Greetings, and an observation about kitchen duties…

First of all, I want to wish everyone the best possible new year, consistent with the effort that you’ve been willing to put into your recovery. I’d go with the overall “Happy New Year,” but that’s bogus: happiness, of whatever kind, is an inside job, and no magical incantation from me is going to make it anything else.

Now the kitchen.

Let’s imagine that we are cleaning the kitchen as part of our New Year’s Resolutions.

We do the dishes and put them away. We clean out the fridge and toss the containers with the green stuff growing on the top (along with the others that we don’t really dare to open). We sweep and mop the floor. We organize the cabinets and toss all the junk we’ve accumulated and will never use into the garbage with the rest of the detritus. We sterilize the cutting board, wipe down the counters, clean the stove and the oven, and store all the cleaning stuff beneath the sink.

We look at all we’ve done and pronounce it good.

Then we take the garbage, throw it in the broom closet, and slam the door. We lock it, because we don’t want anyone to see it.

Eventually we notice an unpleasant smell in the kitchen. It grows worse over time, and then we look over at the closet and we see all sorts of nasty stuff seeping out from under the door.

At that point, we either clean out the closet and remove the garbage to the dumpster, or we’ll have to abandon the kitchen and–pretty soon–the house as well.

All that work shot to shit, when all we had to do was finish the job as thoroughly as we began.


Skillfully-planned New Year’s Resolutions Work Best

hd-wallpaper-with-fireworks-at-new-years-eve smIt’s New Year’s Day for most cultures, and no doubt many of us have painstakingly worked on lists of all the things that we are going to do to improve ourselves in 2016.  Most of those will be focused on all the “good” things we are going to nurture, and all the “bad” habits we are going to cast by the wayside.  

Inevitably, we will fail in most of them. The reason is simple: such resolutions nearly always focus on the worst things that we believe about ourselves — habits, compulsions, ingrained ways of behaving — that are by definition the things that are most difficult to change.  I’m not suggesting that they don’t need changing, but that taking on the most difficult tasks of our spiritual development all at once is a recipe for disaster.

Black and white, rigid thinking comes naturally to addicts, whether we have been plagued by chemical or process addictions like shopping, overeating, sexual compulsions — whatever.  “Wearing life like a loose garment” is hard when we have spent entire lives convinced that we are either “good” or “bad,” (often by someone else’s definition).  We have to believe certain things or our entire legend will fall apart, and we come to believe them to a degree that makes it pretty hard to become flexible.  A list of resolutions based on good and bad, right and wrong, healthy or unhealthy is going to be an incredibly tough row to hoe, and most of us will crap out on it.  Then our self-esteem and shame will tell us, once again, that we don’t measure up.

I suggest that, instead of a big list of promises that will likely sabotage the whole project, we concentrate on one (or at the most, two) things that we want to change about ourselves. Second — but no less important — we’ll stop thinking of those things as “good” and “bad,” but rather as “skillful” or “unskillful” things that we can change gradually.  

That is an extremely important change in perception.  When we are learning a skill, we expect to make mistakes — to be more or less unskillful — for quite a period of time.  When we’re learning, we’re allowed to make mistakes.  If you weren’t allowed to make mistakes before, I’m giving you permission to do so from now on.

We start each project as error-prone, unskillful practitioners, but doing our honest best.  When we make the inevitable slip-ups (hopefully not slips, but even so…), we forgive ourselves, resolve to work at becoming more skillful, write in our journals the things that we have learned, hit some extra meetings if appropriate, call our supports, and go about learning our new skills.

Changing the habits of a lifetime is a big job.  We wouldn’t start on do-it-yourself re-roofing, plumbing, carpeting and painting the house all at the same time, and it doesn’t make sense to take on too many major self-help projects at once, either.

In fact, it’s pretty unskillful.

Have a Happy, Skillful New Year, and know that I wish for you those things that I wish for the people I hold most dear.