With the arrival of a new year, everyone feels an impulse to get rid of old habits and to change for the better. As time-honored as New Year’s resolutions are, they rarely make a difference. The pull of old habits is strong. At a deeper level, there is a constant tug-of-war between wanting to change and wanting to remain the same.
This is the war between inertia and evolution. Of course, some kinds of change arrive unbidden, such as losing a job or the ending of a relationship. But most of the time, people stay the same because it is the path of least resistance. Inertia is another word for remaining unconscious, while evolution requires awareness. The more aware you are, the easier change becomes.
Before making your New Year’s resolutions, you can greatly increase your chance of success by seeing how prepared you actually are for “out with the old, in with the new.”
First, here are some common traits of inertia, or living unconsciously:
- You act out of habit.
- You obey sudden impulses.
- You speak without thinking.
- You rely on fixed beliefs and opinions.
- You react reflexively.
- You have decided in advance what you like and don’t like.
- You are beset by unforeseen consequences.
- You embrace conformity.
- You make snap judgments.
- You wrestle with anger, fear, and other negative emotions.
- You deny things you don’t want to face.
We can all recognize ourselves in at least one of these behaviors. Instead of examining what we are doing, we let things go on the way they have always gone on. That’s the temptation of inertia—simply to let life unfold without paying much attention.
Opening to Expanded Awareness
Meditation can help you shift from inertia to evolution. In meditation practice, you become aware of awareness, so to speak. You realize that paying attention comes naturally. All you have to do is direct your awareness anywhere you want it to go. As you become more aware, you start to evolve. This is the great change that makes smaller changes possible. It dawns on you that living consciously has many benefits, and this realization helps you to go through the process of change.
Here are the features of a conscious life that evolution brings:
- You think before you speak.
- You weigh your options before making a decision.
- You anticipate the consequences of your actions.
- You listen to what other people have to say.
- You feel your emotions but don’t always act on them.
- You are open to revising a plan when the situation changes.
- You understand human nature and therefore are more tolerant.
- You don’t jump to conclusions.
- You are nonjudgmental.
- You balance conformity with the right to be different.
- You keep your antennae out for the situation around you and the people in it.
- You pay attention.
- You can focus steadily on a problem.
I don’t think it is hard for anyone to see the advantages of being more aware—the list speaks for itself. But there’s the practical matter of being stuck in the old. Society doesn’t teach us about stuckness, yet it is a pervasive condition. Consider people who are in the habit of constantly worrying and fretting. If you gathered a convention of worriers and took a vote, I imagine few, if any, would say that being a worrier has improved their lives. Dwelling on worst-case scenarios that rarely if ever come true is a waste of time and energy. Relating to a worrier gets tiring very quickly. People sometimes think less of someone labeled as a worrier because they don’t seem to be listening to their common sense.
Despite this knowledge, worriers don’t stop worrying. They might return home repeatedly to make sure they locked the front door and didn’t leave the gas stove on, and every time their worry is unfounded. But let them read one article about a gas explosion or a burglar walking in the front door, and it is enough to reinforce the habit of worrying.
All Solutions Come from the Level of Pure Consciousness
There are two ways to replace unconscious behavior with conscious behavior. The first way is to attack each change individually. This is the way almost everyone chooses. For example, you may set a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and focus solely on that goal. The second way is to shift your consciousness towards being more awake. By being more awake, you are not attacking one issue at a time. You are expanding your awareness to allow pure consciousness to have a blanket effect, so to speak.
We complain about our problems and shortcomings without seeing that they arise from being unconscious. At the same time, we do not give credit to consciousness as a solver of problems. In reality, there are two levels of awareness: the level of the problem and the level of the solution. You cannot solve anything from the level of the problem; you must reach the level of the solution.
Pure consciousness is the level of all solutions. This may sound exaggerated, but once you decide to consciously evolve, the truth of pure consciousness steadily becomes clearer and clearer. Pure consciousness is the field of all possibilities, where every challenge is joined to the best possible outcome. Every spiritual tradition holds this to be true, even though different words are used to describe the field of pure consciousness, such as God, satori, spirit, and Brahman.
To evolve is to get closer to the reality of pure consciousness and what it can achieve. To me, this is the secret behind “out with the old, in with the new.”
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