as stated near the bottom of the card in tiny type
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Anyone who’s spent some time looking into strategies to get rid of debt knows about Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball plan. The basic idea is that you pay off your smallest debts first. It works well – you get all pumped up dropping one debt, and then you have more money the next month toward killing off the next debt. A cycle is created, progress feels faster, and your efforts seem more effective. Common sense would be to pay off your debts with the highest interest first, but it’s easier to lose your motivation doing it that way. The debt snowball plan is great, no doubt about it.
Resolutions are sort of like financial debts. When you promise yourself you won’t do this or will definitely do that, you’re making a debt of behavior to yourself. You owe yourself a certain mileage on your vehicle, so to speak, and you pay that debt by staying between the white lines as you drive on down the highway of life. Every now and then you stop, fill up the gas and see how you’re doing, and hit the road again.
And sometimes you drive off the road and tear up some farmer’s field in a sweaty, guilty, wonderful frenzy. Or worse, depending on how you deal with guilt.
Resolutions are mental walls that are readily broken.
Whether resolutions are about doing something or not doing something, they’re like walls on our mental landscapes. Beliefs are walls too, but we can’t see them as clearly because they’re more foundational to our egos. Resolutions are made of papier-mâché compared to the brick-and-mortar psyche walls of beliefs, or perhaps it’s better to say the mortar on resolutions isn’t dried to hardness quite yet.
The sturdiness of both kinds of walls are not about willpower, despite all those inspirational things we read about fierceness of commitment. That sturdiness comes from mental and physical habit, which is mental programming of ourselves that we create as a consequence of how we accept life. Habits proceed almost independently of us when we let our lives be run from the level of our egos. If you want more success with your resolutions, let go of the relentless pressure of seeking more willpower and instead focus on cultivating better habits.
Whatever their mental solidity, resolutions and beliefs are both simply made of thoughts. But when the mortar dries and you start to understand everything from the perspective of a belief, that hardened mental structure doesn’t just limit you and frame your understanding. It also pushes you by driving recurring thoughts. Beliefs are walls that keep the light of life away from our awareness (by provided shaded reinterpretations of everything we experience), but they’re also the root of recurring thoughts that push us in specific directions just as the wind pushes the sailboat. And when we make a resolution, we tend to make flimsy little walls specifically to block these winds.
The bricks of belief-thought that shoot through the air hit our resolution walls again and again. Usually, unless our resolutions become beliefs themselves, the resolution walls ultimately shatter and we are left stumbling over broken rubble in a tempest. As long as we’re ultimately banking on willpower and resolutions, we recourse back to rebuilding more resolution walls. And then we bounce off their mushy walls for awhile, circling in tiny spots in our tiny houses of belief and wondering why we don’t seem to be making much progress, until the walls break again. On and on, the cycle of resolutions is about self-disgust, limitations on experience, and the perceived struggle of life.
The cycle of resolutions is driven by belief.
As our recurring thought patterns push against our sad little walls of resolutions glued with willpower, they build up pressure. Anyone who’s made a concerted effort to change their lives has felt this pressure – it’s a sort of anxiety, of angst, as we try to enjoy our lives while not doing what we really want to. Who hasn’t gotten bitchy on a difficult diet? Then, when a resolution wall shatters, all of that pressure suddenly breaks through to the next wall with a fierce force that feels like self-contempt and disgust.
We break a diet a little, then we break a diet a lot. Then we go smoke more cigarettes, skip the exercise routine, and flop down on the couch to watch some crappy movie about some guy who clearly has much more willpower than us. We forget ourselves with our bag of Cheetos in our hands and perfect self-disgust in our heads. In for a penny, in for a pound, yeah? Might as well really be low since we’re having a “bad day”. At least it’s not soap operas.
But what really happens during those “breakdown” days, despite all those negative feelings of self-judgment? We just did what we ultimately believed would make us happy. The winds of belief overcame our resolution walls. Just like Dave Ramsey’s snowball debt plan, we paid off the smallest debt first, brought all that freed-up force to the next wall and broke that too, on and on. On breakdown days, you just end up debt free.
The debt snowball plan is great for financial debt, but it doesn’t feel so good when your mind uses it to free itself of resolution-debt to restore its sense of identity.
Resolutions and beliefs are spiritually worthless.
No walls constructed of thought serve us. From belief to resolution, they all ultimately just block out the light. The light is the illumination of existence, life itself. Life shines all about us, into us, and out of us. The holy light of spirituality is the illumination of this profound freedom, when we walk through the world and it walks through us.
The spiritual worthlessness of walls is clear when we talk about limiting beliefs, a little more confused when we talk about positive beliefs and affirmations, and hugely clouded when we talk about resolutions. When we’re honest about it with ourselves, though, we can see that resolutions are attempts to change away from that which we truly believe we are. Approaching those core beliefs, even looking at them, bring up feelings of fear and dread as the ego’s foundations rattle under the weight of attention. It’s a lot easier to fight the winds than it is to confront where they’re coming from.
The answer isn’t to build more walls. The answer to getting out of the nasty little cycle of resolutions lies in the winds. Those recurring thoughts that come gusting up from our beliefs don’t necessarily have to push us like a sailboat in the water. The practices of mindfulness and meditation are about becoming aware of these and many other types of winds. Simple awareness is enough – when you can see the tornado, you can usually stay out of it. You’ve found the ticket out of the resolution parking lot when you find your seat of awareness. There’s a perspective of self-observation you can find that lets you observe your thoughts with the realization that you are not them. That is, you are not your thoughts. It’s a wonderful affirmation, ironically: “I am not my thoughts.”
I’m sure a lot of apparently spiritual people will tell you different, but don’t hear them. Nobody’s concept of Christ is the same as feeling that love. Nobody’s beliefs about sin are as worthwhile as trembling at the very edge of apprehending the tranquility of Brahman. Whatever you might call divinity and the universe is worthless compared to what it is. Mental structures are the struggle of the ego to apprehend the world and guarantee your safety, just shadows on the cave wall.
So become a ghost in the rain.
When the winds of thought don’t push us, we don’t need to set up artificial walls to reach our goals. There’s no point for resolutions and little point for affirmations, although I still and likely always will extol the virtue of affirmations as a way of changing the direction of the winds. Eventually the winds will pass through you as cleanly as rain through a ghost if you practice meditation and mindfulness, but until that liberation it helps to affirm (here’s three of my affirmations – tranquility, stillness, forgiveness).
When discomfort, pain, and the chattering voices of all your past are simply a stream of consciousness immediately in the foreground, you can watch that stream or watch the stream of all life beyond it. Or watch neither. It’s only when we dampen the cloth of our selves by dipping into the streams that the winds catch and push our tiny vessels. It’s only when we hold the construct of thoughts of self – the ego – to be our true selves is there something to offer resistance. Our true selves – our witness consciousnesses, the souls that never change and watch all of life unfold – have no weight, no substance, not even time.
The common sense alternative to Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball plan is to pay off the debt with the highest interest first. For the debt of resolutions, though, the plan is to stop making payments altogether. It’s to discard the debt and the impulse to buy. There’s no mental debt necessary when you don’t let the blocked energy of your past experiences drive you. When you can watch the impulse to do something reprehensible arise and subside, you don’t need resolutions to prevent you from giving into the urges.
You can be free, happy, and prosperous without resolutions or even beliefs. In fact, you can only be free and happy without resolutions or beliefs. So give your awareness to that which has no weight. Turn the focus of your attention to your witnessing, turn to not your thoughts but the observation of your thoughts… and you’ll become weightless and free of their momentum. Without worry for the winds, you won’t need walls and you won’t want them. You’ll want the light of life and spirit itself, which is blocked out by walls. Let the winds pass through you and the walls come tumbling down.