If you are thinking of setting any New Year's resolutions (especially of the yoga kind), my unasked-for advice is to keep them simple, long-term, and bullshit free. There is room for improvement in all of us, but nobody is getting an overnight transformation. We don't suddenly need a different 'bod' to the one we had yesterday; we don't need to punish ourselves for indulging in too many mince pies, and we certainly don't need to pay for a service, object, or miraculous foodstuff that claims it will sort our lives out for us (especially if an amount of days is specified).
I'm not trying to downtalk New Year's resolutions; sometimes a change, or a challenge, is exactly what we need. New Year, like the first, crisp, blank page in a fresh, new notebook (who doesn't love that?) can be useful for garnering the energy to take action. It's the pursuit of being somebody else, somebody we idealise as being 'better' than we already are, that I take issue with. Our 'goodness' does not rest on a conditional and projected sense of self. We can all be better, sure, but we don't need to defer our wellbeing to the completion of a self-appointed task.
- Instead of "When I lose weight/drink less/quit smoking, I will be happy", we could think "I am going to lose weight/drink less/quit smoking because my health is important".
- Instead of "When I can meditate for an hour, I will be content", we could think "I'm going to set aside some time to meditate because I am curious about my state of mind".
- Instead of "When I can perform Pincha Mayurasana (forearm stand), I will be good at yoga" we could think "I'm going to practise [insert challenging posture] because I am interested to see if I can redefine the limits of what I believe to be possible at this moment in time."
Perhaps this can be viewed as a lesson in self-marketing trickery - glass half-empty, versus glass half-full - but I can't shake the thought that a month spent 'detoxing' compels us to spend a month believing that we (or the lives we lead) are toxic. I struggle to see how this belief could help any of us in perpetuity. (Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt.)
January can provide the motivational heat (or, 'tapas' in Sanskrit) to see ourselves through the task (or, tasks) we've set for ourselves; an annual shot of self-discipline that we may find difficult to sustain for the remaining 11 months of the year. But 11 months is a long time, and the rest of our lives, even longer.
A few years ago, when I was contemplating how to be more wordily productive (probably in January...), I read The Writing Life by the great Annie Dillard, and these few, oft-quoted sentences, have stuck with me ever since:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.
How will you choose to spend your 5844-odd waking hours of 2018?
I think a few minutes reading what follows is as good a start as any...
Some prose From Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive (Canongate Books, 2015):
'The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn't very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind.
To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.
Yet we have no other world to live in. And actually, when we really look closely, the world of stuff and advertising is not really life. Life is the other stuff. Life is what is left when you take all that crap away, or at least ignore it for a while.
Life is the people who love you. No one will ever choose to stay alive for an iPhone. It's the people we reach via the iPhone that matter.
And once we begin to recover, and to live again, we do so with new eyes. Things become clearer, and we are aware of things we weren't aware of before.'
And some poetry from Miyazawa Kenji:
neither yielding to rain
nor yielding to wind
yielding neither to
snow nor to summer heat
with a stout body
never getting angry
always smiling quietly
eating one and a half pints of brown rice
and bean paste and a bit of
vegetables a day
not taking oneself
and not forgetting
living in the shadow of pine trees in a field
in a small
hut thatched with miscanthus
if in the east there’s a
going and nursing
if in the west there’s a tired mother
going and carrying
bundles of rice
if in the south
you don’t have to be
if in the north
there’s a quarrel
or a lawsuit
saying it’s not worth it
in a drought
in a cold summer
pacing back and forth lost
nor thought a pain
is what I want