New Year’s Resolutions

Sangha New Years Eve Day 2017/8

In this season of sincere resolutions often not skillfully made, our focus was on wise intention, the second step of the eightfold path. Michael led our reflections, beginning with a look at the inscription on the wooden Han which is struck with a mallet to call monks to meditate at Soto Zen monasteries (Here, Tassajara).

Listen Everyone. Birth & Death is Given Once. This moment Now is Gone.

Awake each one Awake! Don’t Waste This Life

We explored the ways in which advice about how to make and keep resolutions seemed to support or ignore wise intention. Most of the advice given is of the ‘true grit’ variety, just bring yourself to follow your resolutions with will power. Research has shown this approach lasts on average until January 8 before the resolutions collapse.

A more discriminating approach can be found in the NYT article titled “How to Make and Keep a New Years Resolution” which focuses on the processes by which bad habits are cued, and (those cues seen) can be replaced by more wholesome habits.

The Buddha’s advice about modifying one’s own behavior can be discovered in his counsel to his son Rahula, which is the subject of dhamma talks by Ajahn Lee Dhammadaro and Ajahan Thanissaro. Here, a rational and an empirical analysis of one’s behavior and its effects on oneself and other can lead to action purified of delusion and harm.

A contemporary approach which is consonant with dharma wisdom while being offered in a secular forum, is offered in the New York Times Sunday Review for December 29,2017, under the title “The only Way to Keep Your Resolutions.” David DeSteno’s extensive research has led him to focus on the emotional ground or mindset in which resolutions are being undertaken. His research has demonstrated that self control and delayed gratification, characteristics of most people who reach their goals and achieve a real measure of happiness, are richly supported by taking time to reflect on gratitude, compassion, and justifiable pride or sense of accomplishment. As you know, at least two of these reflections are supported by classical Buddhist meditations. He makes the most complete connection between the overall mindset out of which action proceeds, and the effect of those actions on the person undertaking them. His article is worth reading in full

In sum, since the Buddha himself placed Wise Intentions early in the path of practice, we might do well to give it the kind of thoughtful attention that could really improve our lives and the lives of those around us.