At New Year’s most of us take some time out to set intentions about what we would like to change. It is part of our interconnectedness. Although we can do this at any time the holidays allow us to escape from our daily routine long enough to imagine new possibilities.
We are always being brow-beaten with prescriptions for healthier, more purpose-driven lives, and we’re constantly being told what constitutes “better.” Better health, we are told, equates to thinness, stamina, taut muscles, perfect skin and no cellulite. We are also told we need to have jobs we are passionate about, wealth, a nice vehicle, an interesting bio (achievements, degrees, world travel), a romantic love relationship and happy, over-achieving children. Hankering after all of these things we’re supposed to have can be a source of tremendous suffering. What is hard to see is these aspirations arise from a shared story that places an isolated ego in “control” and assumes that all of these desirable “rewards” are the natural result of making the right decisions and working hard enough. But this is only a story. It’s a great story if you are born into the right social class, the right country, the right family, with the right resources. But for many humans it’s a story that sets us up for failure and pain.
What if we changed the story? What if health was measured by relationships and patience, and how we make each other feel? By how creative or playful or generous we are? What if we measured achievement by how respectful we are towards the environment, how carefully we use resources, how well we listen, how thoughtfully or how ethically we behave?
There is a story in the Avatamsaka Sutta about a magical net created by the god, Indra. The net stretches infinitely in all directions and strings together the whole universe. At each junction is a mirrored, multifaceted jewel, and each jewel reflects every other jewel. Each jewel can be seen as the centre of the universe, and at the same time the whole universe can be found within each jewel. The jewel represents you, and any time a corner of the net is moved the ripples affect the entire universe. The net is held together by the threads of relationship: there is nothing in the entire web that isn’t connected with an infinite number of other things.
In this view of the universe we are not isolated individuals building up our status with perfect abs or the latest iphone. There is no outside or inside, and no supreme point of view. We’re not being graded or judged and we’re all being held in a tightly woven safety net.
Richard Freeman says, “The true mystery of life and of the present moment is revealed only through surrender, through letting go, through not controlling and not knowing.” (200) This is not to say that we don’t act, or that we do nothing. Rather we act without expectation of results and we’re awake to the fact that our actions do matter, because we’re tied to everything and everyone in the net.
So you can make resolutions or not make them. Both are equally good and whatever you are or are not is quintessentially fine. You only need to decide where you want to focus your efforts.