When I was in my lengthy religious phase -- three decades plus a few years -- periodically I used to vow to do better.
Meditate more concentratively. Follow the precepts of my faith even more attentively. Love God and his earthly emissary, the guru (the non-Christian equivalent of Jesus) more devotedly.
The start of every New Year was an opportunity for me to rev up my resolution engine. I'd get all enthusiastic about making great spiritual progress through the energetic efforts I was going to put in.
Now, I'm just about at a standstill when it comes to self-improvement vows. Not because I'm perfect; just the opposite.
I'm content with imperfection, both personal and cosmic. Yes, evolution happens. Individuals, species, cultures, and universes live, grow, learn, progress. Yet they also die, shrink, forget, and regress.
It's natural to want to stay on the upward sloping curve of life for as long and often as possible. I'm continually seeking ways to be a bit healthier, happier, wiser, and kinder.
But I no longer view the years, months, days, hours, minutes, and moments I have left as following a track that is destined, or desired, to end up in a certain place. Life feels a lot more like a circular roller coaster, and less like a rail line heading from here to there.
I'm up; I"m down. Then up, then down. There are brief moments of stillness, followed by a rapid free fall and a slower ascent.
If I vowed to work hard at eliminating all the down's, I'd be at odds with the nature of, well, nature. And winning that contest is way beyond my abilities. Way beyond anyone's abilities.
Today I spent some pleasant hours outside in our yard, continuing with what began a few months ago as the Tao of Leaf Raking and now has become mostly leaf picking... out of rock crevices, ground cover, brushy branches, still-blooming heather.
I enjoy picking up leaves. Which is good, because our rural western Oregon home has lots of them. I've learned quite a bit from leaves during the twenty years we've lived here. Such as...
They appear on trees in the spring, and they fall off trees in autumn. Whether or not I want them to. Whether or not anyone wants them to.
Near the end of my leaf picking-up stint this afternoon, my chilled (albeit gloved) hands telling me it was about time to get out of the 35 degree weather, I was on my knees -- reaching under a shrub to sweep out a bunch of oak leaves that had blown against the trunk during a windy storm.
Unbidden, a feeling of humble obeisance came over me.
No words or deity were involved. I was simply bowing before reality, before nature. Leaves needed to be picked up. I was picking up leaves. On my hands and knees. Plain and simple.
Resolutions can be part of life. But they aren't really living. I didn't need to vow to pick up those leaves. All I had to do was reach out and grab them.
Happy New Year. Grab it. Or let it grab you. Same difference.