Happy New Year, my friends. I hope you’re inspired by the turn of the calendar and delighted by your place on earth. Why not?
As we reflect on the march of time, it’s darn common that we look at ourselves and wonder: who have I become? how can I be better? what the hell happened? Or maybe we aren’t quite so confrontational. We may, instead, make a promise to ourselves that sounds something like a sweetness offered to a neglected kid: I’m going to make you happier. Healthier. Stronger. Fitter. More productive. More creative. Different.
We make goals; we make promises to ourselves. And then we join the march of time—to steadily march away from them.
I write today because I have a suspicion that I’m starting to understand why this happens. I don’t want to be presumptuous, so correct me if I’m wrong.
When we make promises to others, we aim to assert our accountability. ‘I promise I’ll be there in 20 minutes!’ In essence, we’re saying: ‘I will not let you down.’ We don’t want our friend to be waiting outside for an hour so we get in the car and get our ass down to our friend.
When we make a promise to ourselves, the issue of accountability becomes a little fuzzy. ‘I’ll be there in 20 minutes!’ doesn’t really matter if it’s just you waiting on yourself. What are you going to do if you don’t make it? Pace the block cursing that flake… I mean, you? Unfriend yourself on facebook? You’re just going to sigh and have a beer. If you even notice that you let yourself down.
So why do we let ourselves down? What’s up with that? I think it has something to do with this: we prefer to avoid suffering. Because we don’t understand the value of suffering. And the resilience of our own hearts in response to it.
Consider this. Your best accomplishments are generally hard-earned, fueled by passion, sweat, tears and a refusal to surrender. We all have a few of them. We sometimes forget how we got there. So let me suggest a little guidance from an old tradition.
In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, we’re told to practice consistently and remain detached in order to shift our patterns toward greater understanding, integration, control of wild thoughts: abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodah. In the following sutra, we learn: tatra sthithau yatnabhyasa. Practice—through an ardent and sustained effort—will bring stability to this understanding. With this understanding, we find tranquility. Calm.
Which all seems pretty familiar. No?
It is a great gift when we are able to succeed and experience the satisfaction of a goal completed. We feel exhilaration and relief. It is a blessing when we turn the requisite steps of success toward the development of our best selves. This is when we find calm. Equanimity. And this is what Patanjali is getting at. This is how we find the stability to stick with our resolve. To go the distance on behalf of ourselves so we can be tranquil.
As an exercise, consider answering the following.
What efforts do you make that lead you toward greater stability in your self-knowledge, toward personal calm? What actions can you commit to that will lead toward this stability?
What efforts or actions do you make that lead you away from this stability? What actions should you release because they deter you from calm?
It’s a good time for this kind of reflection. It’s the new year. It’s a time of renewal. Of course, any time is appropriate to begin considering your patterns of activity that serve or challenge you. But now is now. And this is the only moment I have. Join me in giving it a little thought.
Because time is always moving. And we all are so lucky to move along with it. Hopefully, with great love for the calm in our souls and the bodies that usher them around this good earth.