Confession: New Year’s Eve is just about my least favorite day of the year. It tends to come over me with the kind of pressure that turns shale to slate. The pressure to revel, to kick up your heels; the ominous old wives’ tale that whatever you’re doing when the clock strikes midnight is what you’ll be doing the whole next year, the whole “Am I happy now?” thing. And of course, the eternal grind of those things we think will make us better people but that we can’t quite seem to attain, which we call “resolutions.” So, this week I am going to offer you a few meditations on the subject of Resolution. Feel free to chime in with your own.
Here higher mind, so resolute,
Is undivided, Arjuna,
Though minds of the irresolute
Branch out in many endless ways.
Dharma -- wich means virtue, but also natural order and law -- is one of the main concerns of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the great classics of Hindu literature and a text that has perplexed and inspired artists and philosophers for centuries. The Gita is a verse dialogue between a warrior named Arjuna and his charioteer, who conveniently happens to be Krishna. Just before a battle, Arjuna suffers a crisis of conscience about slaughtering his own kinsmen, and questions whether it is right to engage in battle. Krishna proceeds to chide him for several pages, sneering at his misguided arrogance. After all, if Arjuna dies, he will ascend in reincarnation. If he lives, he will prevail on earth. Same for his so-called enemies in the next village. Arjuna is a warrior and the dharma of a warrior is… war. Of course it's the right thing to do, dummy. Now shut up and fight.
Okay: this bothers me. I mean, yes to dharma. To things acting in accordance with natural order, with their quintessence, their truth. And in a cosmology rooted in the idea of kalachakra or samsara or whatever you like to call the endless recycling of the soul into eternally repeating dramas of pain and pleasure, longing and loss, striving and confusion – and in which the ultimate goal is to Get Out of Dodge – sure, I guess I can even understand that at a certain level, even killing should not be questioned. .
Here's what bugs me. How can you tell if you’ve got your dharma mixed up with your imagination, or wishful thinking, or some misguided need to prove something or some Brooklyn Bridge you’ve sold yourself as a distraction from confronting something you’re afraid of? What if you’ve lost sight of your truth in the tangle of wishes and worries and dreams and projections and inventions and the myriad illusions even very wise humans cast between themselves and the reality of who and what they are and what they are here to do? Dude, it happens! If it didn’t, do you realize how many therapists would be out of work? And people even get righteous and prideful about the bill of goods they’ve sold themselves. I’ve seen it. I’m pretty sure I’ve done it.
The notion of being “resolute” sounds so virtuous, doesn’t it? Steadfast, firm, determined, committed. Responsible, mature, disciplined. I value those things. So much so that no matter how many times I read this poem I still squirm when Krishna remonstrates with Arjuna over the moment of questioning, and compassion, that the god promptly declares a pathetic and misguided failure of will. And it’s that word “resolute” that does it, that hits me in the solar plexus. As Krishna lectures the young warrior on the attainment of perfection, that word repeatedly leaps off the page at me like an accusation.
Am I resolute? Am I living according to my purpose? If I waver in my belief about what my purpose is, if I change my mind, does that make me unevolved, not acting from my higher mind? Bad soldier?
So many questions, but I can tell you Krishna has never once offered to drive my Toyota, and I'm betting he hasn’t shown up in livery at your house either. So I ask again, how do you RESOLVE the question of whether you are RESOLVED upon the right things?
The word resolute comes from the Latin “resolvere.” Latin scholars, what is the meaning of that verb? To untie or unfasten or loosen. Resolute originally meant loose, dissolved, broken down. Am I the only one who finds that interesting? I find that interesting. It’s almost the opposite of its modern meaning, which has a nose of stoicism and steel and an unwavering determination on the palate, with a long, long, focused finish, if you will. And it is definitely the opposite of the meaning of the Sanskrit word “yoga,” which is “yoking” (onself to the Divine). Is that not odd?
So: this etymological hall of mirrors resolves, so to speak, via the idea of breaking something down in order to arrive at the truth of it – to determine its true nature. Unquestioning? No way. Paying attention? Yeah. In fact not just observing, but living your life as a kind of ongoing hypothesis and understanding that the experiment can yield different answers depending on the conditions. It is the dharma of grass to assimilate sunlight through chloroplasts and grow and be green. If it is too cold or too dry, the grass won’t do that. Is it morally lax grass? Krishna?
And even though the Vedas tend to insist on renouncement of all interest in the material world, that vale of tears; the attachments of mind and body that plague us with lust and greed and shame and fear and grief; the ego that acts on us like blinders on a horse -- and hey, they might have a point -- I’m going to try, this year, to go with this: you’re in a body for a reason. Learn from it. Listen to your gut, because it's probably screaming at you Being irresolute (or the opposite of broken into parts: something whole, or maybe something tied together, tangled) is necessary to the quest to understand your dharma. No one's going to tell you what it is, excpt you If you have the nagging feeling that even though you’re living the life you set out to live, something really deep Just Feels Wrong, if you feel chronically restless or live with a physical or psychic pain you just can’t seem to… resolve, no matter how good your intentions might be – well, you’re probably not aligned with your dharma, but with an illusion. And seeking to throw off that veil, even if it takes breaking something down – even if it takes you yourself breaking down – yes, it can hurt, it can be scary, it can raise awful questions you never wanted to confront. But it doesn’t make you a bad warrior. Between here and our convergence with All That Is, there are a million moments in which we will have to... you know, pick our battles.
So, my dears: it’s Resolution Season. What illusion are you going to tackle?