Why new year’s resolutions deepen avidya (ignorance)
New year, New you!
So, as January is ticking along – how are your new year’s resolutions going?
Suddenly on January first, after two weeks (or more!) of treats, tipples, and eating one serving too many of that tasty thing over there, suddenly we’re all transformed into saints who rise at the crack of dawn (ehh, actually it’s still dark – it’s the middle of winter!), eat only green foods, don’t touch a drop of alcohol, a gram of sugar, or a single carbohydrate. Oh yeah and we’re off social media, reading all those books on our list, going to yoga class every day and running 5k every morning too.
With the turning of the year and resetting the clock to zero as we do at midnight on 31st December, it feels like a great opportunity to start afresh, make new goals and allow all of the new year momentum to lift us up to become faster, better, more productive versions of ourselves.
Inevitably we set ourselves all of these lofty targets and find them almost impossible to live up to in the real world.
so – two weeks in, how is it going??
I didn’t make any resolutions per se for the new year, more I thought about intentions for how I’d like to be throughout the coming twelve months. Nothing concrete really, more a general direction that I’d like to orient myself towards – and certainly no shiny new habits that I planned to pick up with the alarm of the Hogmanay bells.
I do tend to suffer from this problem all year round however – yes I’m in the yoga world and yes I’m interested in health and well-being and eating well and productivity. The practice of yoga and meditation and healthy cooking and journaling all help me to live better! However, as I do more and more, I often realise that all of these self-care habits can become a compulsion in themselves – an obsession with self-improvement. At the heart of all of this lies the underlying poisonous idea that on my own I’m not good enough, and need all of these habits to ‘fix’ myself.
Just as you, celebrating the end of year parties and polishing off a scrumptious mince pie, are not good enough and you need to get to the gym, go on a diet, and basically sort yourself out – make a NEW YOU IN 2019!
The idea for this blog came from one of my students who said, “This new year instead of a ‘new me’ I’m staying with the ‘same old me’.” I was struck! Is she enlightened? This is genius!
In our consumerist society self-acceptance is a revolutionary act. When you’re being told 100 times a day that you’re not good enough unless you use this shampoo or drive this car or get this job or wear those shoes, it takes real courage to say, excuse me, no – I’m just fine the way I am.
Why self-improvement is avidya in motion
The Yoga Sutras explain that the root of all misery is avidya – ignorance. Of What? Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the non-Self as the Self. (YS.2.5)
When we suffer from avidya (as most of us do), we mistakenly believe that our body and mind is our real self – when really these are just the temporary embodied forms of the universal Self of which the whole world and everything consists. Not only that, we are all implanted with the innate belief that we are incomplete and imperfect – which, according to yoga philosophy, is the exact opposite of the truth.
He cannot be cut by sword,
Nor burnt by fire;
The waters cannot wet him,
Nor the wind dry him up.
Is he, – eternal, roving everywhere,
Firm-set, unmoving, everlasting.
Bhagavad Gita II.23-24
According to yoga philosophy, we all come from the one universal Self and thither will return – and in the meantime while we are here in our embodied state, our job is simple – to pay attention.
Our consciousness is the universe’s way to become aware of itself
“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”Alan Watts
Hang on Ema, what has all of this got to do with January diets??
When we focus all the time on self-improvement, we have no time or energy to become aware of the Divine within ourselves. Our job here on Earth isn’t to lose inches on our waistline or add zeros to our bank balance – our job is to just be in love with the universe and to play our part in the cosmic boogie that is our Dharma.
OK awesome, so I don’t need to do anything then? I can just sit on the sofa and eat maltesers?
Um – no.
We still have work to do, simply because it takes effort to stay awake enough to be aware of the magic of the present moment.
Doing yoga, eating well to keep your body and mind healthy, applying yourself to the work that you love, studying, weaving baskets, collecting Faberge eggs.. anything that fully absorbs you is a way to hone our awareness and our fully present engagement with the world in its luminous immediacy.
Whatever effectively causes one’s submerged consciousness to emerge is suitable for an offering, because it is this emergence of Awareness that is called bliss [ānanda].
So the moral of the story is – yes, get up early for a run before work, go to yoga, learn a new language, drink your smoothies! And do it not out of self-loathing or because you feel like you could do better, do it as a celebration of the very awesomeness of being alive!
HAPPY 2019 everybody!