I’ve heard that nearly 90 percent of New Year’s resolutions are broken by February, and my acupuncturist says that spring is actually a more fruitful time to make significant life changes. But the start of a new year offers itself up like a landscape of fresh snow, unmarked by footprints and tire tracks, and begs the question: Can we make better use of the next 365 days?
For several years I’ve participated in Burning Bowl ceremonies on New Year’s Eve. They involve writing a list of things we want to shed – from resentments, to self-destructive habits, to those extra ten pounds – and burning them. We’re supposed to accept and even thank those things before we place them in the fire (because what we resist persists), and immediately create a list of positive intentions for the New Year (because nature abhors a vacuum).
Topping my burn list this year was a “my way or the highway” attitude that can impair my ability to see things from another’s perspective and tie me in knots when people don’t do what I want them to do. It’s related to being a control freak, I’m afraid to admit, and it can poison all kinds of relationships, including the one I have with myself. I know where it comes from and I can see how it once served me in a twisted way, but it’s really gotta go now. In its place I seek to practice more acceptance, curiosity, compassion, and patience…and to begin all over again when I slip.
I asked friends and family members to share their own lists of things to burn in the fire of transformation and I heard much about shedding fears, worries, negative thinking and procrastination. A former student says, “I wish to shed my habit of living under the cloud of a never-ending to do list,” while another wants to let go of “the tendency to compare myself to others and beat myself up.” I, too, want to use my precious time more wisely in 2012 and halt the downward spiral of “compare/despair” thinking.
“I want to allow everyone the freedom and sovereignty to be who they are, and where they are, in their journey and level of self-awareness,” one student writes, and a friend of mine chimes in with wanting to release, “the need to enforce my ideas on certain family members…I seek to have compassion for the mother of my grandchildren and patience with my grandchildren when they display ‘inappropriate behavior.’”
Trying to see our own part in the dramas around us is an important step towards ending them.
On September 11, 2001, I was visiting the island of St. John when the twin towers crumbled. As evening fell I walked down to the beach to escape the television screens. Waves lapped the shore and the sun set amid pink-orange clouds, oblivious to the human suffering in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. I thought about the terrorists and asked myself where I similarly harbored hatred for another in my heart. The answer came quickly, and I was humbled. I certainly couldn’t relate to those acts of terror, but I could examine my own prejudices and resentments in response, and aim to do something about them.
The next day I saw an email that was circulating among those trying to make sense of the attacks. It referenced a Sufi teaching that says, “Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them, he cried, ‘Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?’ God said, ‘I did do something. I made you.’”
Such is the central message of the moving documentary film I Am. I watched it the other night with friends and we discussed its powerful teachings about the emptiness of materialism, the interconnectedness of all life, our inborn instinct for cooperation and empathy, and our ability to be the change we seek in a world full of so much unnecessary suffering.
And so while I do want to shed a few pounds, amp up the exercise, and experience more ease and fun this year, I also want to be part of the solution. I can do this by treating others as I want to be treated, appreciating and sharing my blessings, and forgiving myself and others for our mistakes and ignorance. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better you do better.”
Doing better this year is one resolution I believe I can keep.
(Note: You can also read this essay at: www.jasminbalance.com/2012/01/09/how-can-we-resolve-to-do-and-be-better-in-the-new-year/)