Monday, December 30, 2013

Making Resolutions

-another day comes to an end-

When I was a parish priest, the leadership of a parish I was serving was pushing for the development of a long range plan for the church.  They were convinced that we needed to devote a good portion of our time and resources to carefully articulate a 10-year comprehensive strategic plan. I wasn't so convinced that such a plan would be all that helpful.

At the first meeting of the "strategic planning committee,"  I brought a copy of another 10-year strategic plan that had been developed by the people of that same church fifty years earlier. 

That half-century old plan was spelled out in a very professional looking report - lots of bulleted items, clear and comprehensive -plenty of charts and graphs. It laid out 15 strategies for doubling the size of the congregation and significantly increasing the budget - very impressive indeed.

The only problem with the 15 strategies and the 10-year plan was that not a single strategy had actually been implemented, and in essence, none of the goals had ever been achieved. 

Every time people make strategic plans, they operate under the assumption that they have the power and ability to "figure it all out" - the wherewithal to accurately predict and carefully control future outcomes. Personally, I don't think anything in life works like that.

At this time of year,  people everywhere are engaged in making a strategic plan - resolutions for the upcoming New Year. 

Yesterday I heard a report on a radio broadcast in which people were sharing some of their New Year  resolutions. Many resolutions involved plans for losing weight and getting healthy- workout at the gym 4x a week, go on a diet, refrain from alcohol, walk 5 miles a day, get out the bicycle.  Other plans involved personal relationships - a family dinner together every night, no more arguments, be nicer to the people at work.

On the surface, these future strategic plans all sounded great. After all, who could possibly be opposed to getting healthier or improving relationships? 

The problem of course is that, statistically about 6% of the people who make these noble-sounding resolutions actually implement them when the New Year comes around. Most people try, but quickly fail - the workout is too strenuous, the schedule is too busy for that regular family dinner to work out, and that colleague at work is just so annoying that it's hard to be nice. 

People try and fail, and then they feel bad that they didn't  have enough gumption or willpower to make the future turn out the way they wanted it to happen. 

I have never been a big fan of making New Year resolutions.  As I see it, "making resolutions" is pretty much an act of the ego- feeding into our misguided desire to be in control. "I" develop a plan, "I" outline some strategies, "I" determine the outcomes "I" want to see happen - mix it all together and it happens just as "I" planned it. 

However, it doesn't happen like that, and there is actually very little in life that I can control.

As the New Year comes along, instead of making plans and developing strategies for the future, I am more and more determined to focus on living in the present. 

At this time of the year, the night skies in the desert are brighter than ever. Yesterday as I gazed up in wonder at the brilliance of the vast array of shining stars, the thought struck me that we are all made of stardust. The cosmic dust of exploded stars is "physically" present in every atom of every human being. We are all filled with stardust and woven together by starlight. 

It all reminded me of something I had just read a few hours earlier in a book of Buddhist wisdom:

There is no need to reach high for the stars.
They are already within you.

The Buddha taught:

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

So this is the New Year resolution I make. I resolve not to make resolutions - no plans for how I can make the future turn out the way I want it to happen.

I resolve to be mindful - to live awake and aware in the present, connected to those high stars already within me. Indeed, this is the secret to getting healthier and being happier as the New Year rolls in. 


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