Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Goals and Resolutions

"Fading Light"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

The end of the year must be approaching because almost everywhere I look I see some article or story about New Year Resolutions – how to set goals for the New Year, how to keep the resolutions you make.

In one sense there is probably no harm in setting New Year goals.  I suppose all of us would do well to lose some weight, eat a healthier diet, workout more, walk every day or improve a relationship; but I just read a report that, statistically speaking, only 5% of these newly-made resolutions will actually be implemented in 2016.

Generally speaking, people have good intentions in making resolutions for a New Year, and at least for a few weeks, they try real hard to live up to the goals they set;  but when the workouts get too strenuous or that extra piece of cake looks too tempting many people quickly fail in their resolve and then feel bad about themselves because they were too weak, not enough gumption or willpower.

To be honest I am not a big fan of New Year Resolutions. While setting future goals may have some merit, I also believe that there is an inherent spiritual danger lurking in a corner when you plan too carefully for the future. Setting goals and developing long-term plans can often turn into little more than a futile exercise of the ego. "I” devise a plan in order to manipulate what will happen. “I” develop a strategy to control the outcomes, to make the future turn out according to the way I want it to turn out.

The problem, of course, is that life doesn’t usually happen according to the way I plan it. There is very little (if anything) that any of us can actually control in a world of constant change. Furthermore, when my energy is spent trying make the world conform to the way I want it to be, I will inevitably miss something of what life is actually offering me.

One of my books of Buddhist essays offers this insight:

There is no secure or unchanging ground
and we make ourselves safe only when we see and accept the way life is –
utterly spontaneous and impermanent.
When it’s time to laugh, we laugh.
When it’s time to weep, we weep.
We are cheated of nothing in life except that from which we withhold ourselves
by ego’s narrow bounds.
These bounds were made to break;
indeed they must break if we ever hope to be whole again.

As for me, I won’t be making any list of resolutions for the upcoming year. Instead I resolve to try to be more mindful, more intentional about living every day grounded in the moment, aware of what life is offering to me - laughing when it's time to laugh and weeping when its time to weep.

The Buddha taught:

In the end these things matter most
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?

As this year comes to an end, these are the questions I ask myself as I review 2015 and this is the path I hope to follow in the year to come – to love well, to live fully, to let go deeply.


  1. Practical Wisdom, I'd say. Buddha certainly knew what he was talking about. The idea of having to answer to the Divine with my accountability for my behavior based on those activities, scares me to an early death, I'm afraid!! So simple, yet so hard to imagine myself living it thoroughly enough for a "Well done, thou good and faithful servant!" at the time of opening those scrolls listing my life's activities and lacks of them on Planet Earth. I LOVE IT, though. Something to really take to heart and think about, those final questions!! :))

  2. I prefer the phrase 'new year reminders'. I truly feel that we already have everything we need inside us, but may need reminding of our humour, our self discipline, our compassion, for these to really shine. I certainly find this more uplifting and positive than resolving to be a 'new me'. It is about being more of myself. Thanks Paul xx

    1. I really like that phrase - New Year Reminders