Each year by January first, I’ve taken personal inventory, read through my writings of the last twelve months, scrapped much of what I’d recorded, shredded it and recycled the shreds. “That’s all past,” I say. I want to “be here now,” as meditation teacher Ram Dass taught. I also ask myself tough questions in the present about how to lean forward into the future without dragging along unskillful patterns from the past, at least the ones I can see. Fearful? Mm-hmm. Unkind? Sometimes. Obsessive? Impulsive? Yup. Both.
I make strict New Year’s Resolutions based on my insights. I promise, this year I’ll become a better person. Eat fewer Dove Bars, go to bed before ten, talk less, listen more, care for others, get organized. I’ll enforce my will and try really hard to ditch my character defects.
Then for the first few weeks of the new year, I turn inward. I write action steps. I reflect. Winter invites hibernation after all. But by February first, my weaknesses are back in full force. Missing important life details. Buying too many date muffins at Whole Foods. Spending hours on Face Book. Sending e-mails that should never leave my screen. As mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” And after a mere month of swearing off them, here I am again with embedded flaws and imperfections.
All the efforting to blast out my behavior blemishes end in defeat. I do what both Samuel Beckett and Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron wrote: “Fail Again. Fail Better.”
There must be ways to grow other than my grinding self-improvement projects. When I remember how my teacher Saki Santorelli says, “Faults? Invite them for coffee,” I consult a poem he reads to his students: Persian mystic Rumi’s “Guest House:”
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
……Treat each guest honorably
He may be clearing you out for some new delight
…..The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
……Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Having read that poem again and again already in 2016, I now resolve to greet my many uninvited arrivals. How? I don’t know. Oh, for sure I will have the dark thoughts scrape their feet before they enter, and the malice wash its hands before touching anything. Tough love. But I will treat my dark side honorably for a change. The unwanted parts of me will come and go as they do, I suppose, perhaps with more friendliness if I cease to judge them, if I stop trying to kick them out. Maybe even meanness will subside if I brew it some decaf.
I will focus on the guides from beyond. Guides? What guides? I’m don’t know that either. Antonio Machado’s poem offers a few suggestions :
Last night as I was sleeping,
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping,
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
Perhaps something greater than our weak wills can change us. What if we pray at night to the miracle of the bees and resolve to have their sweet honey hum through our cells? What if we pray to the fiery sun in the morning, and intend that Source of Light to glow inside our hearts all day? These guides from beyond will no doubt fail less than we do at clearing out our darknesses for new 2016 delights. And what will those delights be? How could we know? This, I believe, is the mystery of faith.