On alternating days, a resolution to stop beating myself up.
I didn’t even make a New Year’s resolution this winter. I’m not sure why. For the last ten years or so my resolutions have been very short, and they have come to mind, one by one, in late December. The first one was “Tell the truth.” I never thought I didn’t tell the truth, but as I tried to keep the resolution on a moment-to-moment basis, I realized how much a sweet small lie lubricates social interactions. I found a way around those and counted down the months till I could indulge in them once again.
About some things, you just have to lie. Clogging, for example. I had someone ask me once how I liked clogging. (We are in the Appalachian region here, and there is a right good bit of it going on at fairs and festivals.) I answered that clog dancing held a special place in my heart. It does: the place where I imagine hell, if there were one, and what it would be like. For me it would be filling out paperwork while a flatbed truck full of white people clogged in the background to a speeded-up track of “Give Me That Old-Time Rock and Roll.” But I digress.
Telling the truth was what I paid attention to that whole year, discovering that my untruths mainly consisted of lies I told to myself.
“Be quiet” was the next year’s resolution. It floated into my head during prayer and meditation. I did an inner double take. “What? I make my living speaking. How can I be quiet?” The Universe responded with—well, with quiet. I had to figure it out. It turned out that I needed to pay attention to being quiet inside, to not having to have an answer for every question I was asked, to being content to let others dominate a group discussion, to not voicing every opinion that was in my head.
Over the years there have been some easy resolutions and some hard ones. Who could have known that the year I resolved to “enjoy life” would turn into one big challenge? There you go. The Universe/God/Spirit/Wisdom is like that sometimes.
This year no resolution came to mind. I’ve been working on a question, though: “What would it be like if you felt really loved?”
Maybe the resolution is to wonder about this question. When I feel loved, my mind breathes better. My body relaxes. My behavior steadies. Something in my spirit opens like a rose. I want to feel it if I can, from the people around me or from the Spirit of Love that flows like an ancient river through the universe.
On my first CD I printed a quotation from a letter Martha Graham sent to Agnes de Mille. According to Agnes de Mille: “I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. . . . I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly,
‘There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.’ ”
When I feel loved, it’s easy to keep the channel open, and that’s really what I want.
Maybe I could get really good at loving the world just every other day. Maybe on that day I could love myself as well. Just every other day, let go of self-improvement and challenging other people’s mistakes. I invite you to think about doing this, too. Every other day, maybe we could let go of wondering if we are good enough, of wondering if we are doing it right. Every other day rest, if we can, in the warm animal pleasures of wind, water, food, earth, friends, love, and beauty. Every other day put in abeyance the drive to feel that we are smart enough, thin enough, cool enough, doing enough.
The reason I wonder about doing it every other day is that, having read Kant, I have to ask what the world would be like if all of us did this every day. I’m not sure how well it would work. Maybe we would melt into self-satisfied goo. One the other hand, the world would be sour and clammy if we didn’t do it at all. So, on alternate days we can all agree that this is New Age pap, and we can sharpen our intellectual claws in ourselves and one another with edgy glee.
It’s February. Surrounded by talk of love, I’m growing aware that I do have a resolution for the year: I get to wonder about love. Maybe being grounded in love makes change easier, rather than lulling us into staying the same. Maybe if we felt safer we would grow more freely. What if we felt really loved? This year, I mean to find out.
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The Rev. Meg Barnhouse, a UU World online columnist, is senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas, and the author of several books, including Broken Buddha. She is also a humorist and singer-songwriter. (Author’s website.)
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The first time, I emerged merely breathless, wet, and cold.