A new year arrives on the heels of every old one, and like every new dawn, it brings the possibility of starting over with refreshed vision and renewed conviction. Truth be told, each incoming breath carries this promise, but we’re usually moving far too fast to catch it. A new day is somewhat less fleeting, but unless we’re very keen to have a fresh start, we’re often too busy with our plans to pause and capture it. Suddenly another year has gone by, and we get a chance to stop, assess, aspire, and try anew to get it right. So what do we resolve to do? Work harder, eat better, exercise more, discard bad habits, and generally “be a better person.”
I hope I won’t sound cynical if I point out that these resolutions don’t really work—except, perhaps, for highly disciplined people who have been doing their best all along, and have no resolutions to make. Going to the gym in January, the resolution syndrome is easy to observe. The first week, you can’t even find a parking space, so many are the reformed folk making good on their self-promise. The second week it’s only a wee bit less crowded, but already it’s easier to switch exercise machines without waiting. By the end of the third week, those of us who actually like going to the gym finally have the place all to ourselves again—until next year. Why is this?
Here’s what I think. Resolutions are formed in the mind, based on notions of what an ideal person is, passed down to us from our parents and the society we were born into. Many sound quite lofty and noble, too—they’re all about improving ourselves and rising to a higher standard. The problem is that in order to keep these resolutions, our heart must be in it, every single day, and that’s a tall order, because the heart doesn’t make resolutions.
The mind has the power of logic and it can make an airtight case for achieving whatever goals it chooses, but only the heart has conviction. We can dream up some wonderful ideals, but unless the heart feels motivated, our effort to embody them will not be sustainable.
Sounds pretty hopeless if you think it through. The good news is that the heart is on our side—it wants us to succeed—only not the way we think. Whereas the mind thrives on drama and variety, the heart only wants one thing: joy. So instead of beginning with a resolution and then trying to get psyched up enough to keep it, why not begin by slowing down to the rhythm of the heart, and then let it be our guide?
I use this principle in cooking. I take advantage of the understanding that the heart craves joy, and design food that is nourishing and healthful, but also enjoyable to eat. With my food, the desired result is the same—to be physically fit and trim—but the way there is more secure, because no displeasure lurks by the roadside ready to derail us from our program. In fact, there is no program, no “diet.” We’re simply eating well and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Who would need a resolution in order to keep this going?
So whatever anyone has thought up in the last few days to promise themselves, may I suggest something new? Instead of the same old “I’ll do better” at this or that, why not omit the particulars and just go for the gold? How about promising ourselves, “I will do whatever it takes to fill my heart with joy.”
A little vague on the details, you say? That’s exactly the point. Life is constantly in flux, and what we needed a year ago may not suit us now. Three years ago I was eating animals and enjoying it; now I’m eating only plants and loving it. There were plenty of reasons to continue the way I was going, but something inside of me chose a new direction, and I went with it. I didn’t get from where I was to where I am by accepting someone else’s plan or by obeying a set of artificial rules. I got here by following my heart. And I’m far from finished, because each day brings challenges that I must face either from the seat of logic or from the well of conviction. I’ve learned that logic can actually work against me, calculating my chances and convincing me that I won’t succeed—cannot possibly succeed. But conviction has nothing to do with the odds of success; it just keeps me heading in the direction I need to go, relentlessly.
How do we know when we’re headed the right way? Simple: our heart is at peace, and fueling our quest with hope. We feel inspired. The heart is consciousness—the source of all wisdom, of kindness and compassion, of love and gratitude—and it could never in a trillion years lead us astray. It’s the reason we’re alive in the first place.
Standing on the threshold of a new year fraught with uncertainties, I propose a new resolution: to pay attention to the condition of the heart, and to do whatever it takes to see it overflowing with joy.