Here are some thoughts about New Year’s Resolutions. The ideas are simple but powerful, although not always so easy to follow. I have deeply studied the principles behind the ideas and found them immensely helpful. So give this newsletter a serious read. It just might help you make some important changes in your life, service, sadhana or relationships that you haven’t yet been able to make.
May you always think of Krsna,
Illuminations Newsletter 78
Our cultural conditioning tells us we should make resolutions for the new year. Of course, the perennial problem is that most of us haven’t followed through on our previous year’s resolutions. And it can even get depressing to think about how many times this has happened. So maybe it is better we don’t make any resolutions this year. This way we’ll have nothing to lament about in early February when we haven’t followed through.
Well, actually I think it’s a better idea to understand why we don’t follow through on our resolutions, since I doubt that we will ever lose the tendency to want to change things about ourselves and our lives that aren’t working well for us. So the important question is, “How do we permanently change our actions?”
It is said everyone wants to see change in others and the world, but nobody wants to change themselves. Why? Because it is difficult and uncomfortable. It seems easier to keep the status quo, even if the status quo is less than desirable.
The secret to change is to understand the process Krsna uses to change people and then willingly apply this process on ourselves. So how does He do it? Before I answer this question I would like to ask you to think about a time you changed something in your life. What caused you to change?
Next, think about something you told yourself you would change and never followed through on.
Herein lies the answer to change.
We change when we have to, either to survive, to prevent ourselves from extreme distress, or when we are really sick and tired of something in our life that we just can’t tolerate anymore. And we normally don’t change, even when we want to, when the above conditions are absent (unless, of course, someone is forcing us to change and making our lives miserable if we don’t, which is really a nuance of the same principle: we don’t change when we see the light, we change when we feel the heat).
Before I reveal the simple open secret Krsna uses and how we can personally apply it in our lives, we first must acknowledge that there are many things in our lives we have the power to change: our sadhana, relationships, health, abilities, or level of success, to name just a few.
But when does the change actually take place? We change when we make the decision that, “I have had enough, I must change.” If there is something we don’t change that we could change, then we need to acknowledge that we are deciding that changing is more painful than leaving things as is.
It is important to mention here that there are many more things we can change than we are willing to admit. Once we stop blaming others or situations for our shortcomings, it becomes clear that not changing is a choice to keep the status quo – which, of course, might be rooted in a belief that this is just the way I am. Anyway, no matter who you are, you can always be a better version of you.
Even though we resist change, in most cases not changing is actually more painful than changing. But how do we face this reality? Stare this reality straight in its face. Don’t run from problems. Embrace them and work on them.
Focus on the bad results you are getting from actions or attitudes you really need to change. Then ask yourself this question: If I don’t change _____________ (fill in the behavior) then in ten years when I am still reaping the same negative results, how will I feel? Does this thought freak you out and make you feel miserable? It should. If it doesn’t, replace the words “ten years” with “when I am an old man or woman.” The point is that you need to associate enough pain with undesirable behavior that it motivates you to change.
If not, keep meditating on it until it does! This is the key to change. Our present circumstances (which are caused by the behavior we need to change) have to become intolerable to us. If they are not, our efforts to change will fail. We will still be okay with how things are.
“Okay” is really the enemy.
If you actually allow yourself to deeply meditate on this question, and allow yourself to feel the discomfort of answering the question, it can be powerful. Because until you say “I have had it” you probably will opt for the pain of continuing to not achieve the results and changes you need in exchange for experiencing the perceived “lesser pain” of not changing.
How can I says this? I have changed things in my life that were extremely difficult for me to change, some actions and thinking which I felt were wired to my nature. But living with the results year in and year out made life so unpleasant that one day I said, “That’s it!”
In some cases it took me decades to come to this point.
I have seen people at japa retreats say “That’s it” about bad japa. In fact, if they don’t say this they tend to eventually default to the bad habits they had before they came to the retreat. We can apply this principle to our service, marriage, finances, etc. As long as we are okay with “okay” we won’t change. Why? Because we won’t need to. Until we are no longer okay with “okay japa,” an “okay marriage,” “okay sadhana, “okay service,” an “okay financial situation”, etc. we won’t be impelled to change.
The point is this: resolutions must be goals connected with deep seeded needs to change. When the “I should” becomes “I must,” then we will change. At this point we will commit until we succeed.
And this is exactly how Krsna helps us become Krsna conscious. When we hit dead ends in our lives and the walls close in on us, we have to act differently. It is discomfort which moves us into different ways of thinking, being and acting. And when we act differently, we get different results. We can’t change by knowing we need to change; we change by acting differently. As long as we continue to act the way we always have, no amount of knowledge not acted upon will change anything in our lives (other than enable us to give some good lectures on how to change LOL!)
Patanjali writes in the Yoga Sutras that attachment arises from remembering past pleasant activities. As we remember the pleasure of these activities we become attached to doing them again. Detachment works in a similar way: we remember the pain of past activities and we detach from them. If your brain links pain with activity in the past, as well as with doing that activity in the present and the future, you will give it up. It then becomes a neural response because you feel the pain in your nervous system. It is no longer information; you simply can’t act that way again.
We have often heard it said that we don’t really believe that material life and the material world is that bad, for if we did we would be completely surrendered. But we know the material world cannot satisfy us. This is why we became devotees. So, why are we still attached? It is because the conviction is only in our minds, not in our nervous system, not on the gut level where we look at an activity and say, “That would be so painful that I could never do that again.”
So if you want to make a resolution for this year, you will need to associate so much pain with not following through that there will be no other option than to do it. This is how Krsna brought us to Krsna consciousness, and this is how Arjuna became Krsna consciousness. Using this same process we can make resolutions we actually follow through on.