I made three resolutions for this year’s summer trip:
· be extra patient with my partner
· don’t drink wine every day
By the end of week one however, wine bottles were chinking in campsite recycling bins, I’d shouted GET ON WITH IT several times and had only meditated once, on the first morning.
Something about good resolutions makes me do the exact opposite. I want to be a better person. But it’s as if my definition of ‘better’ doesn’t always win the rubber stamp of approval from some mysterious internal committee. And this committee has a habit of voting with its feet.
Earlier this year, for example, I booked onto a two-week meditation retreat where the norm would be to meditate 6-8 hours a day. I usually meditate for half an hour daily, so I decided in the weeks leading up to the retreat to ‘build up’ my practice a bit. In came the goal-setting: I would add an evening sit and extend the morning one to forty minutes.
I didn’t even do it once. In fact, in the run up to the retreat, I stopped meditating altogether.
Once on the retreat, I planned to eat mindfully. A golden opportunity. Others might be doing something similar and if they weren’t, no one would be able to say anything because we were all in silence!
The plan lasted until day three. Surrounded incessantly by mindful eaters, the deliberate way they cut up their food drove me mad. And the way they chewed! The way they put their knife and fork down between mouthfuls. GET ON WITH IT I wanted to shout. I had to go and sit next to some big blokes who shovelled their food down any old how.
My aims often fail in this way. Perhaps I don’t have enough self-discipline. Perhaps I should cultivate aims that are less off-the-peg. Perhaps my motivation is wrong – too self-focussed. Or maybe my goals are too ambitious and I need to break them down into small, achievable outcomes. All of that sounds plausible.
And yet, I don’t know. Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ comes to mind, in which the poet talks to his neighbour about mending their dividing wall. ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall/That wants it down. I could say ‘Elves’ to him/But it’s not elves exactly.’
Well, something there is that doesn’t love a goal either, I reckon. That wants it to fail. I could say ‘resistance’. But it’s not resistance exactly.
It’s probably closer to elves, and I’m interested in elves. I can’t shake off the feeling that they have friends on my internal committee and that those friends might be trying to tell me something.