As the new year is upon us I thought I’d share some options for 2021 New Year’s Resolutions.
• Don’t listen to anybody. Be enamored of yourself and convinced your behavior should be the model for others. Refuse to consider that another approach might be more helpful. Certainly do not open yourself to constructive criticism or strive to see with ‘a beginner’s mind.’
• Listen to everybody. Don’t stick with anything. Embrace every new fad. Be wishy-washy. Let your ideas and behavior always be influenced by others. Go whichever way the wind blows.
• Blame God or your childhood religion for your mistakes. Or assign 100% responsibility for problems or shortcomings to some event or some other person or group. Whine about every little thing that goes wrong.
• Blame yourself for everything. See yourself first as a sinner … damaged goods. Believe that others see you the same way. Live a life of self loathing.
• Analyze endlessly. Become a chronic contemplator. Never actually take action. Don’t take steps for change.
• Don’t analyze at all. Refuse to examine and break down situations and decisions. Always fly by the seat of your pants.
• Abandon proven strategies before they have a chance to succeed. “If at first you don’t succeed … DON’T try again.” See people who maintain routines as robots.
• Keep doing or believing the same things over and over even though they don’t work. Treat your routines like a blessed sacrament.
These are, of course, extremes - examples of black and white thinking, feeling and behaving. Pretty obvious, when you look at them on the page, that none of them offer a very productive or joyful approach to life. What’s harder, though, is seeing the subtleties of how these polarities get into our daily lives.
The tool I’ve found most helpful is mindfulness, which is to say being fully conscious of the black and white thinking, feeling and behaving that are always present within me, and keeping them at bay long enough discern the better, more loving, approach to an issue.
This consciousness is a practice espoused in most all of the world’s religions.
But you need not believe in any specific religion to develop a more mindful, non-dualistic approach to life. In fact, organized religion can be a great hindrance with it’s emphasis on particularity, sin, and all-or-nothing thinking.
To be sure I have atheist and agnostic friends who embrace discernment and strive to see the world in its wholeness, connection and union to a far greater degree and some of my fellow Christians.
Franciscan friar and teacher Richard Rohr uses the word “mystical” to refer to this kind of discernment. He refers to it as ‘experiential knowing’ in combination with intellectual, textbook, or dogmatic knowing.
“Mystics get a whole gestalt in one picture, beyond the sequential and separated way of seeing that most of us encounter in everyday life,” he writes. “In this, mystics tend to be closer to poets and artists than to linear thinkers.”
If you’d like to challenge your linear thinking in the coming year, try and slow down and be more aware of your own black and white thinking without judgment of yourself or others. (Rohr correctly asserts that we can’t go around our black and white thinking, we have to admit to it and use discernment to go beyond it.)
Some ways to do this are: simply listening to your breath and feeling it’s sensations in your body; doing only one thing at a time and becoming more aware of the texture of that thing (like washing dishes); and listening to others without comment.
To give myself an experiential way do this, I use the word ‘interesting’ in place of words like bad, stupid, and selfish, etc. As in, “Boy, that was an interesting thought / feeling I just had.” Or “Gee, that woman sure has an interesting point of view.”
Moral Mindfulness will be especially important in 2021 as we come together to deal with Covid-19. Jesus drew his followers to this kind of consciousness and discernment by calling them to consider that ‘The rain falls on the just and unjust as well.’
So too, the Buddha with, ‘When watching after yourself you watch after others. When watching after others you watch after yourself.’
But, as I said earlier, morality need not be rooted in religion. As we move into next year, believer, atheist, and agnostic alike will be called upon to use discernment in deciding what course of action will yield the greatest good.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org