New Year, New Ewe

A sheep in a party hat

Happy New Year!  I’ll get the promotional blurb out of the way:  Practical Mindfulness: A Physician’s No-Nonsense Guide to Meditation for Beginners will be released on January 19, just in time for [fill in name of favored event or catastrophe, depending on your outlook].  You can pre-order the book now.

Per my publisher, there are traditional release dates for books throughout every year; the January wave often features self-help non-fiction and is nicknamed, “New Year, New You.” This gave me some ideas about a common January phenomenon to herd into the blog, just for the flock of it.  (Yes, some bahhhd ovine puns are just ahead; don’t worry, I won’t pull the wool over your eyes.)

With the demise of the late, not-too-great year 2020 (bury that one real deep, said the gravedigger) inevitably comes the fresh aspirations for 2021.  Some aspirations are passive, such as hopes for occurrences–the well-being of loved ones, the competence of people and institutions we depend on — or their lack thereof, like bad weather and pandemics.

Others are active, the aspiration requiring inspiration, and maybe perspiration: the New Year’s Resolution.  Mindfulness, turns out, plays an important role here. Without some sustained awareness of intentions and goals, resolutions can be shear hell.

We most all have come to expect stories in magazines and other media of New Year’s Resolution(s) needing to be set, goals and timelines for better weight management, exercise, and time for this or that fruitful enterprise.  An intention to redouble our daily efforts can obviously be started up any old time; but it’s not for mutton, er, nothing, that a fresh year with its increasing daylight (at least in the Northern hemisphere) and momentum toward Spring is a preferable time.

But we may be more than sheepish about joining the other sheep in a rote but mindless New Year’s resolution-making.  Resolutions set without much sincere intention and mindful monitoring are not really worth setting.  The failure, or perhaps self-sabotage, is not a good look in terms of the individual outcomes; weight unchanged, a backseat still a mess, a budget still in disorder. It even can reinforce a subsequent sense of an incompetent self looking back in the mirror.

But we need not put our resolution plans out to pasture.  Besides the usual tactical guidance about resolutions — to set concrete and achievable goals, plan out steps to success, buddy up with others for support — here are a couple of additional ideas to consider, using the practice as a coping skill for succeeding.

One is preparatory: become clear on your commitment level – why you are setting the resolution.  This is where using some time on the cushion with “my [thing I want to change/do better at/not do so much of going forward]” as an idea to sit with can be fruitful.  It’s not time for an analysis; that’s a helpful but  different kind of use of our minds.  Instead, we can start out with basic breath meditation, then introduce “I want to lose some weight”, or “I want to be kinder to my family”, or whatever, as a conscious idea in awareness…. then observe how it operates, what happens to us.  Does energy go up? Do thoughts about failure start blizzarding upstairs?  Is there an ache of sadness in the heart?  This “theme ingredient” practice is covered in much more detail in Chapters 9 and 10 in PM.  Actively moving the focus of observation to a more complex phenomenon is not an introductory exercise when we learn to meditate, but once we get a handle on the basics of watch/lose/regain/back at it, we can go there.  The benefits?  We can get a sense for what many block our intentions.  We may find out a resolution is forced by habit rather than truly committed to.

The other idea is more ride-along: we can follow a resolution in mind via sitting practice as we pursue it off the cushion in action.   A regular plan to briefly attend in practice keeps the resolution from dropping off the radar.  We can check in with how progress or struggle impacts us as we roll along; tend to hope, frustration, and other states that arise in the striving.

We can attend to the goals as more fully aware humans, and less as sheep without a shepherd.

My best to you in 2021.  Take care, and keep staying safe.  GCS

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