As someone who has devoted his professional life to writing about and teaching meditation, mindfulness and the all-around spiritual path, I thought it might be helpful to those interested in this arena to know what my 2021 New Year’s resolution is. In other words, what does someone who has dived headfirst into the spiritual ocean think is THE most important endeavor to pursue?
First, I think it’s critical to go through resolutions one might think I’d pursue. The following are all important to growth on the path…They’re just not, in my experience, the MOST important. Here are four major, growth-inducing resolutions I didn’t choose.
1. Boost My Meditation Practice: I currently meditate once a day in the morning for fifteen minutes. In 2020 I probably missed five total days. But I could’ve decided to increase the amount and frequency in 2021 to, say, twenty minutes, twice a day by adding an afternoon session. Would that be helpful? Absolutely. And maybe someday I will do this. But it’s not the most important thing I can do.
2. Boost My Mindfulness Practice: I also could have ramped up my mindfulness practice. How? There are myriad ways. I could resolve to stop at least four times a day, when feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and take five deep, conscious breaths. Or resolve to take a walk once a day and watch and listen to the birds, my favorite conscious creatures. Or go outside three times a day and look up at the sky while taking five conscious breaths. Or do all three of those things. This would definitely strengthen my ability to live in the present moment. But it’s not the most important thing I can do.
3. Surrender: This was actually my resolution for 2019. What is it? Any time you feel yourself resisting anything in life, you just surrender to it. You flow with life rather than constantly fighting against it. I love this one. But it’s not the most important thing I can do.
4. Be More Compassionate: I’m a firm believer that what we find at the end of the spiritual path, the final stop on the trail, is not about eternal inner bliss. Or constant feelings of nirvana. In other words, it’s not about achieving something great for ourselves. No, the final state that we reach is one of pure compassion. A state where everything we do, every contact we have, raises others up. So I could have resolved to work on being more compassionate. But it’s not the most important thing I can do.
So what is this grand resolution that I chose for 2021? It is this:
“Keep letting go of David Gerken.”
Yep. That’s it. It’s about letting go.
Of what? Me. More specifically, the egoic, conditioned me. That’s the me that I, and all of us, have cobbled together since we were kids and into adulthood. It’s the me that feels the need to feel superior to others, that feels slighted at a verbal dig, that has to feel ‘right’ while everyone else is ‘wrong.’
It’s the egoic me that constantly steals my attention from the real, conscious me. Why is that egoic, conditioned me so darn successful in stealing my attention away? Because it is unbelievably strong!
I wrote a piece last year on Medium about this entire subject that you can find here. In it I give the technique that Mickey Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, offers for actually letting go of yourself.
Letting go is central to most traditions
Because letting go, as Mickey Singer, the Buddhists and many other spiritual traditions assert, sits at the top of the spiritual pyramid. What does that mean?
I’ll explain by looking back at those four resolutions I didn’t choose. Meditation and mindfulness are, at their core, about helping us live in the present moment. But unless I let go of that egoic, conditioned self that is constantly dragging my attention into thoughts about the past and future, living in the moment will be extremely difficult to pull off.
Unless I let go of that egoic, conditioned self that feeds off of and seeks drama in my daily life, it’ll be near impossible for me to surrender to difficult situations and just flow with life.
And unless I let go of that egoic, conditioned self that expends all of my energy on the futile pursuit of manipulating the external world to satisfy my inner needs, I will not be capable of accessing that deep and beautiful place inside me (and inside all of us) where compassion resides.
Commitment and inner strength is all it takes
Letting go of yourself. It’s everything. And it requires only two things: commitment and inner strength. Commitment to go for it and stick with it, day after day, month after month, year after year. Once you understand the centrality of letting go of yourself, making this commitment will be a no-brainer.
Then there’s the inner strength required to actually do the letting go. Like when your significant other gets in your face about something and every fiber of your egoic self wants to react with fury, but you dig deep for a few precious seconds, relax, let go of yourself, then respond from a place of presence.
Or you grew up in a household that promoted fear of failure. Now you’re 35, starting a new job and have persistent feelings of anxiety over your fear of failing in the new gig. This requires the strength to: 1. Notice these conditioned feelings of fear when they arise, then 2. Relax and let go of them.
Or you grew up a spoiled kid who constantly got their way and who now pouts as an adult when things don’t go exactly as you’d like them. When one of those disappointments comes up, you summon the strength to notice it and let it go. Again and again and again.
As time goes on, the egoic baggage we’ve all stored inside us for so long dissipates. And as it does, we get closer and closer to that calm and compassionate real, beautiful self residing in all of us.