Relax on the New Year’s Resolutions — Wake Up Instead!
Why awareness is what you need instead of setting yourself up to fail
Have you ever experienced synchronicity in your life? Psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875–1961) coined the term synchronicity — defining it as meaningful coincidence. I’m intrigued by the synchronicity that often occurs in my life — these coincidences have brought incredibly enriching messages to my world.
When the message wake up! appeared numerous times recently from different sources in my life I knew this was another synchronistic theme not to ignore. After deliberating on the meaning of this message it is clear to me now that waking up and being aware is really what a life well-lived is about. This may be especially reassuring at this time of the year when we start to think of our perceived short-comings and consider striving to ‘do better’ in the new year ahead.
The message wake up! first stood out to me when I returned to reading the book Awareness (Anthony de Mello, 1990 ). Though I recently wrote about giving up self-books to accept myself fully for all my shortcomings, this book is a mainstay piece of literature that I have had for around twenty-five years. So when a wise friend reminded me of the life-changing nature of reading this book I picked it up again and the key theme of being awake was highlighted at perhaps a more welcoming stage in my life than when I first read Awareness in my early twenties.
In Awareness de Mello writes in a no-nonsense, quite abrupt way about our need to wake up — advising of the need to drop all our expectations about the way life should be, to not spend our lives waiting for the ‘right’ conditions, and instead begin to observe our lives without judgement. To become objective and detached from the events in our life is what de Mello states refreshingly bluntly is the essence of living an aware and truly present life.
One quiet afternoon during the period I was reading Awareness again, I watched an incredibly moving documentary on NetFlix. In this film, a beautiful, smart and vibrant young woman, Cristina, with the most vivid blue eyes and such a strong will to live and love fully despite her body being ravaged by secondary cancer and the toll of related treatments (http://www.cristinathemovie.com/ — watch the trailer if you are time-limited) proclaims with all the passion she can evoke against her physical limitations; ‘wake up! wake up!’ With all her heart and soul at a desperately sad time, Cristina aims to alert viewers to recognise that all we have is now, not tomorrow or yesterday.
That same week of appreciating Cristina’s pleading message so that it sank deep within my heart, my wise Qi Gong instructor guided the class through a relaxation session. The instructor’s words of course included ‘waking up’, matching again with this recent theme in my life that proceeding idly through life, tangled up with a torrent of thoughts in my mind and ignoring experiencing all sensory aspects of each moment is not at all satisfactory.
How often do we get lost in our thoughts, consume food we didn’t even really notice we were eating, drive from A to B without taking in any of the scenery on the way, tune out from what someone is saying to us? These examples represent the absence of awareness.
What if through being aware we lived more? Would that be an achievement that at the end of the new year we might be satisfied with? Or perhaps we could even drop the idea that we must have achieved — perhaps this might bring more joy into each moment of our lives? Would living with the intention to be aware negate the disheartening experience of compiling a list of new year’s resolutions that we may not master and further occupying our minds with rigid standards that distract us from really engaging with the present moment?
Since the wake up message made it’s way into my life I’ve investigated further into this life-giving concept by reading books about Zen practice including those by Charlotte Joko Beck (1993). Joko’s message is essentially the same — let’s take an approach of awareness which supports wonder in living this life; moving away from our mind’s capacity to project forwards to the future or to dim the lights on this present moment by being consumed by the past.
In the profound passages within Nothing Special — Living Zen (1993) Joko helps us to understand that we are ‘fine’ just as we are; that our striving to fill up a hole in ourselves, to fix something, takes away our opportunities to truly experience the joy of being fully present in every moment. Through awareness Joko explains we live fully in each moment by learning to not cling to anything, to observe the constant stream of thoughts that typically bring judgement into every moment, and note the habits of our mind which have formed to ultimately protect us from dark feelings associated with the grief that has arisen when, as children, we navigate the harsh realities of the world which subtract from our natural state of happiness.
In Nothing Special Joko states clearly we need to wake up to the wonder of it all — the wonder of this second and to stop living in fantasy, in our imaginations: ‘every memory that we stick to devastates our life’ (p225). To become more aware, Joko encourages one to commit to sitting regularly with the discomforts of being human and to note unhelpful habitual mind patterns through labeling thoughts. She states this is the avenue to a life of no drama, where personal agendas are removed and one may truly experience the world as it is. This, Joko indicates, is where joy lies.
So as I approach New Year’s Eve, I have committed to taking the time to write out my goals for the new year including any barriers I might have to face in reaching those goals (I love this piece on supporting you to write down your goals: https://journal.thriveglobal.com/facebooks-carolyn-everson-why-writing-a-vision-has-been-game-changing-for-me-c7271093fc47#.oojhw713i).
Sticking to goals is tough but I am reassured that instead of setting myself up to fail, I will aim to become aware of each moment — so, in the new year, as I work towards completing fulfilling projects I will notice any body tension and any pressing thoughts and I will strive to embrace those aspects of my experience including the myriad of other information in that moment that is available through using all my senses.
Whilst not the goal of awareness and acceptance of my full experience in each moment, I anticipate this way of being will be far more generous in encouraging me to fulfill my goals. Being aware supports me to be more accepting of any resistance arising as I work towards what I value and enables me to build up my capacity to sit with the associated discomfort. Hence instead of giving up when I do not quite stick to my path, I can notice that as an imperfect human being I experience sensations and thoughts that do not abide well with my chosen actions and embrace the full picture rather than giving up when the going gets tough! And if, when next year closes, I know deep within my heart that if I continually strived each new day to be fully aware, even with the expected momentary (or even daily) lapses, it will make for a very satisfying, perhaps even joyful, year.
Best wishes to all for a new year in which we all do wake up! — hopefully remembering those brave souls like Cristina who faced enormous pain and did not die in vain but to let those of us still blessed with life appreciate that now is for living.