Ego,  Inner Work,  Intelligence,  spirituality

A New Resolve About Resolutions

Let me tell you about a resolution I once made.  I was living in Calgary after graduating from my undergrad and was working at a natural food store.  I hadn’t had much experience with holistic living at that point and was mesmerized by the alternative lifestyles of my coworkers.  At one point, with characteristic immoderation, I agreed to go on a raw foods cleanse with a friend I’d been spending a lot of time with.  So, cold turkey, I resolved to eat only raw, organic food in accordance with what was touted to be “the healthiest possible diet”.  Such a move would surely secure me a spot in hippy heaven.  I would define myself as truly alternative, my body and mind would healthier than ever and I could skip off into the eternal bliss that awaited me.

At the same time, I was also dabbling in various other products including natural cosmetics that I found at the store.  About three days into my “raw food extravaganza” I developed a rash that quickly spread across my entire body.  The communal “expertise” at the store reassured me that such a rash is just an indication that the raw food cleanse was working – a rite of passage of sorts.  I was reminded that this was a simple purgation of toxins built up over my childhood.  Soon, I would be released from purgatory into blissful clarity of body and mind.

So, I endured, through a rash of indescribable discomfort, gastrointestinal problems and the subsequent mental anguish of being literally unrecognizable through my sores.  But, the goal was set.  I was resolved.  And I would doggedly pursue this course of action to its end – until it delivered me to the promise land.  Months went by during which I traveled across BC and back on a bus run on vegetable oil with a community of “raw food junkies”.  This was a group of idealists that saw society and it’s associated lifestyle as the single obstacle to a peace loving paradise of raw veganism and communal living.  At the time they seemed to have all the answers.  I see now that their pat explanations of my condition were actually a way to run from life – from a deeper understanding.  “You’re toxic, and society made you that way” was the message for which I was a naïve and willing recipient.

Months later I finally went to a dermatologist.  He said I was allergic to the Vitamin E oil that I was using in copious amounts on my skin as part of my new “lifestyle”.  My resolution never took me to the promise land of purity and renewal.  What I believed to be a healing “crisis” – a so called “normal” part of any cleanse – turned out to be a severe allergic reaction of an unrelated origin.  My stubborn resolution (and naive hopefulness) meant that I pushed forward in my “toxic release” without considering other possibilities.  Now, I have skin damage ten years later that is irreversible.

The moral of the story is:

Ask yourself what your motivation is for any major lifestyle change.
  For me, I started out hoping to fill a void, a sense of lack in myself that was a belief of my ego.  In desperation,  I sought anything that would remedy this feeling of angst – it made me dogmatic in my search to achieve the goal of purifying through diet.  The gift of the contemplative traditions is that they offer us the means to deep connection to ourselves which reveals the miracle of our being which exists no matter what our life circumstances are. This serves as an antidote to our existential angst and the decisions based on it.  Then, resolutions are not charged with the duty of fulfilling our lives but simply become helpful courses of action that we can take or leave.  We are not slaves to our resolutions or goals but free to explore them with playfulness as our wellbeing rests on something other than their achievement.

Challenge the “shoulds” in your mind – Resolutions are often made based on what ingrained notions society has instilled in us about how life should be.  In my case, my “society” was a community of people who, although well intentioned, rejected mainstream society and replaced it with their own dogmatic beliefs about reality.  Who’s voice operates in you when you believe you need to change in order to be ok or valuable?  Your parents?  Popular media?  A partner?  The kids who used to bully you in 3rd grade?

Remember there is a will beyond your own – You never know when an allergic reaction is going to throw a wrench in your plans for reaching the promise land!  Other things are at work besides your own will.  Truly, this is a gift not a burden.

Be willing to adjust your sails – Just because a resolution felt like the right thing yesterday doesn’t mean it has to be today.  Life is dynamic, flowing and impermanent.  To impose a goal that is anything but is unnatural (and may drive you to insanity).

Your resolution tells you something about yourself – Although a resolution traditionally is seen as how we would like things to be, let it instead be an indication of how things are for you right now.  A wish to work out may indicate feelings of low energy or boredom, a wish to spend more time with friends may indicate loneliness.  Try entering the feelings found in the present moment rather than focusing on an escape from these feelings found in a future goal.

Good luck exploring!