The beginning of a new year gives us the opportunity to make a fresh start, to make our lives more like we want them — or think they should be. Of course we could make those changes any time, but making New Year’s resolutions has a fresh-start feeling, and the energy of doing it with other people. Back in 1990 I started keeping a journal with New Year’s lists. They weren’t so much resolutions as what I wanted to do or be or have in the next year. They were a way of putting my intentions out into the world, setting my hopes and dreams.
Clarifying what we want in our lives makes more sense to me than that cracking down on ourselves, the way many New Year’s resolutions try to do. Those seem doomed from the start. I either forget what I resolved or can’t be bothered. I don’t usually look at my New Year’s lists again until I write a “what I did” list at the end of the year. That’s when I see to what extent my intentions matched my actual life — usually minimally. Life just goes on — like that quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Taking a look back through the years in my journal, I see that my 1990 list contains desires concerning gardening, meditating, house construction, and building my Alexander Technique practice. Also on the list: “Have a working lawnmower.” That did eventually happen, although I think it’s ready to go on the list again. Skipping ahead to 1994, my list is all about being more me, more loving and appreciating of what’s in my life, taking time for myself. In 1995 I am back to meditation intentions, which seem kind of like cracking down on myself, but the list also includes, “Take a fun vacation.” The 1998 to 2002 lists contain lots of references to being healthier. That was during the years when I was dealing with and recovering from a serious parasite problem. By 2003, my list says, “I want to take a fun vacation with Sidney” (my husband). Sounds like the fun part hadn’t happened in a while. After that I seem to have given up on the fun vacation idea, although a walking tour through England with him makes it on several recent years’ lists, and will probably be again on this year’s. A walking tour could be fun.
“Climb a mountain” first appears on a 2003 list, and then morphs into “Climb Mount Monadnock” two years later. I last climbed Monadnock when I was 4 years old, but I’ve always remembered the amazing view from the rocky top, and the satisfaction of reaching it. By 2014, after being on the list for 10 years, I write, “Climb Mount Monadnock??” as in, If I really wanted to climb it, why hadn’t I done it by then, and, possibly, was I still able to climb it?
It’s interesting to wonder what keeps us from making our lives more like we think we want them. There’s definitely laziness, but also a fear factor concerning change. Things could become worse. There are physical and circumstantial limitations that may be too huge to overcome. But we could always change internally, change our attitudes or responses; we could change the things we could change.
What if the world could give you whatever it is that would make your life the way you think you want it? That gets somewhat into whether we include magical thinking — and how different could we be and still be ourselves? I sat down to make a list of my “blue sky” life, and at first, I couldn’t come up with anything, really. Mostly I just felt grateful for the life I have, and maybe reluctant to get into that state of wanting things I don’t have. On a morning that living with other people seemed too much to bear, I did think it would be nice to have a separate little cabin that was mine alone, where no one could disturb me. I’d be even happier if it were a treehouse. Then I thought: I’d like to rip down my house (which was built in four sections) and build one simple structure that is easy to maintain and clean, and then have someone else do that work.
Once I let myself get into the swing of wanting, I came up with a good long list of things. Here are some of them: a hothouse conservatory of jungle plants, a root cellar, a list of books each of which would fascinate me, a kayak waiting for me in every pond on the Island, insulated curtains, a garden with real dirt, a fenced-in orchard, a house that never gets moldy. It struck me that these were mostly things that could be acquired with enough money. I wondered: Is that the only way to make my life more like I might want it — to have more money?
The next morning I woke up with a whole new plan of how I’d like my life to be: Get up early and meditate, do some Qi Gong or yoga, take a walk or be in nature, and then do some creative work. In the afternoon, I would do some gardening or work around the house, or work for money. I always remember how homesteaders Helen and Scott Nearing, who wrote “Living the Good Life,” set up their daily lives in two four-hour blocks of time, one for productive work and one for leisure. They accomplished an awful lot with their disciplined lifestyle, but also had time to enjoy reading, rest, or travel, or whatever they wanted.
But my new plan sounded way too regulated for me, even though I like to do all those things. The plan was also very different from how I’ve come to live my life, which is more spontaneously, not so much based on being productive. I think the idea of a regulated life sounds especially appealing when my life feels out of control. Basically, I would like to set my life at zero in terms of all the backlog of things that need to be done. Plus I’d like a full pantry, freezer, and root cellar, and then I’d like to just live.
It’s funny, though, since that plan came to me, I’ve kind of carried it out, in a very relaxed, nonpurposeful way, that doesn’t feel like I’m trying to make it happen. Maybe it really does work to set your intentions and then let the universe do the work of carrying them out.