Living the Question

The first week of the New Year has just ended.

Since January 1, I’ve noticed people diligently writing in journals at my local coffee shop and others reading books with titles like “A New Year, A New You.” At the gym, there are scores of fresh and excited faces. And on the street, lots of runners in fancy new gear.

All of those hopeful faces and all of that promise, and yet statistics show that by the third week of this new year only 8% of people will have kept their resolutions.

What does this tell us? That we have unrealistic expectations? That we have no follow-through?

Not even close. I think it says something much different.

I think it indicates that most of us want change quite desperately but don’t understand how change actually works. No positive lasting change can ever come from a negative judgement about ourselves. And that’s how most resolutions arise. “I’m fat, I’m out of shape, I eat horribly. Therefore I need to join a gym, or take up running, or go on a diet.”

A resolution focuses on what is wrong and how we are failing. Rather than labelling a certain behaviour a “problem” that needs to be solved by a New Year’s resolution, what would happen if we paused on New Year’s Eve to appreciate all that was going well, all that we had accomplished in the previous year instead? What if we set an intention to reframe our “problems” as things to be reflective and curious about, rather than needing to “fix” them? What if we decide to just “be” with the situation, contemplate it, and wait for guidance or direction. One of my favourite quotes, by Rainer Maria Rilke, speaks to this idea.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

It’s hard to give ourselves this kind of a pause in our immediate gratification culture. Nowadays, so many things happen with a quick swipe or the tap of a finger. But, true and lasting change doesn’t fall into this category. Especially for the kind of complex changes we humans grapple with. Real, deep, and sustainable change is slow. We need to give ourselves time, and be gentle and compassionate along the way.

Human beings are capable of enormous shifts and changes. But what you deeply desire won’t happen with a “resolution” that arises from negative and harsh opinions about yourself. Change is a process, not a moment, and it’s how you shepherd yourself through that makes all the difference.

This year, what will it mean for you to live the question?


January 2018