Every year, thousands of people make endless lists of what they hope to achieve, improve, or learn.
Making lists is easy; sticking to them is not.
Once the holiday cheer wears off and we get back to our daily, busy routine, we slowly forget about our lists and return to our over-caffeinated, exhausted self.
Well, I’ve always hated this swift transformation between December and January. I don’t want to make lists of things I know I won’t achieve. Instead, I choose to be realistic.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against lists, but I realize how making them and not sticking to them may leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
What can we do to turn this ordeal around and enter the new year with grace? The Buddhists have an answer that might change our life:
“Ask yourself these two questions: Do I remember at every moment that I am dying, and that everyone and everything else is, and so treat all beings at all times with compassion? Has my understanding of death and impermanence become so keen and so urgent that I am devoting every second to the pursuit of enlightenment? If you can answer ‘yes’ to both of these, then you really understand impermanence.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche
You see, the problem is that when we make New Year’s resolutions, we think (and surely hope) they’ll last. We want everything to be permanent—a permanent job, a permanent relationship, a permanent friendship, a permanent house, and so on.
And it’s good because it certainly keeps us motivated. However, in our pursuit of giving meaning and purpose to our life, we forget that, as Sogyal Rinpoche once said, “I am dying and that everyone and everything else is.” We walk through life with a thick, black blindfold that blocks what’s really happening around us:
Impermanence is what’s really happening around us. But we don’t take it seriously (and some of us actually choose to sweep it under the rug).
You might think I’m a pessimist who spends their New Year at home and shrugs her shoulders while “normal” people count down to midnight and fireworks light up the sky across the globe.
Nope. I’m probably the happiest, most rational person (who’s also full of hope) you could ever meet. As Thich Nhat Hanh said:
“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible. Life itself is possible. If a grain of corn is not impermanent, it can never be transformed into a stalk of corn. If the stalk were not impermanent, it could never provide us with the ear of corn we eat.”
Understanding impermanence gives us the opportunity to appreciate our present moment and the people in it. It motivates us to practice kindness and compassion with those who cross our paths. It gives us hope that everything—no matter how bad it is right now—will metamorphose into something else.
Death is not only physical; it’s mental too. When we make New Year’s resolutions this year, are we aware of this life-changing concept? Do we understand that change is inevitable? Do we know that we are changing, every day, from moment to moment?
This is the only (Buddhist) New Year resolution you’ll actually want to keep:
Accepting that nothing stays the same.
When we adopt this mentality and keep it as a reminder at the back of our mind, we will be less frustrated with things not going our way.
We will accept reality as is and understand that life is sometimes unpredictable—out of our control.
Before we set goals or work on improving ourselves, we need to breathe, pause, and look around us. We can’t beat impermanence, but we can find opportunity in it.
“Impermanence does not necessarily lead to suffering. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh