A New Type of New Year's Resolution
“Every day in every way, I’m getting busier.” - Robert Cialdini
It seems as though we live in a time of doing. People are doing more at work, both in the amount of time and amount that’s getting done. When these people become parents, they are sure to have their children be doing more sports and extracurricular activities. By doing all of this, it will ensure that their children get into the best schools, to get the best jobs that will keep them doing more and more for the rest of their lives.
With all of this talk of doing more with less, we as a society have carelessly tossed aside quality. That is to say the quality of our work, the quality of our human interactions, the quality of our relationships both toward ourselves and others. We are ceaselessly running from one superficial interaction, meeting, activity, etc. to another. We become, so future focused that our lives become a dream because we are never there to enjoy the present moment.
We rarely carve out time for being aside from the same vacation that we take twice a year if we take one at all. If we are honest with ourselves, we continue to do on our holidays until the point of coming back from the vacation more exhausted than when we left. I often hear the phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation.” If we focus on being, then we can realize that we do not need a break or a vacation. If we know that the present moment is our home and that we can live there with great ease, then this can be available to us at any moment. Present moment awareness is where the term "being" comes in.
In modern, western society there is little talk of being. What is the most significant gift that human beings have? This question answers itself if you look into the phrase. Humans were meant to be, hence the term “human being.” We have shifted from the form of being to that of doing. The separation here is subtle. Two people could be doing the same activity, and one is doing, and one is being. The being-ness comes from the mind. It is your mental state. When you are doing something, are you fully engaged in that process? Do you have other thoughts lingering in your head? Are you thinking about what you will have for dinner tonight or are you so focused on that moment and the task at hand that there are no other thoughts? This mental state is "being."
Around the first of every year is a particular time for this sense of doing. Most “New Year’s Resolutions” have to do with attaining something. With achieving some new goal, either around bettering ourselves, our job performance, physical performance, personal performance, etc. These are all focused on aiming at some target, at gaining something which we do not think that we already have. In Buddhism, there is the beautiful notion that we already have everything because we are the universe. Without the entire cosmos we would not be possible, and vice versa. Therefore, there is no need to strive to do anything and therefore, just being is good enough. The Buddhist teachings cultivate this as “Aimlessness.” This notion is quite the opposite of most New Year’s Resolutions.
There is a great Buddhist teacher known as Thich Nhat Hanh. He has an incredible book “your true home the everyday wisdom of thich nhat hanh.” There are a few passages that are very insightful and relevant to this discussion of being and aimlessness:
“There is a Buddhist teaching that might seem strange to you. This is the teaching of aimlessness (apranihita in Sanskrit). Aimlessness means not setting an object or goal in front of you and running after it. That is exactly what everybody does. We want this, we want that, and as long as we haven’t got it, we think happiness will be impossible.
We must bring about a revolution in our thinking: we must stop. We must do as the flower does. The flower is aware of the fact that it contains everything within it, the whole cosmos, and it does not try to become something else. It is the same for you. You have God within you, so you do not have to look for God.” Pg. 11
“In our society, we’re inclined to see doing nothing as something negative, even evil. But when we lose ourselves in activities, we diminish our quality of being. We do ourselves a disservice. It’s important to preserve ourselves, to maintain our freshness and good humor, our joy, and compassion. In Buddhism we cultivate aimlessness, and in fact, in the Buddhist tradition, the ideal person, and “Arhat” or a “Bodhisattva,” is a business less person - someone with nowhere to go and nothing to do. People should learn how to just be there, doing nothing.” Pg. 150
These are challenging notions for most Westerner’s to comprehend. We have been raised with the idea of goal setting and achieving. The entire capitalist society is built upon such a premise. The critical distinction here is that system has constructed something external. This new revolution will be internal.
We must realize that we have everything we need at this moment to carry out our task at hand. Each moment and each job that we carry out in the present leads to the next. It is when we live in a mentally projected world of things to come that we begin to feel that we have aims and goals. When a river flows, it does not think or worry about where it is going. It merely finds the path of least resistance. This path of least resistance is the same notion by which the Buddhists lead their lives.
In the West, we think that we can control the river, that we can build dams and flood canals to force the water toward locations, or goals that we want to achieve. Nature shows us time and time again that this is not possible. It does not matter how big the flood canal or how well engineered the dam is. After some time nature will either erode the barrier or overfill the flood canal if that is the path of least resistance. Much can be learned from a thing such as a river.
We as humans, Westerners, especially should try and lead a life like the flowing and ever adapting river, rather than a conqueror of nature. If your life becomes fully aligned with what is, all effort will fall away. There will be no goal setting, but there will also be no failure, and no strife or guilt when you cave on your resolution. Like anything in life, it is your choice. Continue to fight for goals that are endlessly constrained by a physical world, or become like water, soft, flowing and adaptive, filling all spaces and conquering all landscapes.