A More Sane Approach to New Year “Resolutions”

By Jonathan Barbieri //

The celebration of New Years is several thousands of years old. It has always been a time of renewal – fresh beginnings throughout the world. This year, perhaps more than most in the recent past, it seems to be an important time to step back and reflect on our human capability and our aspirations.

This past year has been permeated by the presidential campaign and the first year of President Trump’s Administration. It is fair to say that the energetics unleashed during this time have been of a magnitude of which we have never fully seen or experienced in this country before. Many emotions seem to rise and role in like a wave only to be covered by the next wave. There is hope, fear, despair, anger, and confusion – to name a few. We listen to praise, blame and people being denigrated. The focus is often on the negative qualities of human beings with a constant emphasis on distrusting one another and fear.

In the midst of this it could be easy to forget the goodness and many positive qualities which we have individually as human beings and as a society. These qualities are the foundation of our aspirations not only for the year but for our daily lives. We can bring out the best in ourselves and in others.

This is a great time to be in an environment where we cultivate and nourish our positive qualities—our ability to care, to be kind, to see clearly and to refresh our outlook on ourselves and therefore on humanity as well.

Often the celebration of New Year’s, while it retains the theme of renewal, has become captured by many of the qualities of our current culture: instamatic fix, hope & fear of what is and what is not going on in our life, and getting rid of something bad—we need to fix ourselves.

But perhaps the most pervasive quality our New Year resolutions contain the mythology that we can change habitual habits immediately. As if something we have had for a long time, and have strengthened through repetition, is going to go away in a matter of weeks or months. That is simply wishful thinking.

A much more helpful approach is to reflect on the inherent rich qualities of being human—such as our intelligence, inquisitiveness, insight and compassion.  To nourish and bring these out.  We also acknowledge the habitual patterns we have developed that are not-helpful and in fact take us away from being fully present with our life experiences.

Our view is that life is a constantly unfolding journey where we always have the option of transforming confusion and anxiety into clarity and calmness. We can be who and what we are – appreciating ourselves and others and therefore we can celebrate life. We work with several tools including contemplation, mindfulness/awareness meditation and developing kindness and compassion.

In this way we take two vows:

  • We reflect and look at those qualities which are healthy and we need to cultivate, nourish and strengthen. These include seeing more clearly the rich and healthy qualities that we do posses as human beings, and recognize that we need to re-dedicate ourselves to bring them forward. Then we can bring sanity and well-being to our lives. That is one of our vows for the New Year.
  • The second vow, is to recognize and acknowledge, without being negative, those activities and habits which we do that are unhealthy to our personal well being. Here we commit to increase our attention and awareness of them in the coming year and apply ourselves to seeing them for what they are: temporary thoughts and habits.

When we combine the two we have something very powerful, workable, and good. We are able to do this through the clarity we gain from meditation in realizing our positive qualities and strengths and to see that our habits, while strong, are not solid rocks.

Each year, I lead a New Year retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center in which we make use of this approach, and the people who attend this program not only are able to take the time to explore their own lives, but also find in the other participants, the same fundamental aspiration to realize their human potential.  A genuine community forms. It is a fresh reminder of the goodness of society. The wonder and power of this always amazes me!

About the Author:

JonathanBarbieriShastri Jonathan Barbieri is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Lineage who has taught Buddhist and Shambhala trainings extensively throughout North America for over 30 years. Jon has been engaged in several livelihood pursuits including consulting with cities and counties on workforce development, creating contemplative co-housing communities, and, most recently, teaching Mindfulness programs to public agencies and businesses. He was formerly the Executive Director of Shambhala Mountain Center.

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