Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Reflections on resolving not to resolve

Looking back on the new year, more than a week in by now, I find comfort in my shift of practice. Though not conscious of it at the time, I can see now a definitive move to resolve not to resolve this new year. It may not have been fully intentional, but I find it significant all the same. Often the new year brings untold anxiety for me—mostly centering around my desire to “be a much better person this year!” How ironic that this compulsive anxiety was what was truly keeping me from being the “new and improved” person I wanted to be.

So, what was different this year? What was it about this year’s turning that gives me more peace about the coming year? Probably a lot of things but in keeping with my focus on simplicity this year, let’s just say it has to do with resolving not to resolve. Actually, since it was unconscious I should say it was just not resolving period, but the other way sounds so much better… So, my experience with the new year 2007. I can’t really describe it so much a give a sense of the feeling of it. Mostly, I was tired. And not just sleepy-tired (though I was that, too). I felt body and mind and soul and talking tired (see below...). I was tired of being anxious about PhD applications, tired of working out how we were going to see all the people we wanted to see over Christmas break, tired of thinking about papers and the looming thesis; tired.

This year I didn’t want to add to that tiredness by focusing on all the things about myself that I wanted to change(I think especially of a dark new year’s, in my late High School years—and the panic that I felt when I realized that just a day into the new year I missed the marks that I had set for myself…). I just wanted to stop being tired—including all the being-anxiousness that made me tired in the first place. Instead of constantly thinking about my need to cease undue anxiety, I just stopped. I started living more intentionally, something I had begun doing before the new year, and therefore something that didn’t have all the hang ups as a “resolution” would have had. Anyway, I have been more at peace—and as I fall short, feeling anxious again or wanting to be more in control, I just hope for a better response in the future.

Enough (way too much) about me. There are a couple ways that I have come to think about this shift of perspective. One I heard on the radio a couple weeks ago and stuck with me, and the other one I heard in class on Monday. I think both contribute to a fuller understanding of this phenomenon.

First, the story on the radio. Flipping through stations we ran across a book review from this woman who wrote a book about her experience of quitting smoking. Her first “last cigarette” was a dramatic one—surrounded by pomp and ceremony. Her real last cigarette is hardly remembered—there was no ceremony around it, making the quitting more a growing in a different direction than a focus on what you are leaving. See, she shifted her fixation from what she wasn’t going to do anymore (smoke) to just going about her life—putting off her cravings by waiting, and waiting and waiting, till she didn’t really even crave it anymore.

It is indeed difficult to change the categories in which we think. The example from class yesterday about the body in the history of thought may be a paradigm example. To oversimplify (and try to stay in understandable terms!), Descartes reacted against the body-SOUL split that he perceived in ancient and medieval philosophy/history by introducing a new (well, in one sense) term—the MIND. Of course, however, through his new articulation, as well as its application in later philosophers, the MIND didn’t get past the duality that it was intended to, but rather only replaced the SOUL as the privileged term to the body—once again suppressing it. When post-structuralists determined to leave the body-MIND duality, they centered on language as the third and ultimate term—doing away with the split. Predictably, however, this new term also fell into a dualistic trap, replacing MIND, but also being the greater term in relation to the abstracted/unreal body.

In other words, it is not so easy to transcend a dominant paradigm by adding a new term or a new resolution to the equation. By focusing on what needs changing, we fixate on it, and end up—usually against our will—moving in that direction anyway. We cannot move forward in the direction of our hopes while our attention remains fixed on the pitfalls to either side.

So, what does all of this high language really mean? I think it is indebted to Simone Weil’s (of course it is!) notion of attention. Indeed, the direction of our attention is the direction of our movement. Think not to what you have resolved against, what one is leaving behind but rather the hope for what is to come—thereby making the steps clearer and straighter as you grow forward.

1 comment:

thugsb said...

I've never had such anxiety about New Years. I don't think I've ever made a resolution. It's one of those kinda silly things that other people do, like giving up things for lent. That is, for some reason, the way I've always thought about it. Not sure why.

Maybe I'm missing out on a fantastic ritual, but like your post, I think most people find it a drain after the draining season (the 'Holidays'). And without it I've done pretty well with each year being better than the last as far back as I can remember (with a possible dip in 2004). Even 2006 which should have been a bad year for Dog people (Chinese calendar) has been really good, altho I guess it's not over yet so tragedy still could strike. Feb 18th I'll be in the clear. :)