New Year’s isn’t about punishing yourself for past mistakes, says Emily Heist Moss. It’s about taking the time to think about what you truly need in the months to come.
Resolution season brings with it discount packages at the gym, overloaded yoga classes, annoying advertising puns about “fresh starts” and “new beginnings,” and a host of articles about how to make resolutions, how to not make resolutions, how resolutions never work, or why this whole ritual is silly and overrated. Make small resolutions! Make big resolutions! Forget resolutions, you’re perfect the way you are! You’ll fail anyway, why bother?
Forget the date for a minute, and forget that we make these declarations of intent on a completely arbitrary day. Focus instead on the value of taking time to intentionally, mindfully, think about what you need in the months to come. Time of year aside, this exercise in self-awareness is often overlooked in pursuit of satisfying immediate needs.
My religious upbringing was limited to an illustrated collection of Old Testament stories and our annual reading of Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins while lighting the candles and collectively forgetting the words to the prayer. As an adult, I occasionally tag along to Shabbat services with my practicing Jewish friends. Much to my surprise, I’m finding that I enjoy going through the motions of prayer and guided meditation. For me, God is not part of this experience, but I like the idea of designating time and space to think about gratitude, mindfulness, and community.
In services last Friday, the rabbi took us through an exercise to think through blessings, what they are, what they mean, what they accomplish. Her point, as I understood it, was that there’s something supremely powerful about considering and articulating what you need, and then asking someone else to bless you with exactly that. She had everyone partner up and take—pardon me—a leap of faith, by asking friends and strangers alike to listen and offer back in blessing what they heard being asked for.
We gathered in groups, nervous laughter and the beginnings of conversations permeating the room. It was scary, we agreed, to look another human in the eye, state your case and ask for a blessing. It’s about taking down walls, about undoing any of the strategies we’ve utilized specifically in order to not ask for help, about sharing struggles and challenges in a heartfelt plea for good vibes and support. In order to be granted it, you need to ask for it, and in order to ask for it, you need to know exactly what your weak links are, exactly where you need back-up, exactly how you’re most likely to stray or err or fall short. Scary, indeed!
Being the blesser is just as challenging; how often do we listen that closely to the words of our friends? How often do we think so actively about the needs of other people and offer our support for their goals and desires, no strings attached? Someone looks at you and tells you that they need patience, or strength, or courage, or focus to face whatever it is that they have to face. You put all of your energy into listening and then you pour all of that energy out in a blessing. When we were done, there were more than a few teary faces around the room. Though dry-eyed, I did feel fortified, reinforced, buoyed. I felt blessed.
At Shabbat, the giving is what we were concentrating on, but the asking is what felt truly game-changing. If you can see past the hullaballoo and glitter-glitter, sparkle-sparkle, the new year is offering the same opportunity the rabbi offered us. The point of making New Year’s resolutions is not to create rules for yourself, to berate or punish for sins past, to box yourself into or out of behaviors you want to do more or less. The point is to take a few minutes to think about what’s ahead and what you want or need to face it, succeed, and treat yourself well.
At the end of many yoga practices, the instructor asks us to place our palms up if we’re seeking energy and down if we’re seeking groundedness. Earthy crunchy and hippie-dippie? Maybe. But it’s also likely the only moment in the day when I’ve thought about my emotional and mental needs instead of the latest craving or crisis. It’s my favorite moment of class because I’m prompted to take note of my mental state and to mindfully decide how I’d like the rest of my evening to unfold.
When I think about what I need or want, I’m usually thinking about the next 20 minutes. I need a sandwich, probably, or a nap, a cup of coffee, or to stretch my hamstrings. It’s about “getting through” instead of being well. It’s so easy to jump from one thing to the next, work to the gym to drinks, or Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, that big picture thinking gets drowned out by immediate needs.
But not on New Year’s. Is it important that the resolutions we write down or speak aloud be written or spoken on December 31st? Of course not, the date is irrelevant. What is important is finding an excuse, even a contrived one, to take the bird’s eye view of the next year and ask yourself what you need, and then give yourself permission to go for it.
Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.