It’s a wrap! “The holidays” are over. After all the gatherings, ceremonies, and exchanges of cards and gifts, we’re putting away all the Christmas regalia, ready to reclaim our living rooms and workspaces. We’ve celebrated Paramhansa Yogananda’s birthday and welcomed three new disciples into the family. Thank you to all who helped make the holidays at Ananda Portland joyful from start to finish.
Now we get back to our regular lives—but not before setting some resolutions, or, if you prefer, intentions. A quick perusal of the headlines of the supermarket tabloids offers several familiar themes: Lose 10 pounds in a week! Find the man/woman of your dreams! Improve your sex life! Cure your headaches with [fill in the blank]!
For yogis, the resolutions may look more like: Increase my meditation duration/frequency/consistency/quality! Get back to doing yoga! Read more spiritual books! Take more seclusions! Achieve Samadhi!
Now, whether you engage in setting resolutions or not, the fact is that most of us want at least something about ourselves or our circumstances to change. However, as Surendra reminded us on Sunday (see below for the video of his talk), wishful thinking will not make it so. Or, as others have said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”
How fitting, then, that Swami Kriyananda, in his Affirmations for Self-Healing, chose “Success” as the first week’s theme. There’s lots of advice available in the world about how to be successful in life, love, work, relationships, etc. What Swami and Master (and all of our Gurus) teach, instead, is how to be successful in our quest for God-union. Transcending our limiting beliefs and behaviors is not generally an overnight job; we’ve got work to do to attain freedom from the ego, and even the most committed resolution-maker will eventually falter.
So, may I be so bold as to add a few thoughts of my own to the Divine wisdom given us by our Gurus and teachers? Perhaps something here will help you in your efforts.
Make it known. Tell God what it is you hope to achieve—out loud and/or in your journal. Tell a minister or other spiritual advisor. Tell a friend whom you trust. Make a visual representation of your goal. Record yourself stating your intention and play it back on a regular basis. Plaster post-it notes with affirmations on your mirror. The universe hears us. Our egos do also—and often find fascinating ways to impede us. Repeat your goal frequently. We need to keep our inner nay-sayers at bay.
Make it realistic. Don’t be like one of my favorite cartoon characters, LuAnn. In a recent comic, LuAnn proudly posts a 20-item list of New Year resolutions on the family fridge—none of which are written down. Instead, as she explains to her skeptical father, the first item on her list is “Improve my memory.” Then, when he asks what the rest of the items are, she can’t recall even the second one.
Make it fun. No matter how many times I joined gyms to improve my physical fitness, I stopped going to them within a month—I found them to be all work and no fun! Perhaps if I’d had a buddy – and we’d both been sufficiently motivated – my efforts, sincere as they were, would have brought more long-term practice and success. One thing I love about our seva days at Ananda is the comradery that develops among the participants—even when we’re working on cleaning drains or other not-so-fun tasks, there is lightness and joy that transcends the grime and gunk.
Celebrate any and all progress. Years ago, I participated in the Artist’s Way program created by Julia Cameron. A key part of the program is the uncensored writing of three full “Morning Pages” every day, first thing in the morning; the practice was designed to clear our mental clutter to allow creativity to blossom. Like most in my class, I was completely dedicated to this practice for the months during which we met regularly, and I loved the results.
Then, at some point after our regular classes were completed, I skipped a day of writing. And later, another one. Others also admitted to not keeping up the practice like they had. The running joke was that when we’d bump into each other at the store or on the street, we’d each automatically confess the inconsistency of our Morning Pages. At least we could take comfort in knowing we weren’t the only ones! Did our confessions inspire us to get back on track? Not really. Perhaps if we’d re-framed the conversations to share how many days in the past week we had written our Morning Pages we could have found more motivation to continue and re-commit to the practice.
Whatever we hope to experience in this new year, let us ground that hope in a renewed openness to God and His plan for our spiritual awakening. Ananda is here to support our intentions and our efforts.