Did you make new year resolutions for yourself this year?
It’s become something of a tradition to dream a self we would like to be and then set goals to achieve that. We wish to improve ourselves, become better… or at least different… than how we are. We vow to stop smoking, or get fitter, lose weight, learn how to play an instrument, spend more time with the kids. In short, we promise to be better.
Yet the beginning of February yields a litter of abandoned resolutions. And what do we do? We beat ourselves up for not being better. We yearn for some future state of success and happiness which is predicated on the presumption that who we are now is not good enough. You might have noticed yourself thinking, “if I can just get it right, if I can be the ‘right’ way, then I’ll be alright and everything will be ok.” Or conversely, “I’ve tried everything and still it’s not working!”
Trying harder is a typical response to failure; we resolve to try harder and then punish ourselves with the thought that we didn’t have enough willpower. And if we’re not busy pushing ourselves to be better, then we’re occupied with wanting others to be different so that we can feel better.
We live in a culture that is relentlessly demanding, a performance culture that insists we improve – growth being the measurement of wealth and therefore success. It’s overwhelming and easy to get worn down by this pressure and its mirage of success, easy even to trade our health and well-being in the pursuit of goal-oriented achievement.
If you recognize this scenario, ask yourself, ‘What am I trying to achieve?’
Before I began writing this piece, I unconsciously set myself the task to write something uplifting. When I sat down to write, I didn’t feel very uplifted. I found it difficult to write anything at all until I became aware that I had set myself an impossible task: to be the bringer of an uplifting message… even when I have no idea what you might find uplifting!
Put like that it sounds silly, doesn’t it? And yet isn’t that what we do when we set out to *be* better somehow, when we lose track of that depth that exists within each one of us? When we stop listening to the truth of what our heart is telling us.
This is the power of a thought: I couldn’t begin to write until I had let go of my debilitating idea and accept that these words might not resonate with anyone.
A few days ago I was walking home. There was a cold wind blowing and it was raining. I found myself holding my coat closed with my hands jammed into my pockets, my body hunched against the rain. I noticed my face had set into a grimace. I could feel tension rising in my body. I seemed to be protecting myself. “Against what?” I thought, “What is it that I am trying to bear? Why am I walking in this way, a man burdened by his life?”
I stood up straighter, felt my shoulders relax. Suddenly the rain felt bracing to me, even pleasant, instead of something to be fought against. The cool raindrops on my face became enjoyable sensations. My hunched posture then seemed absurd to me; it certainly wasn’t keeping me any dryer. I noticed a woman across the road, no doubt rushing home, all hunched over in much the same way I had been. A small boy trotted along beside her. He was all buttoned up in a shiny yellow mac, hood up. Mother and son splashed through the rain. The boy stepped into a puddle, then looked across at me with a smile that radiated his sheer joy of splashing puddles.
Many people think that joy and playfulness come after they have better relationships, more money – or whatever else you might imagine success to be – as a precondition. That boy hadn’t yet learned these things; he simply experienced his delight and was happy to share it with anyone who might witness.
I felt grateful to him for his uncomplicated pleasure. Happiness is not something we can actively seek; rather happiness ensues when we’re simply engaged with what is present without thought of trying to *be* anything.
My experience is that once you experience joy and feel light and playful, ease and abundance also follow. We all need to make space in our lives for a little puddle-jumping, doing something for no reason at all except for the fun of it.