Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's Resolutions don't work...but the Tao knows How!

A New Year is upon us and I hope everyone is having a fantastic holiday season. This is the time of year we tend to sit back and reflect upon the past year and begin to set goals for next year. For a majority of people health is a major focal point and memberships in fitness centers and clubs increase along with the purchase of fitness equipment and diet books. The proverbial New Year's Resolutions are set and motivation is high for a new you.

To care about your health is a good thing and to have dreams of being healthier is definitely a worthwhile goal, however, did you know that only a small percentage of New Year's Resolutions are ever kept? I am sure you are aware of this, both from the news and probably personal experience.

Health and physical fitness experts tell us to start slow and set our long range goal and break it down into easily accomplished short term goals so we can feel successful. We are to write our goals down, say them to ourselves daily and visualize success. Again, good ideas, but very few people even succeed with this.

But why?

It is called the Law of Reversed Effect. An example of this is insomnia. The harder you try to sleep the more awake you stay. This law kicks in when you try too hard to accomplish a goal with your willpower and rational thought processes. Setting goals, counting calories, having a positive mental attitude, etc., are all good things, but it engages the part of your subconscious mind that actually causes resistance to any type of long term change. Eventually your willpower will weaken because willpower is a good short distance runner, but sucks at long distance.

To accomplish health, whether it is to lose weight, reduce blood pressure or manage pain, it is imperative to go with the flow of life. This flow of life is what the Taoists called The Tao. It means The Way and is likened to a huge river flowing constantly. You have the decision to either fight your way upstream hoping to accomplish your goals with hard work, willpower and determination...or just have faith in the Tao...and flow with the river downstream. As you let go and trust the Tao and just flow with life a funny thing happens. Health happens. Leanness happens. Peace of mind happens. Pain diminishes.

The Tao (or you can use the word Creative Source, Emptiness, God, Atman) is your source of health, happiness and inner peace. It is alway present. We just need to allow its energy to flow through us and accord ourselves to it. It is quite easy. Over the years I have discovered the things that came to me easy were the aspirations I had... but never set an actual goal. I had an intention of what I liked and then just went about my life and low and behold, my intentions became reality. When I set a long range goal and muscled my way to try and accomplish it I usually gave up in frustration.

For instance, for years I had wanted to obtain a PhD, but family life, career and cost kept me from achieving this. My goal to get a PhD was a strong drive in me, even at times, playing with my business card and putting a PhD behind my name to see what it would look like or feel like. I had at one time was going to enter graduate school when I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska and had spoken with an advisor, did all the paperwork, set my sights on my doctorate, but life events and finances didn't allow me to go. Plus, I had gotten a pretty good job at a hospital and was doing fine financially to take care of my family, but not graduate school too.

Well, I put my goal aside and just kept it an idle daydream and guess what? The Internet was born...and certified, quality, long-distance education became available. I could keep working and pursue my dream. I had saved my money and also my kids had grown older and I had more time to dedicate to studying. And it was easy. No goal setting. No sweating it out. I just allowed the Tao to take me to where I needed to be when the time was right for the PhD to come about.

This was also the road I took to Black Belt. I always knew I would be one (to digress a bit. I never even saw myself as a white my mind I was always a Black Belt). I never set a goal for a certain date or even my colored belt promotions. I just went to the dojo and practiced. The belts came and so did the Black Belt. Yes, I worked hard, but I didn't strive to accomplish a goal. I just went with the flow of where I was and had faith.

So, when you are thinking of the changes you would like to make for 2009 and you find yourself setting goals and how to accomplish them. Go ahead full bore...and when you get exhausted and give up...remember The Tao knows how...just keep your aspirations in mind and let go of how to do it or when it will happen. Align yourself with the feelings of contentment (zazen is good for this). When you feel discontent or frustrated you are trying too hard. Just let go and be in the moment. Trust the Tao of Now...It knows How. (Hey, a good mantra)

I have written enough today to cause sufficient confusion, but will probably talk about this again in the near future. If you have questions or comments please write.

Be Well,
Shinzen Sensei


  1. It does indeed just happen doesn't it. Funny how those with plans and intentions feel that the "little I" can have such control and say over the great way and how they think that they can know better what is best for them.

    The best things come about by the flow of infinity not from the little ego - so we let go, life becomes easy, it all gets done and it is far more interesting than can have ever been conjured up by "I".

    I wasn't confused at all by your writing, I recognised it all as a flower opening itself to the sun.