One City

This was published today at the very cool website The Worst Horse.
by Ethan Nichtern
INTENTION IS the most important thing, the true invisible hand. It is at the root of any action that creates a habit. It is the vector along which the heart slowly learns to travel. If you care at all about karma, then you have to think about intention again and again, because that’s the source code from which all our actions are written. It’s an ethereal force with very concrete results — the best hug you received this year, the best movie you saw in ’07, and a whole slew of clusterbombs all came from the immaterial truth of somebody’s intention.
“Why” is a crucial word. “Why” is something we seem to consider either way too little, or way too much. We trudge through the motions carelessly, putting the zombies of 28 Days Later to shame with our scripted responses to what life throws at us, never questioning why we do what we do, what values our habitual actions promote and reinforce. At the same time, when we do remember to ask “why,” we guiltily obsess over, dissect, and analyze some tiny misstep for weeks, years, lifetimes. As the pendulum swings from mindlessness to obsession and back again, there’s got to be a middle path.
I will be the first to admit that New Year’s seems to be the most arbitrary of all holidays in a calendar full of strangely constructed celebrations. It’s based on an ancient system of time that demonstrated a highly flawed understanding of the planet’s seasons and the solar system’s biorhythms. September has always felt more like New Year’s. Yet just because something is constructed, doesn’t make it any less real.
As cliched as it may be, for a mindfulness practitioner, a New Year’s resolution is a perfect opportunity to assess our path and set a “why.” What we do is a product of the invisible hand of why. So the question isn’t exactly what we will or should do in ’08, but why will we do anything this year. We have a chance to set a vector for the coming year. Now, zombie movies are fun. But to live like a zombie, chained to habit, lacking any trace of why? That just ain’t fun at all.
At a recent neurological symposium, the Dalai Lama quoted a recent study that showed that people who use more self-referential language (I, me, mine) more often and more obsessively tend to have greater health problems and shorter life spans. Now what does that say to you about The Big Why?
So if you want to practice mindfulness, make a resolution this year. But make it low-resolution. A small-file intention that’s easy to download all over again when your system crashes and you forget everything (probably sometime in the middle of January). A low-resolution resolution will help us return to the process, free from guilt-multiplying expectations.
Daily meditation and exercise? Sounds good. Somehow this keeps us in touch with all the other why’s in life.
Volunteering? Good idea. ’08 is an election year, in case you’ve been living on Mars.
More eco-friendly living? Yes, but: baby steps, baby. You could start by not using another plastic bag in ‘08.
A new creative project? Hell yes — as long as you have no clue how it’ll turn out.
Quitting an addiction? More power to you. But beware cold-turkey solutions, amigos. They’re the close relatives of get-rich-quick schemes. The main thing in any case is: question consumption.
Talking to Strangers? The poet and music-maker Saul Williams seems to think this is the thing to do. Meet your neighbors. Ask people questions. Say thank you. You’ll learn something.
With the whole world running on speed, a little Lo-Res might be just what we need.
Happy Arbitrary New Year. Have a good practice.

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