This is not a “New Year, New You” post. The sentimentality attached to New Year’s resolutions makes me want to vomit. The crowding at the gym from January 1st through about the 5th also makes me want to vomit.
I’ve had my share of New Year’s wishes. I’ve vowed to lose 10 pounds. I’ve promised I’d be more social. And I’ve sworn I’d go to the gym regularly every single year since I was about 18. Somehow, though, about two weeks into the New Year, I’ve managed to weasel my way into losing only about 2 pounds, being a bit more social if I feel like it, and going to the gym once in a blue moon. A month into the new year and fucked if I remember what the hell my resolutions were!
We’ve made resolutions a cute little New Year’s thing. Like the New Year’s baby in that over-sized diaper with that little scepter or whatever the hell that thing he’s carrying is. We write them down and post them on Facebook (also makes me want to vomit). We make small talk: “So, what are your resolutions this year?” “Oh, you know, same as last year. Gym, weight, sleep.” “Me too.” But we never actually accomplish anything. I’m no exception to this wild over-generalization. (And, yes, I admit, this is very much generalized and I apologize if you’ve actually managed to change yourself in only a year.)
My theory is two-fold. Here it goes: 1) We’re impatient, and 2) we lack discipline.
New Year’s Resolutions encourage rapid change. Let’s face it. A year may feel like a long time, but it may not be long enough to completely re-imagine yourself (if that’s even possible). It takes a while to lose a ton of weight. It takes forever to “get into” meditation, yoga, or other complex practices. And reading a book a week is definitely ambitious. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but it requires a lot of (here it comes!) DISCIPLINE!
When I first encountered meditation, I thought, Perfect. This is going to make me more relaxed, less stressed, and I’ll have a God-like glow around me at all times. That didn’t happen. I got irritated every time I sat on that cushion. I walked away with a to-do list longer than the Harry Potter series. And I dreaded (and often successfully avoided) sitting on the cushion the next day. I found myself making excuses that, at first, seemed really legitimate. “My stomach feels sensitive today. I shouldn’t meditate just in case I have to poo.” And I would console myself. “You poor thing. Well, hopefully you feel better soon so you can meditate again for twice as long to make up for skipping the day.” Then the next day, “Gosh, I am so busy today. If I miss one more Real Housewives re-run, I’m going to be really far behind!” And so I would meditate for about 25 minutes each month, but with a whole bag of awesome excuses.
Then, one day, when I actually managed to get my ass on my cushion, I realized how empty those excuses were. “My cat is sleeping on my lap and I don’t want to wake her” really wasn’t a proper reason for not meditating anymore. I spoke with an ex-chronic-meditation-avoider and he told me that, in Buddhism, there is a list of the greatest obstacles to meditation. Some were pretty obvious: not having the time, not having enough sleep, being too distracted. But one of them really caught my attention: not enough self-discipline. And I thought, Well, I’ll just start sleeping more, and setting aside some time in my schedule to sit, and working on my mind’s distractions. But I had no remedy to gaining more self-discipline.
As a kid, I was always well-behaved. I was rarely scolded or disciplined in school. So, I figured, well then I must have a lot of self-discipline, since no one else needed to discipline me. Wrong. Unfortunately, self-discipline takes self-discipline. And that’s what makes it so incredibly hard.
How do we start?
I realized that asking myself to meditate for 3 hours a day wasn’t helpful. After 25 minutes my legs hurt, my mind wandered more than ever, and I become really irritable. Telling myself it was possible (and healthy) to lose 20 pounds in a week was false. A pound a week? Much better. It was, “Maybe you shouldn’t eat 100 Hershey’s kisses right now, just three”, instead of, “Don’t even think about chocolate.”
The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche uses the example of the Buddha. The Buddha wasn’t born the Buddha. He didn’t wake up one day and know exactly what enlightenment was and how to achieve it. It started with a question that had no answer. It turned into a series of questions that had no answer. It became exploration. It became analysis. And then it became 70-something years. And then it became enlightenment. But his discipline and patience led him to achieve his goal.
Be patient. And cultivate discipline within yourself. (Don’t discipline yourself. You’ll get enough of that from the world and it will set you back. Just cultivate it.) You can lead yourself to where you want to be. There is only you.