Like a lot of people, I don’t have much regard for New Year’s resolutions. Why, I always wonder, should I make myself a bunch of promises that I’ll break long before spring arrives? Because I know I will--I have a mostly unbroken, nearly 50-year-long run of January resolution disappointments and failures.
New Year’s resolutions always seem unrealistic to me. They incorporate the things I fail at most often. They come with their own heavy baggage of guilt, disappointment, and relentless, mean self-criticism. No wonder I don’t want to make them!
And yet as 2015 ends I find myself wanting to start some things fresh. I’m not sure if it’s our western society and culture that makes me feel this way, or whether it’s something deeper, something more primal. I prefer to think it’s the latter. After the Solstice in late December--the shortest day and longest night of the year--each new daytime lasts a tiny bit longer. Yes, the cold, the gloomy skies, and the harsh weather will still hold sway in much of the U.S. for a while longer. But the slowly lengthening days are full of new hope and promise.
Before you know it, it’ll be Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) and, depending on whether Phil sees his shadow or not, you know the wintery weather will only last, at worst, for another month or so. By then the days will be noticeably longer--and not only that, the trees will green and swell with fat, new buds and the crocuses, daffodils, and lilies will show their lovely faces above ground. Spring equinox arrives on March 19, and after that it’s Easter and a straight on run to summer.
So January really is a good and hopeful time of year. I’m not making any resolutions, but I am going to do my best to tackle at least a couple of my old bugaboos yet again.
First, I just can’t put off good nutrition any longer. To achieve better control of my rheumatoid disease, I need to pay closer attention to what and how much I eat. Eating has consequences, not only in terms of weight gain, but also in terms of my overall health. How can I seriously expect my mind and body to work at their best when the foods I eat are full of empty calories that do nothing for my energy levels, cognitive function, strength, or health, but will absolutely add ever more fat to my stomach, hips, and caboose? Carrying around all this extra weight is stressing my poor joints--and making me feel slow, clumsy, unattractive, and old. What better time can there be than now to change it?
Second, I’m not going to exercise. Instead, I’ve discovered a Buddhist meditation center not far from my home. They offer not only free meditation classes and sessions, but also reasonably priced Tai Chi and yoga classes. I’ve tried Tai Chi before and liked it a lot--it moves your body and increases flexibility with beauty and without pain, and it quiets and soothes the mind at the same time. This is something I’ll enjoy, which makes it far more likely that I’ll keep doing it. Added to my walks--which I also enjoy--and a more nutritious diet that focuses on vegetables and protein instead of carbohydrates, I may find myself becoming lighter on my feet a few months from now almost without effort. And maintaining these practices shouldn’t be very hard for me to do.
Third, I’m going to put a note on my bedside lamp that says: “Today is new, and so am I.” It’s a good way to remind myself that each morning when I wake up, I’m starting out fresh. The day stretches before me, and how I live through each minute of it is up to me. I can do it in a rush, full of worry about later and the future, regretting things I did yesterday or in the past, or I can see the day as a blank, ready to fill with mindfulness, kindness and beauty.
Sure, there are always chores and responsibilities, but doing these mindfully--in the present moment--makes them special, something to appreciate instead of resent or dread. I already do this as much as I’m able, but it’s easy to get distracted and lose myself in the past or future. The trick, I’ve found, is to stop what I’m doing every 10 or 15 minutes to stand, walk around, and breathe. And while I’m at it, I can bring myself back to the here and now.
Finally, I’m going to do all I can to quiet that nagging, criticizing, mean-spirited, vicious name-calling voice in my head, the one that leaps on every single small mistake or misstep I make and shouts them derisively into my ears. Instead, I’ll take note of the things I do right and well every day, and of the things I’m grateful for and that give me joy. I’ll smile as often as I can, go out of my way to be kind and courteous to others, and allow myself to make mistakes. If I get off track with my nutrition, etc., I’ll acknowledge it and start over again. New.
I’ll just keep practicing these and other things, like laughing, painting, and writing, that I know will make me feel good and be a more balanced and joyful Wren in 2016.
Have you gotten the COVID-19 vaccine yet?