For Just This Moment (written 2014)
Beginnings. There is a hopefulness about them. Things will be different, things will be better. The way ahead looks fresh and new. And , traditionally, the New Year is a beginning marked for many by resolutions. Promises to ourselves, or perhaps more publically to family and friends, that we are aiming toward something, working on something, putting effort in some direction. As we make such resolutions we are able to hold them as entirely possible. Sure, we know effort and change will be required, but from this side of the fence it all looks like green grass and sunny meadows. All we gotta do is decide.
In a sense, of course, this correct. Without the determination to change or to work in some particular direction, it's unlikely that we'll put in the effort. But it's where the effort part comes that we catch our toes. Because generally resolutions have to do with climbing out of deeply worn ruts, not just opening the gate of a tidy fence. It's muddy, difficult, uncomfortable work. And faced with such effort, the mind feels a lot of aversion. The default program when we meet aversion is to “make it go away”. So if the climb is tough, well, quit climbing.
We've all experienced this. The cliches are so easy to name: quitting smoking, going on a diet, getting organized. Popular psychology says it takes three weeks of a new pattern to break the hold of the old one. And the first few days are crucial because the other mind trick we play on ourselves is to believe we've failed as soon as we misstep once. Slide back an inch? Might as well let go and just slip back to the comfortable rut again. Whenever I hear talk of resolutions I remember the days I was committed to weight training...a regular at the gym. All of us who attended regularly knew that for the first week or two of January we'd have to allot extra time for workouts because of the competition with new comers for equipment. But before the first month of the new year was over, things would settle back to close to “normal” again.
There's nothing wrong with resolving to change. The problem, I think, is that traditions like New Year's Resolutions, make CHANGE look like it's in capital letters, a lot like the Hollywood sign. Big, and one of a kind, a landmark.
But if you're training in mindfulness, you begin to see that change isn't like that at all. It's a moment by moment process. The tiniest of actions taken in the tiniest of openings. That moment when you see the thought or emotion and step out of the feeling or thought itself. When, instead of following the craving, you see the craving. It's deciding moment by moment to make a skillful decision. For just this moment, I'll leave unsaid the hurtful words rushing to my tongue. For just this moment, I'll choose not to have the drink that makes me unheedful of my speech and actions. For this moment, I'll choose to breathe and wait patiently for the child who is moving slowly, noticing how my mind wants to make this a problem.
Inherent in such training is recognizing that moment to moment mindfulness is a training. It's not a resolution, a sweeping one-time change. You don't run a marathon the day you plan to get in shape. You know it's a process.
The gift of mindfulness is that when you begin the process, when you commit to the training, you begin to chip steps into that wall that leads up and out of the current habit rut you're in. I'm sorry I don't recall the writer or source but at the very outset of my journey on this path I once read a quote that stuck with me...it said something like this: “If one of the things you beat yourself up about is being overweight, and you work at mindfulness, moment by moment, a year from now you'll find you're either thinner or not, but you will be happier with who you are.”
We all have a self-critical voice. The topics it chooses to harp on may be specific to you, but the harm it does is something that you share with other human beings. It's part of the suffering we all endure. New Year's resolutions, it seems to me, pay homage to those voices, by handing a megaphone to the one we feel most abused by. In the face of the shouting, we're bound to lose our grip, lose our will to try. Mindfulness, on the other hand, whenever we are able to maintain it, softens those critical voices. It's a way of finding peace with the way things are now, and yet working moment by moment to make clear-headed choices for greater well-being.
Not for this year to come then, but for just this moment, breathe and choose wisely.