The condition of resolve
So we’ve been given yet another new year, and can begin to think ahead, once again – although the landscape before us is cluttered, and unclear. The maps that we’ve been provided are all conjecture, and subject to frequent reactive revisions by events beyond our control. We do not know what will happen, and many of us do not even know that we do not know what will happen. Some of us believe in what is possible, while others believe in what is inevitable. It’s hard to know what to believe.
I dreamed the other night that I’d been asked by a pulp magazine to write predictions for the coming year – and my mind became quickly filled, almost overwhelmed, by some portentous premonitions of political intrigue and corruption, and the consequences of outright warfare. I sat down to write and found the pen I was given was out of ink, and the paper I was given had already been used, was stained and torn – while my mind was heavily burdened. The dream seemed residual, emblematic of the situation our world is sadly in today.
There are two aspects of our situation: our condition, and our circumstance – our attitude regarding our world, and the nature of the world in which we find ourselves. We have more control over our attitude, conditioned as it is by our fundamental values, than we do over our circumstance. If we look to the future with hope it’s easy to become overly optimistic, and believe that what we hope for will happen. If we do so with doubt on the other hand, it’s as easy to become terminally cynical, and believe it will not. But beliefs are opinions, not facts.
The only way to move forward through this cluttered landscape is by taking each and every step – one after the other, and one at a time. Accept the journey, and be open to grow by taking it; do not resist its demand that we change. Be enthusiastic (the Greek root of that word is entheos, literally, “divinely inspired by a god”), but understand that enthusiasm must be anchored by discipline – discipleship – a personal devotion to what you know is fundamentally true. And persevere, but do not perseverate: do not become stuck. To be resolved, to be resolute, is to be settled upon the journey – but not stranded upon the path.
It is not commonly known that Frederick Christ Trump (yes, that was in fact his middle name) brought his son Donald to the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan when he was a young man. The pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, had written The Power of Positive Thinking, a popular book at the time. Peale ministered to Trump’s family and, until his death in 1993, he mentored young Donald. He taught the efficacy of repeated affirmations, designed to cheer one along to great success – and to convince others to believe what they are told. In 1958 a particularly instructive episode of the TV western “Trackdown” featured a snake-oil salesman caught hoodwinking an entire town – the character, named Trump, was based upon the father; it’s worth watching on Youtube.
Opinions are like different windows into the same room, each with its own perception of the fact of what is there. When positive thinking denies the reality of circumstances, when opinions distort the facts and affirmations repeated ad nauseam become outworn slogans, they become hypnotic, delusional – and dangerous. (No matter how often he may say it, it was not a perfect phone call.) The naive expectations of Voltaire’s Candide that “all is always for the best in this best of all possible worlds” invite disaster for the true believer. We must learn to look to the future with a belief neither in our hopes nor in our doubts, but in our own resolve.
There is a reason why New Year’s resolutions are so hard to keep, for they are often built upon the foundation of personal shame – that there is something wrong about ourselves that needs correction. We know our failings all too well, but good intentions ought not be based only upon that knowledge – there is something more we need to know. We must drill down deep, past opinions of what we believe is good and bad about ourselves, to discover what we know is simply our true belief and our fundamental faith. This deeper anchor, this resolve, is something we can trust.
Being resolved is being settled, complete, and completely present; it is no longer ambivalent and uncertain, nor does it stand still. To take the road, to be on your way, is to be moving forward through the cluttered landscape ahead with determination. Don’t try to guess what the world will be like by the end of this year; there are too many moving parts. Look around at what is here today, carefully – recognize the facts surrounding you and what you know to be true within, and begin. Take out a fresh piece of paper, and a pen that’s freshly filled with ink, and be prepared to write your intention into the emptiness of the future – not your assumptions, nor your expectations, but your resolve.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Glen Ellen. He is also a writer and poet. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com. Email him at email@example.com.