New Year Non-Resolution: Less Nonsense

by Bob Schwartz

Maxfield Parrish - Winter Twilight

No New Year resolutions for me, for many reasons. Here is a related thought from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:

When we reflect on what we are doing in our everyday life, we are always ashamed of ourselves. One of my students wrote to me saying, “You sent me a calendar, and I am trying to follow the good mottoes which appear on each page. But the year has hardly begun, and already I have failed!” Dogen-zenji said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku. This means so many years of one single-minded effort.

It is hard to talk about what is and isn’t nonsense. Waiting with anticipation for the new season of your favorite TV series or playing games is not necessarily more nonsense than discussing political affairs. And don’t even get started on food and sex, which can be critically important, nonsense, or both at the same time.

It is a matter of attention, depth, and priority appropriate for you at the time. A way to determine this is discernment, keeping just quiet enough to hear the voices coming from above, below, outside, and especially inside, that suggest just how much of what might be good for you.

Examples abound. More than ever, there is the theoretical possibility of paying attention to just about everything, and no possibility—even with multi-sensing capabilities we are equipped with—of actually doing it. Even when you do limit and choose, you may find that the coverage or talk is just repeating versions of the same stuff—nonsense—over and over, without its going much of anywhere except around in circles.

So for me—call it a wish or a perspective or a direction but not a resolution—I will try to discern who and what matters, pay better attention to those, and avoid some of the rest. This is not necessarily a matter of serious or world-changing: the new seasons of Downtown Abbey and Mad Men will have my attention. But as things come along, I will try to listen to just which way they might be moving me. Just a little less nonsense.