Resolve, the Fire behind Resolutions


Janus, Roman god of beginnings and endings


It occurs to me as we draw close to year’s end and I think about those seemingly obligatory, and too often perfunctory New Year’s resolutions, that what may be lacking for myself and others who struggle with following through with New Year’s goals is contained in the root word of the thing in question: resolve.

Resolve, as a noun, means “firm determination.” Flipping to its verb form, and researching the etymology, we find:

late 14c., “melt, dissolve, reduce to liquid;” intransitive sense from c.1400; from Old French resolver or directly from Latin resolvere “to loosen, loose, unyoke, undo; explain; relax; set free; make void, dispel,” from re-, perhaps intensive, or “back” (see re-), + solvere “loosen” (see solve). Early 15c. as “separate into components.” (Online Etymology Dictionary)

It’s interesting that there are opposing senses of the word: “firm determination” suggests solidity and uniformity of purpose, and a kind of bracing or tensing up for anticipated effort, quite a difference from the verb meaning (or its root meaning anyway) of loosening, breaking down, undoing. But maybe the two senses are related after all. Perhaps the key to building the force of resolve, that unwavering resoluteness of purpose, is to spend some time first on reflecting on the past year, and the past in general, breaking down (analysing) and letting go of what is asking for release, including resentments or grudges, feelings of shame or guilt, baseless fears, limiting or unkind self-talk, unreasonable expectations, and past goals that may have been concocted out of such a dubious substrate.

Alchemically, in the stage of dissolution, we may face painful realizations and feelings of grief and regret, but it is out of this state that a healthier, more authentic, and more productive outlook and focus can emerge:

A key to the stage of Dissolution is the awakening of passion, and the harnessing of the energy of emotional pain toward an object of creativity. We do not just passively witness the reality of our inner pain; we redirect its energy, wedding it to our authentic personal desires and constructive aims. In so doing we are participating and aiding in the dissolving of our false self. We are using the energy freed up by letting go of old, stale ego-positions, in the service of re-aligning our life in the direction of our higher purpose. (See: Psychospiritual Alchemy.)

Without doing this sort of resolving, this dissolving and reforming, before setting resolutions, I don’t think we resolve the question of how to best direct our energies in the coming year. This oversight may lead to misdirection: it’s easy for anyone to get caught up in resolutions that don’t really serve them. For instance, you might initially come up with a host of resolutions that relate to a business you’ve started, but upon deep reflection realize you don’t enjoy or believe in this business–maybe you got involved with it to impress or please someone–and need to do something else altogether. Or you might initially plan on some hard-core gym workout regime, but, thinking deeply about it, realize that this is really a self-punishment scheme for some presumed failing, and that mildly challenging hikes in nature would feel much better as a route to self-care.

My guess is that, in most cases, when resolutions are in line with true desires and needs, rather than external pressures and/or feelings of self-doubt or unworthiness, our unconscious selves will not be as inclined to sabotage us in their implementation. With the right attitude, which is never grandiose, self-flagellating, superficial or myopic, resolve will be burgeoned with the force of our whole selves, budding and developing naturally rather than being artificially injected by our latest “self-improvement” schemes.

My New Years wish for myself and my readers is that we make sacred time in the coming year for what matters most to us, whatever that is, and no matter what we think we “should” be doing.

Thanks for reading–see you in 2015!