This is the time of year when many of us think about what we want for ourselves and make New Year’s resolutions about the things we’d like to do differently. Hanging a fresh, new calendar on the wall has a way of prompting us to assess where we are in our lives and in relation to our goals.
As we all know though, New Year’s resolutions are usually so ineffective that they are standard material for comedians and cartoonists. The comedy works because we can all relate to our endearingly earnest yet perennially futile efforts at change. It seems that for every resolution there is an equal and opposite inner resistance.
So what’s the deal? Why is it that what we begin with a sense of possibility and conviction ends up leaving us feeling even more imprisoned in the very patterns of behavior we want to change?
I believe the reason change often seems impossible to us is because we don’t understand the basic spiritual dynamics at work.
Usually when we make a New Year’s resolution we do so because there is something about us or our lives that we dislike. Our resolution, in other words, emerges out of our resistance or aversion to what is.
Conversely, when we imagine a new possibility for ourselves we often bring to it an energy of grasping. We don’t believe that the new possibility is readily accessible to us, and so it’s up to us to conjure it with the force of our will.
From a spiritual perspective all of this is counterproductive. Resistance and grasping are two sides of the same coin. On one side of the coin is dissatisfaction, on the other disbelief, and both dissatisfaction and disbelief take us out of alignment with the more subtle dimensions where transformation actually occurs.
The secret to change is counterintuitive and paradoxical: in order to change something you have to accept it as it is and you have to believe in its potential to be different. This stance of accepting what is while simultaneously accepting what could be is a spiritual (rather than willful) approach to change because it lifts us out of the either/or polemic and into the dimension of unity — of love to be precise, and love is the most transformative power I know of.
Let me give you a practical exercise that I use and that you might want to play with as well as you step into a new year. It is a form of prayer that came to me while I was on spiritual retreat last winter and I have found it to be very powerful. Here’s how it works:
Sit quietly in meditation for awhile. Become aware of your breathing and let your thoughts simply float by like clouds across the sky.
Once you feel peacefully centered, lift your left hand slightly, palm up, and begin to slowly bring your thumb and index finger together. As you do so, consider the present circumstance in your life that you would like to invite into transformation. Then touch your thumb and forefinger together lightly as if you were lovingly touching what is, the reality that has already manifested in your life.
Now bless that reality. Silently or aloud say, “be blessed.” Tell it it is beautiful just as it is. Hold it in your heart with total acceptance. If you experience any inner resistance to accepting this present circumstance as it is, just notice that resistance and hold it also in the energy of blessing and acceptance.
Once you feel your heart has opened to that which is, keep your left hand where it is and raise your right hand slightly, palm up, and as you slowly bring your thumb and index finger together consider the possibility you would like to invite into manifestation. As you do so, be aware that this possibility actually exists already in the pre-physical dimension and it is waiting to come forth into tangible expression. Touch your thumb and forefinger together lightly as though touching this waiting possibility. Bless it. Tell it it is beautiful. Tell it you welcome it. If you experience any inner resistance to or disbelief about this not-yet-manifested reality, just notice it and hold it also in the energy of blessing and acceptance.
Once you feel your heart has opened in acceptance to both of these realities — the manifested and the pre-manifested — let them rest simultaneously in the energy field of your blessing.
Then gradually, gently, bring your hands toward one another until the two circles formed by your thumbs and forefingers touch, then allow them to open to one another and join. As you do this, maintain a stance of acceptance, not trying to force them to come together, but simply allowing it to happen. Once they have joined, continue to hold them in the energy of acceptance and blessing.
The more you work with this practice the more powerful it will become. You will find that your unconditional acceptance both of what is and what could be will begin to soften your resistance and disbelief. You will become more compassionate toward yourself and others, and more open to the possibility of change.
We all know that personally we are much more likely to blossom and thrive in an atmosphere of acceptance than we are in an atmosphere of judgment. When we are in the company of people who accept us and believe in us our unique genius comes forth freely.
The same holds true of our self-relationship. When we approach ourselves — as we are and as we might be — with complete acceptance and belief we allow our authentic self to blossom freely.
Our culture’s New Year’s mantra is “out with the old, in with the new,” and we carry that mentality into our efforts to change, attempting to discard that which doesn’t serve us rather than transform it.
I’d like to suggest that you try a different approach, one of “in with the old, in with the new.” By taking what has been and what could be into your heart, into the circle of your acceptance and blessing, you will discover what the power of love can do.
[calendar image from Sara Steele Calendar 2014]