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On New Year’s Resolutions


At Issue: New Year’s Resolutions

Response: We want to be more loving, and fall short. I view New Year’s resolutions as natural expressions of profound aspiration, that is, a rekindling of our deepest yearning to better express our genuine self. In Zen we use the image of polishing a diamond: the diamond is beautiful as it is, but we shine it up so it will reflect its nature even more clearly.

The cold weather, short days, reunions with family and friends, the breaks in routine, more leisure time and all of the sacred holidays of December naturally reconnect us with a universal vow to grow, to bloom, to mature. Practicing with aspiration must be frequent and regular, not a once a year thing if it is to be of much value.

In my experience, resolutions without a supportive structure peter out, whereas aspiration which is tested and resurrected after each failure continues to teach us at ever-deeper levels. By contrast, if “resolution” were viewed as a strong-willed person succeeding at accomplishing his or her goals, a Zen Buddhist point of view would regard this as working at the branches and not the root. I would also note that a “downside” to making resolutions can be over-investment in thinking about good intentions for the future, rather than experiencing the present moment, which may include the discomfort we are attempting to escape by making resolutions.

The most fundamental resolution, or vow, for a Zen practitioner is to live in awareness by using the tools of meditation and the support of community. This will be most helpful in “sticking with” the resolution, and naming it or reviewing it monthly might be useful for some people—we can be creative. I like writing a statement and taping it to my bathroom mirror.

– Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett

Published: January 8th, 2004