Category Archives: New Years resolutions

Happy Arbitrary New Year!

winter-solstice-pegs-500Just ten days after the winter solstice — which few people even notice let alone celebrate — everyone around the world celebrates this totally arbitrary change from one year to the next. On the solstice, we have a brief celebration at the neighbors, watching the sun set and making a toast. Beyond that, to make things even more clear, they created a series of holes in the stone railing of their west facing balcony, where on the solstices and equinoxes they set metal stakes that register the shadows cast by the setting sun. One stake aligns with each of the three others in turn, the furthest left on the winter solstice, the furthest right on the summer solstice, and the middle one on both the equinoxes.

And on each of those occasions, without variance, the shadows of the stakes align. It is so comforting, especially in these very topsy-turvy feeling times, to see that solid recurring natural phenomenon. The earth is still circling around the sun just as it has been doing for a really long time, and likely will continue to do, no matter what we humans get ourselves up to. The reality of that is like solid ground to stand on.

What is real about New Year? It is based not on some physical reality but on a mutual agreement. Since there are multiple ways that we measure the years passing on multiple dates (Jewish New Year, Chinese New Year, etc.) it’s not even really a total agreement. But for the convenience of global commerce, January 1, 2018 is the official new year. I have no problem with this! In fact, I relish a global community and appreciate all that makes it possible. But it seems important to remember that a mutual agreement is not a physical reality. The calendar we rely on has been changed several times in history, and theoretically could change again. So the calendar isn’t based on physical reality.

The marking of time in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years is arbitrary, very loosely based on nature, but straying when nature isn’t sufficiently ‘orderly’. It wasn’t all that long ago that a universal clock was invented for trains to run on time. Before that each community set its own time. And not long before that, mostly agrarian societies were attuned to the sun, the moon and the cows in need of milking. In tribal life and in small towns they lived in such close community, there was no need to say ‘I’ll meet you there at 4 o’clock’. They just looked around to see who was about, or they met up at sunset, the way we do with our neighbors on the solstices and equinoxes. Of course, clouds can play havoc with this system, which, combined with growing population and travel made the establishment of measured time necessary.

But even though measured time is just a mutual agreement, it feels concrete, doesn’t it? I certainly felt a great sense of satisfaction this morning when I tossed our 2017 calendar in the recycling bin!

Because the New Year feels very real, it is often a powerful time to review, release, and press the reset button on life. We are more inclined to want to establish good habits in the new year. So powerful is this belief in the ‘turning over a new leaf’ that I successfully used it to quit smoking 46 years ago. Had I not, what a very different condition I would likely be in now. So great gratitude for the power of the New Year!

Whether these New Year’s traditions are powerful for you or not, it’s still wise to distinguish between things that are agreed-upon human creations and things that are physical facts. You don’t have to be a scientist to make this distinction. The insight meditation tradition is based on questioning the veracity of what we have always accepted as true. After meditation, we have quieted the pool of our minds enough to see more clearly all our assumptions about life. Our practice of inquiry works with this increased clarity and compassion, as we come alive with questions rather than being numb to the experience of life.

But it’s important to know that not all questions are useful. In the coming weeks we will be looking at questions that leave us in a tailspin and questions that cultivate clarity. Please join me in this exploration, either in person in my Thursday morning women’s meditation class in Marin County, or by following this blog (Click on ‘Follow Stephanie’) at the top of this page.

Happy New Year! May you be well. May you be at ease. May you be at peace. May you be happy.


New Year’s Resolutions That Work

If you incorporate mindfulness into your New Year’s resolutions, you will achieve them.

For example, if your intention is to lose weight, practice mindful eating. If you are in the present moment when you grocery shop, peruse a menu, prepare a meal and chew your food, you will tap into the body’s wisdom. With mindfulness you will enjoy the whole process of nourishing yourself. It is when we go mindless that we over-eat, unaware that our stomach is full. It is when we go mindless that we eat food we are programmed to want but that does not satisfy our body’s hunger. When we are mindful, if our body isn’t hungry, we don’t think about food. What freedom!

If your intention is to exercise more, incorporate awareness into your practice. As you exercise, sense into the body, feel the movement, follow the breath. You will feel more fully alive and find joy in the movement. If you are doing exercise that requires a certain set of repetitions, do the counting based on your breath or pulse. This helps you stay in the moment, anchored in physical sensation, so the mind is less likely to wander off, get bored and stop exercising.

If your intention is to spend less money, be mindful of when you need something and when you are following a desire based in some complex impulsive pattern that does not serve you. This will help to make wise spending easy and pleasurable.

You can see how mindfulness can apply to any resolution you might make. If you don’t see how it applies, let me know and we can talk it through. (Make a comment below.)

The New Year is a powerful time to make a change in our habitual way of being. When I was 25, I quit smoking as a New Year’s resolution and have never smoked another cigarette in 40 years. Yay! Since so many in my family died from smoking-related diseases, I am especially grateful for my having made that resolution at a young age. But it is never too late to make a wise choice.

The common joke is that we will all fail in our resolutions. But if our intention is grounded in wisdom, and if we practice mindfulness, we can do it!

In Buddhist thinking, every moment is a fresh beginning. In meditation, our mind wanders and when we become aware of it, we simply begin again. Just so, it’s important not to sabotage ourselves by thinking that if we failed one time, then we have to wait until next New Year’s Day to try again. Every moment is a fresh beginning. We reset our intention grounded in mindfulness, and simply begin again. We can use the idea of the beginning of a new year to inspire and support us, but if we use it as an excuse to give up, then let go of any attachment to the New Year as some be all end all point in time.

In our practice we have two ongoing intentions: The first is to be present, and as you can see in the above examples, the resulting mindfulness helps us to live wisely and joyfully. The second intention is equally important: To be compassionate with ourselves and others. In this way, we don’t waste time beating ourselves up or blaming someone or else. We understand that we and they are human, prone to error, and that we are all in need of loving kindness. We don’t have to make up excuses for our behavior. That’s just a habituated pattern of fear-based justification that distracts us from being present. Instead we simply recognize our error, apologize and make amends as appropriate, see where we went astray from our intention, sense into our breath and begin again.

I wish you every good blessing in the New Year and always.