Resolutions are just one of the ways in which we can take a closer look at ourselves, writes Amenakin.
Although the concept of New Year’s resolutions is rooted more in Christian and Jewish traditions, as a Muslim I can’t help but find a sweetness in the overlap between resolutions and my own understanding of self-reflection.
A New Year’s resolution is made by an individual at the beginning of every New Year as a commitment either to do something specific or to abstain from something – the objective being to improve oneself. Although many of us may not consciously set such resolutions, we often find ourselves setting targets for the year ahead – whether they be personal resolutions, family plans or objectives tied to our career, education or social life.
So as a concept, resolutions are a great idea to motivate us, remind us of priorities and also, ideally, perhaps invoke a form of reflection on the passing of the previous year and of the transient nature of our time on Earth.
If we look back at the year gone by, I’m sure many of us can recall the passing of family members, friends, acquaintances and even celebrities. Hollywood may claim to immortalise actors through movies, but as endearing and romanticised as that concept may seem to be on the surface, the reality is that everyone – whether they be a fakir on a street of India or Paul Walker in a Porsche – will return to the same ground. With only our deeds to set us apart from one another, perhaps we ought to focus more on this.
The desire to carry out good deeds is borne out of a good and pure heart. If the idea of New Year’s resolutions was removed from the final few days of December and encouraged on a mass scale as a way of life, we may find ourselves constantly reminded to self-reflect and form positive resolutions for ourselves.
After all, improving habits and abstaining from detrimental activities has no benefit until we reflect upon the deeper meanings of making these changes. Outward practices need to have an inner impact, and vice versa.
The great theologian, philosopher and mystic Imam Al-Ghazali states in his work Marvels of the Heart:
…When a man perceives by his intellect the consequences of an act and the best way to do [something], there is aroused within his essential self a desire for the advantageous way, a desire to exert himself in the means to attain it, and also the will to this end.[i]
In other words, it is only when we use our intellect to assess ourselves, our habits and our actions that we are able to figure out how best to achieve something that is beneficial for us. We develop a deep desire for improvement and are therefore more likely to commit to the goals that we have set for ourselves.
As human beings, we have been bestowed with intellect and the ability to use our rational senses to understand the consequences of our behaviour. We have inner perception, but how often do we use this?
Life is moving fast – the responsibilities and everyday pressures of this world pull us into a swift dance. We are in a giant ballroom, twirling around with a delightful partner, our peripheral vision catching glances of blurred entities. But our gaze is focused upon our partner: the dunya, or worldly matters.
While we are all human and at times we can’t help but focus on worldly matters, our intellect should snap us out of it; it should pull us away from our dance partner and grab us by the shoulders to keep us still enough to be able to see the blurred figures around us. These are the people around us, those whom we should benefit with our newfound “resolutions” for self-improvement. These are fellow human beings who crave our compassion, understanding and love.
And, of course, if we remain still enough, our intellect might lead us to a mirror in which we can see the condition of our own soul so that we might reflect upon it.