Right now at home my partner and I are dealing with a roach infestation. We got back from vacation and it was...not good. This is not how I pictured my first week of 2016--clearing out the cabinets, cleaning, dealing with my landlord (who is frequently my metta difficult person.) I had big plans for writing, for my workout, my sleep schedule. It was all supposed to look a different way.

I didn’t make any concrete New Year’s Resolutions this year, but I definitely felt myself swept up in the collective energy and myth of a fresh start, a blank slate, a symbolic first week to “start the year off right.” And truly I think there is wisdom in making New Year’s Resolutions. We want to improve our lives, feel better, be happier. All of these have wisdom.

The top ten 2015 new year’s resolutions (according to the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology) were:

1. Lose Weight

2. Getting organized

3. Spend less, save more

4. Enjoy Life to the fullest

5. Staying fit and healthy

6. Learn something exciting

7. Quit smoking

8. Help others in their dreams

9. Fall in love

10. Spend more time with family

All of these can hold both wisdom and confusion, depending on the surrounding conditions and how they are approached. I think in making resolutions we need to be careful about feeding the goal-oriented mindset: I will be happy when I ____ or if I ____. Or I will be okay when/if I _______. The idea that we’re a valuable human or we have a good life only if our life looks a certain way limits us, and doesn’t leave a lot of room for change, for impermanence, for spontaneity, or for seeing what arises in our life as fertile ground for learning, practice, and growth.

So I could decide that my first week of 2016 was a huge failure, and that this infestation is apart from my life--that my life will resume when the roaches are gone. But these critters have actually given me opportunities to practice in ways I didn’t expect:

  1. On the spot metta and compassion: in the moments when I want to choke my landlord for not maintaining the building, remembering that my landlord is a person with a family, who suffers, just like me.

  2. Holding space for ambiguity: I try to practice non-harming, and I don’t like killing bugs. But being alive and human means harming sometimes, so working with this clash, and holding space for it.

  3. Deepening my relationship with my partner: exploring how we handle a crisis together, doing kind things for each other in the midst of difficulty---and looking at how I handle my stress in the midst of something like this, how I get overwhelmed and might take it out on someone, and working with that energy when it arises.

  4. Noticing the habit of ignoring: wanting to turn away from this, zone out, sleep, not look at the piles of dishes and food in the living room, stress-eat leftover holiday cookies.

  5. Gratitude: in the process of carrying everything out of my kitchen and spreading it around my living room, I realize the plenty I am able to enjoy--I have three different kinds of blenders, and 15 different kinds of tea, it’s crazy--and I appreciate all these things. It counters the narrative of lack and habits of grasping and greed, and I see the truth of the abundance I have, and I want to be more generous and giving.

I hope to remain open to the unexpected, to the seemingly inconvenient or unpleasant experiences of 2016. I don’t plan to pressure myself to see the positive in everything, but I hope I can at least accept my life as it is, and have a kind and allowing attitude towards what arises. It’s all life, it’s all significant.

It’s an often-quoted poem in the meditation community, but I think Rumi’s words are worth repeating:

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

AuthorEmily Herzlin