could spend hours online reading that 80% of the resolutions don’t make it until the end of the month. Sometimes it’s 50%, sometimes it’s as precise as 46%, who knows really? Articles will explain extensively how to make them stick. Others will tell why you don’t need them. This one will do neither. Or both. You decide.
I originally intended to offer an alternative to resolutions and then realised: « Do we really need more noise around that topic? And what does all the noise say about us? » This resolution business is dusty so let’s give a nice shake and some decluttering, before we all go back to living our life as we’re supposed to.
Are resolutions just a gigantic marketing humbug? In a way yes, but I’ll ask: what’s not marketing? Let’s have a look at the main trends. One trend is to emphasise how resolutions usually fail in order to introduce something that works better. Goal setting, intention setting, word of the year, you name it. You’ll pick what you like according to your nature. Goal setting sounds more driven and ambition related. Intentions sound more profound and meaningful, almost spiritual.
Now, let’s play a game. It’s called dictionary.
Goal: « The object of a person’s ambition or effort. An aim or plan »
Intention: « A thing intended. An aim or plan.
Amusingly, goals and intentions are both about aiming, nothing really spiritual. And when it comes to resolution, the tiny distinction resides in the quality of the decision process. According to the Oxford dictionary, resolution implies « the quality of being determined ».
If resolutions are made after deliberation and proceed from a firm decision, why do half of us « fail » (it’s a strong word, I know, but bear with me) to go through with them?
Although this resolution whirlwind seems new, it’s actually been around since the Ancient times. Every year in March (not January), some 4000 years ago, Babylonians made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any object or tool they had borrowed during the past year. If they kept their promisses, they would remain in the good graces of their gods. The tradition has been perpetuated during the Roman era, after Julius Caesar established January 1st as the first day of the New Year. In honour of Janus, the two-faced god who looks at both the past and the future, they made sacrifices and promisses of good conduct for the coming year. We are looking at the birth of the the self-betterment hype, my friends!
And because marketing is all about disruption, we are now hearing dissonant voices, another trend letting us know that resolutions are a scam and we shouldn’t have them. Are resolutions entirely wrong and should we avoid them at all cost?
It is true that this cultural sense of renewal is subjective and doesn’t resonate with many of us anymore. Actually some people feel it more between Summer and Autumn, when school starts again. A new and use of ancient rituals and seasonal rites could also partly explain this disheartenment. The meaning of those rituals has been separated from the practices themselves, now reduced to mere marketing messages. Wait until the next new moon, solstice or equinox to get a clearer sense of what I’m saying.
Moreover, instead of feeling deeply inspired by an opportunity to start fresh, we tend to feel more and more pressured: « crush your goals », « how to stick to your resolutions », « hustle more, achieve more and finally become your BEST self », as if your current self wasn’t enough already. And please make it public, because everybody needs to know that you followed guru X’s 10-step guide to resolutions that stick and made 2019 your best year yet. RIP intimacy and privacy.
However, I don’t want to sound like it’s wrong to want to improve ourselves or our lives. After all I have played my role in this game too. But I won’t allow myself to mindlessly follow these trends anymore, because true wellness shouldn’t be about a well styled tagline. It’s actually a healthy, sane and natural thing to want to better oneself or one’s life. According to Aristotle, it’s in man’s purpose to seek happiness (Get your copy of The Nicomachean Ethics to dig deeper). I think that the tender points lies in the the energy at the origin of such a quest. The question of understanding the root of this desire is a very valid one. Before going after some external goal thrown at us by society, even a noble one like starting meditation, shouldn’t we ask ourselves where this goal comes from?
Our life is fast paced and the stimulation from social media and advertisement is relentless. There’s very little time for us to explore how we feel in the moment, who we are or why we want what we want. And because of a quite thick social veneer, we sometimes are ashamed to desire what we desire. We might even become numb to ourselves and who we are, craving a deeper something and yet permeable to any promise of quick happiness coming our way.
It’s no mystery that we are fed distractions and materialism, even in the so called « spiritual » world (that has become a very prolific industry). But why would be swallow all that willingly? Why would we expect so much from ourselves? Why are we constantly going after « the next thing », like headless chickens?
As I said (after Aristotle), it is a human tendency to seek happiness. The twist here is that we seek long lasting happiness in the realm of the temporary and the transitory. We want to change, evolve, transform, upgrade to a more stable form of ourselves by applying tricks, steps, hacks, recipes or blueprints. It has to be easy. It has to be safe. We want it to be quick.
The root of these tendencies is the difficulty to be here and now, to just be. This is disarmingly simple, although not easy.
By wanting to force change, we get drowned in the multiplicity of countless expectations, answers and solutions. We lose ourselves in our mind, our personality, our labels, instead of our Being. Mooji puts it perfectly : « The universal tendency in human beings is to seek lasting happiness in the field of names and forms, a transient field. Because they believe this is all there is, they look for happiness by immersing themselves in experience after experience, therapy after therapy, workshop after workshop—even spiritual ones, which all sound so promising but never really address the present. This is really a form of avoidance, a distraction from what is timelessly unchanging and ever-perfect within ourselves ».
At this point, you’ll ask yourself what to do instead. See, this is what the mind does! I believe a true advice isn’t about offering answers, nor roadmaps. Just like Socrates, I believe in self inquiry, pointers, and maybe, from time to time, gentle suggestions. Here’s what’s working for me when it comes to resolutions, goal crushing and other where-do-you-see-yourself-in-5-years type of thinking.
I try to get in touch with the idea that all this questioning is watched. There is something very potent to getting back in touch with the awareness of what we are experiencing. With the awareness that we are experiencing something. With the numbness, even, and the awareness of the numbness. When we aren’t conscious of here and now, something in us is aware of that. We can get in touch with our expectations, our chaos, our feelings and paradoxes. Be sure not to label all of this. Breathe, it’s all good. You’re human.
Becoming aware of what’s in motion and dynamic in our life, the impermanence, we might ask ourselves how that is supposed to help us find more ground. But the ground is in the moment itself. It’s in the life force. I found over the years that there’s nothing more grounding than the very moment when letting go happens. That the most powerful moments of connectedness and grace weren’t planned nor pictured in my vision boards (and I love those so much!).
I have been thinking from a very young age that life is just an ever unfolding paradox. I now see this as a constant paradox between the dynamic life, hectic and changing and the vast quietude of Presence and Grace. We often forget Presence in order to overly focus on chaos. So if I had a goal or an intention, that would be to build a muscle of remembering. Instead of seeking happiness outside, looking of joy inside. To cultivate my presence as the seat of joy.
At this point, you might feel free form all resolutions, and it’s all good. You might feel like your resolutions have changed, and it’s all good. You might also feel like your resolutions are spot on, and it’s all good.
One last thought for my fellow high achievers, perfectionists and other planners (are we a club yet?):
Have faith in your hopes, your intuition and the validity of your feelings and desires.
Remember the original meaning of the word resolution (being resolute) and trust your ability to deliberate and make decisions.
Believe in your capacity to change and adapt.
Believe in surrendering to your inspirations and your joy.
Photography ©Marie-Louise Corompt 2019