New Year’s Resolutions

[x-posted, with some minor changes, on my art blog]

I think this is the first year since starting my New Year’s resolutions that I am really having trouble coming up with one to put on my wall. It’s not the resolutions themselves that are the problem — I have four — but rendering them into a concise, powerful statement that will inspire me all year. I am having difficulty with the whole pursuit: the message, the format, media, everything. So I come to my journal to try and hack it out.

Here are the resolutions, to start with:

  1. To give my energy fully to my work, no longer going along leisurely as if I’ve got plenty of time.
  2. To stop thinking about what others think
  3. To recognize aversion and craving impulses without acting on them
  4. To eat healthy, naturally, and mostly vegetarian.

Explanations, one by one:
1. To give my energy fully to my work, no longer going along leisurely as if I’ve got plenty of time.
Last year my resolution was “You are the practice,” and this was good. I was still learning how to be a full-time creative person, trying to figure out a work-life balance, looking for my place in the world. I knew it would be a learning time, and I tried not to beat myself up too badly for what I wasn’t getting done. But this year, sparked by something I read online about people without financial security working much harder, I’ve realized that I’m ready to kick things up a notch, as Emeril is always saying so tiresomely (but catchily). I’ve built up my creative stamina and I’ve overhauled both my workspace and my to-do system, so I’m ready to get out of the warm-up stage and jump into things full force.

Moreover, I believe we all have to recognize, deeply and constantly, that life is short. If what I’m doing is really what I want to do, then there’s no point in taking it slowly. There’s no need to rush — wherever I am is okay — but I don’t have a lot of time, and I should work accordingly.

2. To stop thinking about what others think.
At some point late last year, I discovered that I am constantly worrying what others might be thinking of me, and worse, I’m acting on those worries. I think this is true of all of us to some degree, and this tendency probably helps lubricate the social workings quite a lot. But if, for instance, I’m fretting about lack of sales in my shop not because I want more sales right now but because I’m worried other people might look at my low sales and think my shop is a failure, then that’s pointless. This is a real example, and when I realized that I was causing myself so much stress simply because of some imaginary critical person making imaginary critical remarks about my life, I knew I had to stop this kind of thinking. So I put up a little sign on my desk: “Would this still matter on a deserted island?”

The idea is, if you whisked me away to a deserted island for a couple of years, providing me with everything I needed except for other people, I’d still be writing, drawing, crafting, doing yoga, cooking, and what have you… but I wouldn’t care a whit what anyone else thought. I’d be doing all these things exclusively for me, from my own desires and motivations. It’s a very freeing vision for me, which just goes to show how fettered I am in real life. So I’d like to try to break some of these mental chains this year.

3. To recognize aversion and craving impulses without acting on them.
This comes from Stephen Cope’s marvelous book, The Wisdom of Yoga, in which he describes the chain of events we go through every time we encounter any kind of input: “appraisal, impulse, and action.” Cope describes how this plays out in the relatable experience of encountering a freshly baked muffin: smell the muffin and appraise it (“mmm, muffin good”), feel an impulse of aversion or craving (“I want a muffin!”), and then action (eat muffin). We’re conditioned to act out this entire chain almost instantaneously, so that there’s barely any time to reconsider before we’ve gone from “that smells good” to eating the muffin.

I noticed, after reading Wisdom, that if I really try to be mindful, I can sometimes observe my impulses when they come up. I see an item on my to-do list and think, “Aghh work!” and my immediate impulse is aversion: “don’t wanna do that.” I see Erik’s iPod Touch on the bedside table and think, “Oooh, games,” and get a craving: “just one game of Scramble before going to bed.” Normally, impulse moves right away to action without even passing through my conscious brain. But when I notice the impulse, I can make a decision to pause before acting on it — and the crazy thing is, very often the pause itself is enough to quench the impulse. I need to cultivate this level of internal observation in my life; it can help me change a lot of ingrained bad habits.

4. To eat healthy, naturally, and mostly vegetarian.
I wrote the day before yesterday about my plan to meld healthy eating habits with my own taste preferences. So far, it’s a bit more work, but it’s going really well.

So those are my 2010 resolutions. They flow naturally from things I’ve been working on for a long time, but they feel fresh because of what I’ve learned and read and experienced in the past year. But I still can’t figure out how to make them into a single piece to hang on my wall.

Looking over what I’ve just written about the resolutions, I see that they’re actually going to have to function on a very nitty-gritty level. We’re talking about a mindset I must get into every day, meals I eat three times a day, thoughts and impulses I generate hundreds or thousands of times every hour. In past years, I’ve hung my resolutions up on the wall over my desk, but I admit I don’t really look at them every day; no one ever does really look at the signs on the wall every single day! Perhaps what would be more helpful in keeping these resolutions would be a monthly check-in, here on this blog. I’d rather do that than crank out a resolutions sign that doesn’t feel right, anyhow.

All right, it’s going on my calendar. I’ll do it on February 12, right before Chinese New Year. Look for an update then!