I have often dreaded the end of one year and the beginning of another.
Why? Because I was ashamed - ashamed of what I had not done, of what I could not do, of another year with not every resolution and goal ticked off and marked good. Today I think about those years with sadness. I spent a lot of perfectly good energy shaming myself further into a hole and making resolutions I could not keep. I'm still in recovery from perfectionism, mostly because I cannot live well without ideals, and whenever there are ideals, as good as they are and as necessary, I'm still worried about being good enough.
I have often dreaded the ending of one year and the beginning of the next. But not this year.
As the New Year rolls around, I know a lot of us will have shame-based resolutions pressing upon us. They mostly come back to one question: are we loved and loveable enough? If not, thunder the barrage of social messages, then we are the sole cause and controller of that.
But those messages are wrong. We have responsibilities, yes, but yucky things and awful experiences belong to all of us. So does love, generosity, and kindness - and those are responsibilities we can tend every day when we take that energy used by shame and put it to work wholeheartedly.
I hold that every person is loveable and has the capacity to love, and that our business on this planet is to get on loving and making the world a more lovable place. So when I go to the place where I'm swamped with my own shame, I'm in the middle of the struggle where we control others and are controlled by denying the truth and power of love.
I'm not afraid about the end of this year and the beginning of next year. Why? Because my resolution is to do what I can each day to be more generous, loving, hopeful, and kind instead of letting shame make me more callous, cruel, bitter, and afraid.
This year, I hope that we'll put the shame-based resolutions aside. We all are loveable and we all have the capacity to love. We really can make the world a more loving place. How will your New Year's Resolutions help you add to that goal?
This year, reflect back on what you did well that added to making the world more loving, more generous, and more hopeful. Go ahead and write it down. Give yourself a cheer. Share your list with a friend and find out what was on their lists. Cheer each other. Then both of you go ahead and add "encouraging a friend" to your list of accomplishments.
Thomas Baldwin Thayer, a Universalist minister and magazine editor from the Nineteenth-Century, once encouraged his readers to keep a list of happy moments during the year (Over the River, 1864 p. 49). We might think that a year was pretty rough, but then we would look at the record and realize that it had a lot of joy - at least 365 days with joy in it! When I first read that, I closed the book and resolved not to read any further. But the more I thought about, the more I decided to conduct an experiment. Maybe Thomas Baldwin Thayer was wrong - and then I could gloat in my grief - and maybe he was right - and all I had to lose was some shame from my previous failure to live hopefully.
2012 was a good year, as it turns out, for my T.B. Thayer experiment. I lost a lot because of ill health, including proximity to friends and my home, and experienced increasing pain and decreasing physical strength. I failed to accomplish a lot of what I had set out at the beginning of the year to do. And in my earlier life, I'd be pretty miserable right now. But, instead, I was continuously reminded this year, through this little journal, of how kind and generous people can be, or how much can be done with compassion, and how gratitude trumps and reduces pain. I have a lot to be grateful for. I'm even grateful that Thomas Baldwin Thayer was right.
But why take my word or his for it? Try a happy moments journal for yourself. You can even record the tough stuff. I found I preferred to make minimal notes of that, and more extensive notes of the happifying events.
This year, my wish for you - for all of us - is to let go of the shame-based resolutions. If you want to make resolutions, I hope that your resolutions are aimed toward our calling to greater compassion, greater generosity, and greater lovingkindness, for this wholehearted way of living make real and just change. May what you resolve and what you do bring greater happification, less fear and more hope, to you and to everyone.
Resolve, and thou art free. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow