Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ah, the well-intentioned New Year’s resolution. We’ve all made them; we’ve all broken them. After spending more than a month indulging in the season’s abundance, bellies full of holiday cookies and minds foggy from celebratory champagne, we find ourselves forming idealistic visions of the complete personal overhaul. Topping the list are better eating, sleeping, and exercise habits, refined personal finance skills, and robust community involvement. Too often, though, we fall victim to the sheer enormity of sculpting the perfect self out of a lumpy couch potato. Once the New Year’s buzz wears off and we re-enter the real world, that fairy dust vision has a way of disappearing behind the constant daily clutter of our workaday lives. Traffic jams and to-do lists, screaming kids and broken washing machines… Who has time, after all, to exercise everyday? Much less to organize the bread shelf in the pantry or donate time in a soup kitchen?

Perhaps the very focus on our shortcomings makes them bigger than they deserve to be. “People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong...Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” Thich Nhat Hahn, celebrated Buddhist philosopher and writer, posits this question. As we invite the best within ourselves to come forth, balancing the “bad” is a more manageable task. It is in this sense that honoring our sacred inner space becomes imminently relevant to improving all that which seems to comprise and encompass our bodies, our families, and ultimately our whole community and planetary environment.

How to achieve the personal goals, then, that we perceive will lead us to that perfectly balanced life? First by simply understanding that “balance” begins with a well-defined center. If we have lost touch with our center -- or for that matter never taken the time to introduce ourselves to that bright inner light – no amount of outward effort will make a hill of beans’ worth of difference. What good is skinny, after all, when it’s accompanied by a sense of emptiness or achieved by unhealthy means? Flabby thighs, addiction issues, laziness, and disorganization are not distinct, independent problems that can be addressed in vacuums all by themselves. First things first in the personal revolution. Inner layer before outer layer.

This is not to suggest that “enlightened” beings or those who are more spiritually “evolved” enjoy problem-free lives or are inherently any better than the rest of us. Courteous attention to our inner lives, though -- whether through prayer, meditation, contemplation, or practiced mindfulness -- allows us to first gain enough perspective to put personal shortcomings in their rightful places. A fat butt is just that and nothing else, but the underlying issues that allowed the booty to blossom into fruition are where the real seeds of the matter lie, waiting to emerge again and again. Unearthing those seeds is the key to success. Or perhaps the whole problem is really an illusion propelled by unrealistic media images, a truth the inner self understands and is waiting patiently to share.

All we have to do is listen, to tend the inner garden while honoring the inescapable goodness surrounding each and every one of us. G.K. Chesterton sums it up well: “The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” To this end I suggest all other resolutions be abandoned for this one: Tend the inner garden, and enjoy its nourishing fruit. The rest of the details will take care of themselves.


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