As we nudge our way into February, I’m willing to bet that many of us have already slipped with one or two of the resolutions we might have made.
Oops, that carb explosion at dinner last night. Did I really pay for a full year membership at the gym?
Did we really think we’d be sticking to our lists?
And when we fail to meet those oh so high hopes, we may notice that the shame of it all makes us weaken even more when faced with the very chocolate we had promised to eschew. That’s eschew, not chew.
The problem is that New Year’s resolutions are based on the idea that we can muster the strength to create deep change in our lives through willpower alone. And what exactly is willpower?
Our capacity to exert control through an act of sheer determination, often motivated by grandiose holiday excess. In other words, if we feel badly enough about how things have gone in the past, we will behave differently in the future.
Not so, I’m afraid.
In fact, shame is the darkest, most painful emotion, and is much more likely to motivate a repeat offence than discourage one. When we engage in unsuccessful or self-sabotaging behaviours we do so as a means to compensate for the lack we already perceive within ourselves. So feeding self blame is no way to achieve long-term, beneficial change.
The impulse to create something new when the calendar flips over is understandable. Any significant marker in our lives calls us to take stock. A new year reminds us of our mortality and the swift journey we are on toward our final years. If we are going to do something, we want to do it now.
So let us make use of January’s inspiration, but why not do so compassionately, deeply, without tight corners and bossy deadlines. Don’t we already have enough of those in our lives?
All our days are filled with opportunities for transformation. A choice we make in the next five minutes could potentially change the world. Rosa Parks decided not to sit at the back of the bus. Malala decided to go to school.
When Gandhi said, “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer,” I believe he meant that the choices each one of us make moment to moment, following a heart-centred impulse, taking a pure action—these are elements of our small human lives that can rock the world.
Sometimes we make a different kind of choice.
In 2006 a British man named David Sharp died near the top of Mount Everest while an estimated 40 people trekked past him, unwilling to risk their own capacity to reach the summit by helping him. It is said that there are an unfortunate number of such stories kept as quiet as possible by those in the Everest business.
I’m willing to bet that each one of those individuals had made climbing Mount Everest a pretty important goal. I bet they had written it down a few times on their bucket lists, and spent a whole lot of money to get so close to the top. But each one of them will carry through their lives, and perhaps many lives to come, the knowledge that their resolution to summit was more important than another man’s life—or even his dignity, and the spirit of compassion in death.
They each had an opportunity for an inner choice about how their own soul’s impulse might have transformed the moment, but they kept on walking, eyes firmly focused on the prize.
We humans get so caught up in the doings of life—the achievements, the prizes, the goals—that we often completely ignore the deepest underpinnings of our purpose and the power of every small breath.
And so, dear readers, I humbly offer an alternative approach to creating fulfillment, alignment and joy in our lives.
You are free to take only one of these to heart. That would be plenty. You are free to mess with the ideas on your own. In fact, I encourage you to break all the rules, to do whatever you really, really want. If you apply one principle to 2016, that might be the most important one of all.
1. Pay attention to your inner state.
Most of the ways we attempt to make change in our lives involve sculpting ourselves like clay from the outside. But what if we could achieve so much more by shifting our energetic state from within? Every action we take, every move we make, originates from our present vibration and must be influenced by it.
Try it just for a day. Every hour on the hour check in with yourself and notice what’s going on inside. If you have things you want to accomplish, try centring yourself first.
Far more powerful than any externally applied tricks or techniques, learning how to work with your own inner state will transform all aspects of your life like nothing else.
Some say that yoga may be more than 10,000 years old. When something sticks around for that long, there’s something to it. Since yoga made its way to the West, there have been different ideas about the right or wrong way to practice it, and yoga in its larger sense is not just tying yourself up like a pretzel—it is a way of life.
I suspect that those early yogis probably began by paying attention to what felt good for their bodies, noticing where their muscles had contracted and then just letting themselves go into a downward dog, well, just like a dog would. Most animals stretch naturally many times a day, and they don’t have to worry about accumulated tension from hours sitting at a desk, staring at a screen.
There are lots of different ways to stretch, and if you make sure that whatever you are doing is self-loving and feels good you can’t really go wrong.
Wherever you do it, however often you do it, stretch a little and discover how powerful intentional movement can be.
3. Do one thing at a time.
We live in an era of multitasking, and it is a great delusion. We think we are getting more done. We think we are showing up, being smart, being efficient, being the important, busy guy with all of the appointments and the apps that help us get there.
But the truth is that not only are we building incredible stress into our lives, we don’t get any more done. We just drain ourselves and do things badly because we are not fully present.
There is nothing your brain and your heart love more than being totally immersed in the flow of one thing, uninterrupted, for a significant period of time.
It will help you deal with your anger, keep you healthier and perhaps even banish some wrinkles—if you need another good reason. One thing at a time.
4. Change one significant habit.
Change is its own reward. Sometimes we really get our knickers in a knot, organizing our organizers, but the truth is it almost doesn’t matter what we change so long as we change something.
Try it. Pick one habit you have in your life, something unconscious, and make it conscious by doing it radically differently.
Are you the one who always makes dinner in the family? Stop it. If your kids are old enough to cook, it’s good for them. Do you put on makeup before you go jogging? Go naked, you might just learn to like those shiny cheeks in the mirror. Do you fuss over holidays with parties, gifts and a blown budget? Stay home, make popcorn and play cards. Are you always paying with plastic? Try walking around with a wallet full of cash and notice what it feels like to hand it over.
What is important is that you shock your system into a new awareness, so you haven’t got it right unless it feels foreign and uncomfortable—at first. Let yourself have the experience of not doing the thing that feels so embedded in you that it cannot be stopped. What you may find is that some of your sacred cows are actually chickens.
In other words, Let Go.
Have less. Do less. Spend less. Say less. Simple.
6. Pay attention to your body.
We have this idea that our intelligence lives only in the mind.The truth is, we have a body wisdom that will guide us in extraordinary ways if we just let it.
We are so accustomed to giving all power to doctors, experts, cultural superstitions and our mother’s fears that we have lost the capacity to trust our own senses. The left-brained bias of science suggests that nothing can be true until it has been wrung free of all intuition and emotion. The irony is that this is a very subjective stance.
Since the origins of our species, indigenous peoples have lived by their capacity to know things that we “advanced” folks think are impossible. There are still people alive on the planet who can read the ocean waves like a map, look through your skin and tell you what is going on with your organs, foretell the weather in the song of a bird.
We all have the capacity to listen to what feels good and why. Use it or lose it.
7. Eat consciously.
See number six. If there’s one place that it is fun and easy to practice this principle it is with food.
Forget the gazillions of dietary fads and try simply paying attention to what certain foods feel like when you ingest them, or what your energy feels like when you stop eating something you think you can’t live without.
Consider the ancient practice of blessing your food, or at least bring yourself into a conscious relationship with something before you chew on it. You know more than you think you do about what’s good for you.
8. Say no. Or yes.
The no part applies to the caretakers, the healers, the saviours, the helpers amongst us—a disproportionate number of which are women.
Along the lines of doing one thing differently, try taking an entire week and say no to everything anyone asks of you. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea, tell them it’s a social experiment and you are going to post it on Facebook.
What will be interesting to observe is not so much the reactions of others when you turn them down, but what you feel inside your heart and your gut when you do it. So many of us are convinced we do things because we want to help people when the truth is we do it because it makes us feel good about ourselves in the short-term. In the long-term it distracts us from who we really are and how we are really meant to serve.
The yes part is for those who are careful, cautious, responsible, reasonable and boring. The ones who think first, rationalize and prepare like good little boy scouts and girl guides, but never have any fun.
Your homework is to take a whole week and do what Jim Carrey does in Yes Man, and “every time an opportunity presents itself… say yes!”
What you are likely to discover in short order is just how often you close doors, and how much prejudgement is keeping you from expansion. You might begin the week by setting an intention to draw to you the very experiences you need. Then stop thinking and leap.
9. Tell the truth, to yourself.
We tend to make a big deal about telling the truth to one another, most commonly from a place of accusing others of misleading us, but we spend much less time considering the importance of being truthful with the self.
Partly this comes from the need to please. If I say what you want me to say will you like me? And partly from the fear that in our deepest core we are dark and unlovable. If I were ever to admit to myself what I really feel, my identification with the false self would crumble, and that is all I’ve ever known.
So we bluster along, polishing our performance for the man in the mirror, driven by fear of inadequacy in our own eyes, even though the truth really does set us free. It might be good, it might be bad, and it might be ugly. It doesn’t matter because if a thing is true, it’s real, and that makes it all the more valuable.
The most important forgiveness is forgiveness of the self. And all this time you thought it was your parents who didn’t love you enough.
10. Express and create.
The new spirituality is creativity. Forget the rules about the right way and the wrong way to talk to God or Goddess or the Universe. Creative expression is divinity in action.
If the last time you painted was by dipping into little pots and slapping the goo onto newsprint while watching it drip off the edge of the easel in kindergarten, if the last time you danced was in dour Miss Smith’s community ballet class in the smelly church basement, if the last time you sang was the national anthem at the hockey game, it’s time for change.
There was a time when there was only one “correct” way to play an instrument or point a toe, but now a revolution is taking place. Today the options are limitless and this is as it should be, because your creative nature is without limit. What matters is that you allow yourself an expression of your emotional body, that part of your energy field which is authentic and raw.
True art is the language of the soul because it makes no judgments and can do no wrong. It gives us a chance to say what we could never say any other way and thus release ourselves from the bondage of an ancient silence. We have all been told that what we feel doesn’t matter. We have all been told to shut up. We have all been told to stop doodling and making a mess.
If there was ever a time to be careless and revel in an act of creative defiance, that time is now.
11. Turn the mind off.
See above. We think too much. Sorry academics of the world, but we do.
Most of the ills which plague our planet can be traced through the lineage of a left-brained world-view which fears and denies the heart, the spirit, our intuitive nature and the inherent wisdom found in all living things.
When we open our hearts and let ourselves feel the suffering of the animals or the struggle of those less fortunate, when we allow ourselves to connect through the soles of our feet to the earth beneath us, when we pause in our incessant chasing of what we think will fill up our inner void, we may find something quite different from what the chatter in our heads tells us.
Extraordinary things can happen in that spaciousness. The essential life force that lives in us and all around us has a chance to be heard and the fact is, this is where we find the miraculous, the joyful, the elevated and the bold.
When we let the mind take a rest and we feel our way into a situation, the answers come naturally, gracefully, and in balance.
Of course the most time-honoured practice to achieve this is meditation, and most meditators say that they cannot imagine a life without it. But just as there are many ways to stretch, so are there many ways to release a busy mind. The great teacher, Thich Naht Hanh, suggests walking meditation wherein he specifically does not set a goal or destination, but stays in the present moment. Seasonal weather permitting, barefoot is best, of course.
11. Try LSD.
No, I am not going to address the use of psychedelics here. But if you are looking for ways to help a project go more smoothly this year, this anachronism is something to consider, because plenty of our tasks do involve being of this material world.
Learn, Strategize, and Do.
Few of us bother to implement all of this three-step process when we undertake a task.
Learn. Once your energy is centred and your mind is calm, you are ready to begin informing yourself on every level about what you wish to pursue. We live in the age of information and have access to resources unimaginable a hundred years ago. In almost every field you are likely to find that many people don’t really know what they are talking about, so if you do, you are a big step ahead.
Strategize, with options. More flexible than a plan, a strategy encourages you to think laterally and be creative in your options. If you strategize about what might or might not happen before it does, you are golden. Strategizing is something that never ends, and it’s fun! Some of the most outwardly successful folks in our world got that way by taking chunks of time every week, if not every day, to turn off all interruptions and just pour out ideas on blank paper.
(Then, and only then) Do. Take action. It’s quite amazing how many of us either tackle our dreams unprepared, or spend most of our lives getting ready for something that we never actually do.
Honour yourself enough to take time for each of these steps and you will be rewarded with a better shot at achieving your goals.
Trust is not an antidote to betrayal but rather an ultimately liberating way of being in the world.
When all else fails, trust. When it feels as if you are completely alone, trust. When you have no idea what’s going to happen next, trust. When you have been let down over and over like Charlie Brown with the football, trust. When the world seems dark, heartless and hopeless, when it looks as if we humans have destroyed everything good until there is no turning back, trust.
To trust does not mean to be passive, in fact it is a perspective which allows us to make much more balanced decisions. To trust does not make you naive or foolish, it means you have the courage to return to a deeper meaning when human understanding is limited by fear. It is easy to live our entire lives running from something that we may not even be able to identify.
Why not try letting your impulses come from a spark of possibility instead? Why not let hope rule your world? Why not trust?
Sometimes we give too much and for the wrong reasons, but the capacity to genuinely offer something without wanting anything in return can be a tool to break down our own inner walls.
Giving is truly the best way to open doors to receive, to lift anger and despair and teach ourselves that there is always enough, more than enough—provided the impulse is free and not a way to seek approval.
When we hesitate to give, often it is simply because the memory of our ancestral losses would have us hoard, but when we happily offer our time, knowledge, money or love we remind ourselves that our natural state is wealth.
15. Love yourself.
And of course, corny as it seems, if you want to cover every single point on this list in one fell swoop it’s easy. Just do this one thing this year.
Love yourself, care for yourself, nourish yourself heart and soul as you never have before, and you’ve got it.
Everything else is to bringing us to this point anyway. The caveat is, it’s not quite as easy as some would suggest. The idea is to move toward loving and accepting all aspects of you, with no exceptions.
You don’t have to like all these aspects to do this, but you do want to be consistently accepting. When you can really see yourself as a child of God, Goddess, Spirit, Source, from this place of profound alignment you cannot help but rock the year, and quite possibly, the world.
And next thing you know, the new year will come to you.
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Elade Manu/ Flickr