The New Year resolution is a story as old as time. You are presented with an opportunity to reflect on the past and make goals for the future…the resolution to do better makes you feel motivated for a little while…then some time goes by and you realize the goals may be more difficult to achieve than you had gave them credit for.
I made a few resolutions (which I’ll refer to from here-on out as ‘aspirations’) at the start of 2012 that I’d like to share now that we’re a month and a half in. I’ve had some time to gather momentum and also to fine-tune my aspirations. I’ll set an intention now to review this list at the end of the year.
Above all: enjoy.
1. Mindful habits. Reciting a 4-line gatha to myself each morning, taking my first bite of food for my friends and family, setting mindfulness bells to ring every 30 minutes when I open the computer, etc. I have spent the last six months building a solid habit base that I’d like to continue working with. As I’ve written about before habits are critical for long-term change, but they are often hard to implement. One reason why habits have been difficult for me in the past is that my current life environment is constantly changing. This makes things like setting a standard wake-up time or keeping to a specific ritualized practice quite difficult. Here in Plum Village I have worked on habits that don’t require specific times of the day in order to be effective; they are more centered around how I approach daily activities.
2. Voluntary Simplicity. Related to #1, but big enough to warrant its own point. This is about not cramming “just one more thing” into the present moment. Not writing “just one more email” before eating lunch, reading “just one more chapter” before bed or sleeping in “just five more minutes” when I’m due to be somewhere soon. I do this all the time and it squeezes many moments of stillness from my day.
This also includes cutting down on unnecessary consumption: not taking “just one more scoop” of rice or buying “just one more souvenir” when traveling. With simplicity comes more space, both literally and figuratively.
Thich Nhat Hanh said in a talk: “If you wait until strong emotions come to practice mindful breathing, you will naturally forget. You practice now, so that when the emotion comes you are ready.” With this is mind 1 & 2 set the stage for the real work of 3 & 4.
3. Acceptance of suffering. I’ve come to realize that on a very deep level I deny suffering in myself. When I am suffering, I get discouraged with a “not this again” attitude, and basically just wait it out until the storm passes. It’s like the scene at the end of Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams tells Matt Damon “It’s not your fault”. And Damon replies “Yea, I know.” And Robin Williams shakes his head and says it again, and again, and again, until finally Damon breaks down and we realize that he has been denying this truth for a long long time.
How does one accept suffering? For myself I’ve found it helpful to remember a simple acronym passed along: PEACE.
-A: Acknowledge (mere recognition e.g. “hello anxiety”),
Accept (your reaction to the situation, if you’re angry then you’re angry, that is what is happening), and
Allow (let go of how your expectations on how this moment should be) suffering when it comes.
-Choose (how you want to handle the situation; allow the response to come from a place of stillness and compassion instead of fear and anger)
-Engage with the world
4. Facing conflict. Related to #3, I recognize that I am really really bad at facing conflict. My habitual tendency is a ‘shove-it-under-the-rug’ avoidance of hoping the problem goes away. This hasn’t been very effective and it is far from compassionate. It’s time I started facing conflict: speaking up when I disagree, standing up when someone cuts in line in front of me, telling someone if they hurt my feelings, etc…
In order to do this, I’ve been working with a conflict-resolution practice called Beginning Anew. I think it’ll be the topic of it’s own post sometime, but for now I’ll just provide an overview and state the parts.
It’s a 4-part process to engage in when you are in conflict with another person.
There are a few guidelines:
-A buffer of time has passed so that neither person is presently dealing with very strong emotions
-Each person takes a turn speaking through all 4 steps, uninterrupted
-Neither side offers advice for the other person unless prompted, and no blame is assigned
I. Watering good seeds: Sharing what you genuinely appreciate about the other person by pointing out concrete actions the other person has done. What do you admire about them? How have they made you happy?
II. Expressing your unskillful actions: Recognize concrete things you have thought, said or done that have been unskillful or hurtful to them, and make the commitment to do better.
III. Sharing your suffering. Always start from the level your perception; acknowledging that these perceptions may be wrong. “When you did [this] in made me feel like [that], it also felt like you did that just to upset me.” Do not assign blame or demand a response, just speak truthfully from the heart.
IV. Asking for support. Is there a long-term issue you’re dealing with that they aren’t aware of (family issues, illness, etc) share the issue and ask for their support.
That should keep me going for the months to come. As always, thanks for listening