I have never made a New Year’s resolution.
The exercise of imagining I might “improve” myself in the future on the basis of an arbitrary demarcation in a humanly constructed division of time called a “calendar” strikes me as at best odd. It is unlikely most us on January 1, 2012 will be substantially different than we were on December 31, 2011.
But, I wonder, what I might resolve if I were to make a New Year’s resolution. If the practice of resolving to change something in my life, could really bring about such a change, what might I want that change to look like?
For Christmas this year I was given a beautifully lettered quotation from Chad Harbach’s enormously entertaining novel, The Art of Fielding. Harbach tells the story of Henry Skrimshander, who plays shortstop for the Harpooners at Westish College, a small undergraduate school on the shores of Lake Michigan.
I know little about baseball. But I do know that, reflecting deeply upon any human enterprise can yield profound wisdom. Harbach has uncovered some deep insights into life by pondering the mysteries and intricacies of baseball.
In the quote from The Art of Fielding that now hangs on my office wall, Harbach describes the necessary discipline to successfully play the field in baseball.
To field a ground ball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension. One moves not against the ball but with it. Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy. This is antagonism. The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defence. (Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding)
If I were to make a New Year’s resolution for 2012 it would be to move “not against the ball but with it.”
I know from long experience that I run into trouble when I “stab at the ball like an enemy.” Life is not an adversarial enterprise. There is a flow to life that is oriented towards the full becoming of all being. If I can “let the path of the ball become my own path,” I will find that I merge with the energy flow of life that is moving towards the prospering of all life forms.
Going with the flow, results Harbach says in “dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense.” The self that is dissipated is the small self that lives in “antagonism” towards the realities of life. This small self resists life; it struggles to anticipate where the balls will bounce and to control their course. Resistance always increases suffering.
Letting go of this resistance does not lead to inaction.
Harbach describes Skrimshander in practice fielding balls hit by his coach.
The kid glided in front of the first grounder, accepted the ball into his glove with a lazy grace, pivoted, and threw to first. Though his motion was languid, the ball seemed to explode off his fingertips, to gather speed as it crossed the diamond. It smacked the pocket of the first baseman’s glove with the sound of a gun going off. The coach hit another, a bit harder: same easy grace, same gunshot report.
Henry Skrimshander playing shortstop seems to have “Prescience” about the course the ball will take after being hit.
The pitch was fouled back, but not before he had taken two full steps to his left, toward the place where he anticipated the ball to be headed. None of the other infielders had moved an inch.
Having “anticipated the ball” by paying careful attention to what was happening, Skrimshander has the time and the focus to make a perfect throw directly into the glove of the first baseman who catches the batter out. Letting go of resistance makes right action possible.
Operating from the centre of the flow of the game Skrimshander,
is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.
Going with the flow is not about being passive or taking no action. It enables taking right action because the action emerges from the place of stillness and peace that is in tune with the energy of the universe.
So my New Year’s resolution for 2012, if I were to make one, would be to pay closer attention to the deep rhythm of life. I would determine to live responsively rather than reactively, to approach life with the gentle art of cooperation, rather than rigidity and control. I would resolve to take those actions that flow naturally from a place of harmony with the deep rhythm of life.
Such a New Year’s resolution may not substantially change the person I am. But, it certainly has the capacity to enable me to live more peacefully with that person and with the circumstances of my life. That sounds like a worthwhile resolution.
nb: as an aside, the dramatic tension in The Art of Fielding hangs on an error that results in Henry Skrimshander losing touch with that inner place of stillness that enabled him to equal “Aparicio Rodriguez’s NCAA record for most consecutive errorless games.” I am only halfway through the book. It is tempting to skip ahead to see if Skrimshander will reconnect with the mystery of his game. But, to skip ahead to the end of the book, would be to break already the New Year’s resolution to live in tune with the processes of life that I might make if I made New Year’s resolutions.