Creative Commons
Creative Commons

Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

Why we make New Year’s resolutions, and why we don’t have to keep them

"Everything I now experience in my life is utterly predictable...But I don’t want to spend this time making resolutions to be thin, rich and organized."


Lose weight. Get organized. Save more money. These are the holiest of new year’s resolutions — the trinity of trials that we must endure until we reach our ultimate triumph: to be thin, rich and have tidy closets. Alas, most of us are doomed to fail. In fact, by the second week of February, 80 percent of resolutions will have fallen by the wayside like drooping party streamers.

Take me for example. Just two weeks into the first month of the new year and I’ve already managed to screw up. I’ve indulged in more than my two-drink-at-a-sitting minimum, bummed a smoke from a friend, reached for my iPhone immediately upon waking, snapped at my husband in the car when he didn’t signal a turn, missed a few scheduled sessions at the gym and turned on the TV on a weekday — all things that I swore I would no longer do in 2017. We, human beings, are hardwired for failure, it seems. Maybe that’s why half of us don’t even bother to make resolutions.

But resolutions must be made. Why? Because Facebook has become my Bible, the couch my pew, Netflix my church and wine the sacrament I use to smooth the rough edges of life. I can barely sit still to read a book anymore. I’m so jittery from the distraction of social media. Meanwhile, newspapers pile up for days. I don’t carve out enough time to allow relationships to go any deeper. I hardly spend any time alone. So the whole idea of learning to meditate seems as remote as learning to fly a plane.

Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not like I sit around all day, sipping Shiraz while watching reruns of Breaking Bad. No. I’m a productive writer and editor. Highly productive! So productive, in fact, that I’m positively addicted to being busy. I’m driven by deadlines and commitments. My thinking is often along the lines of, “If I’m not producing, what good am I?”

My kids are mostly grown and don’t need me as much. I’m still married, and after 30 years, that seems like some sort of accomplishment. I’m 54, exactly middle aged if I live to be 108 (hey, it could happen!). Everything I now experience in my life is utterly predictable, from the spread around my middle to the suddenly persistent questions about how I want to spend the last third of my life — if I live to a less desirable but still respectable age of 81. But I don’t want to spend this time making resolutions to be thin, rich and organized.

“People need revelation, and then they need resolution,” says the actor Damian Lewis. Maybe my changes need to come from the inside out. Maybe I need a spiritual reboot. Maybe instead of purging my closets I need to deep clean my soul.

For the past two years, I’ve been writing my Spiritual But Secular column for The Observer, reporting on how the growing demographic that defines itself as spiritual but not religious (SBNR) finds meaning and connection outside of a traditional house of worship. I’ve tackled subjects ranging from rituals, such as “first blood” and croning ceremonies to the spiritual effects of psychedelic drugs, the power of pilgrimage and the popularity of home altars.

This year, I’m resolving to experiment with some of these spiritual practices, myself. To that end, I’m going to hire a soul coach; set up an altar in my living room; meditate five days a week; toy with tarot cards; download spiritual apps to keep me mystically motivated; take yoga and tai chi classes; try reiki healing and community drumming; set a weekly intention; write a personal creed; create a gratitude practice; consult a shaman; immerse myself in forest bathing; experiment with enforced solitude (I’ll be an extrovert in a yurt for a few days.); host a death dinner; learn about my chakras; join the online Flock spiritual community; devote a full week to reading the poems of Mary Oliver; ‘smudge’ my home and even get a tattoo. Oh, and I’m going to a witch camp to dance naked under a full moon.

Sound too woo-woo? Maybe even a little voodoo? Perhaps. But millions of people engage in these types of practices in the hopes of experiencing some sense of spirituality. Once they might have felt it in a pew. Now they’re feeling it on a meditation mat.

As we move deeper into 2017, many are fearful of the political turmoil that lies ahead. I know that I am. The time seems right to dig deep and till the soul in order to face the coming days with greater resolve. Perhaps these spiritual practices will provide some measure of calm in the whirlwind of uncertainty.

“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual,” the Indian Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda wrote. “There is no other teacher but your own soul.”

So will learning to balance my chakras bring enlightenment? Will dancing under a full moon feel sacred or silly? Who knows? Woo-woo factor be damned. It’s going to be a spirited ride.

This story originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of The Observer with the title “Dancing naked under the full moon.”


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