Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


On Making Resolutions, or What I Learned from Reading The Happiness Project

I just finished Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book that in a roundabout way had some bearing on my decision to undertake this project. As I said in My Story, I’m not doing an experiment in happiness, exactly, but nonetheless Rubin’s decision to take a year to improve her relationships, be more mindful, clear out clutter, and pursue a passion definitely appealed to me. She and I are very different people, but I liked and admired her strange, thoughtful, and sometimes-hokey journey through self-improvement.

The Goddess in the side yard

The book is full of resolutions, and I must admit that was part of its appeal. I love to make resolutions: resolutions to be more tidy, resolutions to write more, resolutions to do yoga everyday, and the biggie, this resolution to find a spiritual life and live more mindfully. I have to admit, though, that I can’t tell whether resolutions are actually antithetical to what I’m trying to do. I struggle with the dichotomy of “get your ass to yoga, slacker” and “actually, if you choose not to go to yoga–and have a glass of wine instead–that’s A-ok.” I know Buddhism, and any spiritual practice, really, is about discipline. I also know that personally, I err way on the side of giving myself too many tasks to accomplish and things to do, and sometimes, the best choice for me would be saying no–even to yoga.

So I had an idea. I decided to make some mindful resolutions. What’s a mindful resolution, you ask? Well, resolutions that take me beyond those states like Ego, Anger, and Animality–and closer to Enlightenment. Resolutions that ultimately might help me end dukkha (suffering). Being more tidy is a good resolution, but let’s face it, it won’t bring me closer to God. Or will it?

Stay tuned, readers: next week. My mindful resolutions.

To read: The Happiness Project


Tuesday, November 13: The Reading Books Phase

I have been worrying about the free-form, feel-it-out nature of this project. I think this is probably because a) I am reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, meticulous in its planning and organization; and b) because I have been teaching the idea of experiments to my students and have stressed the importance of having a hypothesis, a plan, and a list of materials. Honestly, these days I feel like I am just swimming in a sea of possibilities, ripping teeth off coffee-shop flyers that advertise mindfulness, taking book recommendations, and having random ideas about what this project should look like. Not disciplined at all; in fact, rather messy. And not, to date, too mindful, either. But there are glimmers.

So I didn’t think I had found a framework until a couple of Buddhists popped by last night (whaddya know?). They brought me some books and asked a few questions about this project, which I cryptically answered; I am not trying to be cloak-and-dagger about things, exactly, but I’m also trying not to bring everyone I know into it just yet. So I told them it was a personal exploration but that, because I am a writer, I will document it as I go. And that for now, I am just trying to gather information and figure it all out.

“Oh,” Alison said breezily. “You’re in the reading books phase.”

“Some people are perpetually in the reading book phase,” Don added.

I don’t know why, but it made me laugh and feel good. I think because it almost sounds like the Reading Books Phase (and for grammatical reasons too esoteric to explain, I have chosen NOT to hyphenate “reading-books phase”) is one of the ten steps: Animality, Anger, Reading Books, Buddhahood…

Great. Et voila, my framework: I am, now, in the Reading Books Phase (check the sidebar on the left to see which books are crowding my nightstand). I will let you know when I reach Enlightenment.

I think also I am in the Noticing Phase. One somewhat unhappy consequence of being more mindful is noticing all the ways in which I am not mindful. So, even as I managed five minutes of meditation this morning, I also managed to freak out about a small miscommunication (as perceived by me) half an hour later. Even as, while I was meditating, I registered the birds begin chirping in the yard…and the freight train running through the mau-mau (a friend’s kid’s word for the railroad crossing, now a word adopted by our entire family)…and the smell of the heating duct in its first use of the season…I also had to refrain from writing this blog post in my head the whole time.

One big notice for today: I write my life in my head while it is happening. This is an exhausting practice, probably pretty normal for a writer, but not ideal for someone trying to live more in the moment. I do it all the time, and have done it since I was a little kid. I am walking to the store. I am picking up my son from daycare. I am noticing the ways in which I am not mindful.

Alison said she used to do it, too, back when she first started practicing Buddhism. Now, she said, it doesn’t serve her.

Amen to that.