Buddhist New Year Resolutions: A Discussion with Josh Korda

Josh Korda

This discussion is now closed. Please note that your comments will no longer be responded to. Thanks to everyone who participated, and especially to our discussion leader, Josh Korda of Dharmapunx!

Happy New Year!

Now that it's 2013, how do you hope to grow with your Buddhist practice in the upcoming year? Perhaps you have made a resolution to become more involved in your local sangha, or to practice right speech, or to finally make it to that retreat you've always wanted to go on. Whatever your Buddhist New Year resolution may be, we would love to hear about it! And if you haven't made one yet, now is the perfect time to do so, or to check in with any resolutions you might have made last year.

Throughout the month, Buddhist teacher Josh Korda will be available to answer any questions or concerns you might have about your resolutions. For instance, how can we be more gentle with ourselves when we don't live up to them? Or, how can we set goals for ourselves in a tradition that emphasizes that there are no goals to achieve, anyway? 

Josh began his studies in Theravada Buddhism in 1996. He is currently the guiding teacher at New York Dharmapunx and serves as a visiting teacher at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. He'll be checking in with us from Thailand, where he just finished a weeklong silent retreat in the Khao Sok jungle (what a way to start the new year off right!). You can read his article in the Fall 2012 issue of Tricycle, "Now What?" about overcoming addiction, here, and watch his online retreat, "Making Friends with Your Demons and Hungry Ghosts: Buddhist Tools for Recovery," here.

Post your resolutions and questions in the comments section below or email them in to editorial@tricycle.com.

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Magda's picture

My resolution is to be authentic. The moment I spoke this aloud on my cushion I noticed myself bracing for impact. So I'm going to trust people with the real me? Expose myself? I've heard this called dying lion mind, and I was not surprised. But what did surprise me was the feeling of shame, how often it arises, how I shame myself in my self talk. Gradually over this first month I've hosted memories of bullying that hadn't even struck me at the time as bullying--I just accepted it. I am grateful for this practice. I believe I was inspired to do this because I knew it's time, I am able to explore this now.

I've gleaned so much from this ongoing discussion. Any additional suggestions are most welcome. Thank you for your refreshing, inspiring teaching, Josh!

Bowing in gratitude, Magda

Joshkorda1's picture

hi magda
thanks so much!
yes, absolutely, authenticity can be a frightening prospect. The great psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicot summarized it well in his theory of the false self:
Our false self arises in early childhood, as a defense mechanism. When a child feels a lack of caregiving or support, its terrified (we're completely dependent on caregivers for survival). So the infant is willing to abandon its authentic behaviors, instead presenting to the world "false" behaviors... whatever gets attention and approval from caregivers and others will suffice; so the false self is a set of behaviors we develop to get security, attention and love.
Alas, relationships built on false or performative behaviors are emotionally hollow; they're behaviors we've adopted, they don't represent our core, spontaneous gut experience. Our true, spontaneous, creative behaviors and thoughts are hidden behind a mask of what gets approval from others.
This process continues through schooling and all other forms of our interpersonal experience; when bullied, we tend to abandon the behaviors we associate with disapproval from others, and we adopt the mannerisms and behaviors that make us feel safe and accepted.
When we try to express our deeper true feelings, the old feelings of rejection, abandonment, terror arise. The same feelings of the infant being rejected by the caregiver.
I hope something in the above is useful.
metta, j

Magda's picture

A defense mechanism that has far outlived its usefulness. That is a helpful perspective. As cracks appear in the false self I can breathe, feel, liberate my spirit. Thank you!

alanbell_1969's picture

Hi, thanks for this opportunity.

My resolution, is to not only sit every day - but also to be in 'less resistance' to events that happen in my life.

And have a mantra of ''leave it, change t, or accept it' .... Where 'it' is the event happening .in the moment ..... As most of my self inflicted suffering is due to a habitual resistance habit to the present moment. (Whatever form t takes)

I think I will have less stress if I can truly incorporate this mantra into my life ....

Best Wishes, Alan

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks alan.
Indeed, almost all of the avoidable stress and suffering we add to life is basically resistance. Much of the dhamma could summarized as 'Pains, setbacks, frustrations and discomforts in life are inevitable; but our unnecessary suffering occurs when we try to avoid or escape these unpreventable experiences, seeking the shelter of short term diversions." The core of ending stress is learning to be with the unavoidable. We practice greeting all our experiences with compassion: "I care about this feeling/ I care about this pain/ etc."
Metta, j

flyrcairplanes's picture

I have made a resolution to meditate daily throughout the whole year but have a question. when I meditate I find that body twinges, brief pains, noises and other things come up that I notice. When I try and return to focusing on the breath it seems artificial like I am trying to exclude what is really happening. Is it "right" to meditate on the physical senses that you notice during meditation instead of focusing on the breath? Hope this makes sense.


Joshkorda1's picture

Thanks for your post.
Absolutely: meditation on the body and its sensations (the practice of which the buddha refered to as kayagatasati) is an essential vehicle in the development of concentration.
It's really not unusual for the mind to emphasize body sensations when we close our eyes and direct our attention to our inner experience. Often this occurs because we spend so much of our lives externally focused. (Though occasionally, these sensations can be the mind's way of distracting us from other, deeper feelings that need our attention.)
When attending to physical events such as twinges and brief discomforts, its skillful to observe the sensations closely, without adding unnecessary concepts or thoughts such as "pain," or speculating on why its occurring, etc. Just observe the actual sensations in and of themselves, noting how they arise, change, fade away, perhaps return again, etc.
The less resistance we add to this practice—even a subtle hoping the sensations will pass—the easier and more durable we'll find the experience.
Once we've become attuned to the sensations, we can extend the sensations of the breath into a region of the body to relax the sensations, or send metta-like phrases to a twinge or pain ("may you be at ease," etc).
Of course, developing the capacity to note and put aside physical discomforts, twinges, etc, in order to return to the breath or metta has benefits, but in my own practice I prefer to attend to body sensations rather than excluding them from awareness.
I hope the above is useful.
metta, j

flyrcairplanes's picture

thank you so much. that was very helpful

Russosharon's picture

Dear Josh, I have watched your retreat videos on here several times. I find new pearls every time I listen. At the ehd of each retreat session, you utter a series of phrases. Can you tell us what those phrases are and where we can find the text of them? Blessing to you Josh. I hope you are having a wonderful new year. Best regards and Namaste.

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks sharon (i hope that's correct)
"Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa"
is a 2,500 year old phrase in pali, paying homage to the buddha.
it means, roughly: "To honor the blessed, fully enlightened one."

By the way, the following sites have my buddhist related pieces & talks:
http://dharmapunxnyc.podbean.com/ (talks)
http://dharmapunxnyc.blogspot.com (writings)
http://dharmapunxnyc.com/BuddhaStyle-Web.pdf (my book)
https://www.facebook.com/korda.josh (my posts)

Russosharon's picture

Thanks josh! Namaste

tinalear's picture

I had a list a mile long. Resolutions. But they weren't, really. They were just a list of glorified "to dos." After much thought, it's come to this: During the year 2013, I'm going to just enjoy more of who I am in the world. Quit trying to be a better version of it. Just enjoy hell out of who I already am. Thank you for your work, Josh, and for this conversation.

Joshkorda1's picture

thank you tina! (I hope I've summarized your name correctly)

in addition to enjoying who we are, it can seem "paradoxical" that when we truly and deeply practice acceptance, it can often result in some wonderful changes in life. of course, its not a paradox really, in that the change isn't necessarily external, but rather a noticeable shift in how we relate to our day to day experience, and how much inner peace we experience.

letting go of the stressful agendas of "i must accomplish this or that" leads to a much more peaceful abiding—and it doesn't mean we don't get anything done. even without "musts" and "shoulds" we still get out of bed and live our lives, but we're not driven by fear or panic or a sense of "i'm only worthy if i get this done."

metta, j

tinalear's picture

That said, I've committed to participating in some significant, anonymous kindness every 1st of the month, and sojong every 15th of the month.

David Gould's picture

I am a hospital social worker, with the blessing of being able to support and care for people with illness, mental health and of course spiritual barriers to well-being. I find it easier to apply compassion, listening, and care for my patients, than I do for both myself and my family. I am really committed this year to supporting my daughter and son and wife, to be more present, to be calmer and to seek to share some of the lessons of the Dharma. It took me more than 2 decades to choose to come back to the Dharma, because of my own sense of failing, so continuing to nurture my own spiritual growth and life is a major focus also for 2013.

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks david!
yes, we're often more patient and forgiving with those we work with in a healing capacity, than we are with family members. and the more we understand neuroscience, its no surprise we're easily triggered by those we have a history with, or in situations where we've previously experienced stress.*
i've found that a key to discussing 'charged' issues with family members is to constantly monitor the body for areas that disclose stress and defensiveness are present—in my case a tight stomach, shoulders that tightened and shift up towards the ears, a locked jaw. noted, i relax and soften these contractions; i maintain ease by lengthening my out breaths; in short, if the body is relaxed, we're far less likely to be triggered.
metta, j

*it's largely the result of our hardwiring: the amygdala "remembers" the bare information we processed during previous unpleasant experiences, the faces, expressions, voices, situations where we've felt stress, fear, excitement, etc. (for example, a tense situation with a wife or child.) when a similar situation arises, the amygdala triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol secretion; the body goes into a state of defensiveness. the insula, in turn, reads the body's distress and sets the frontal lobe in a state of alert. it takes about 140 milliseconds to result in a defensive, stressful state, whereas conscious thought takes far longer —about three times as long—to arise. and conscious thought is far more likely to justify our physical state of tension than it is to override it and maintain calm.

jillianbo's picture

my resolution is to be more confident. I'm working toward seeing reality more clearly because in turn I'll be able to respond to reality more skillfully -- and confidently.
I can see that a lot goes into this resolution -- from not giving in to habitual ways of thinking to not giving in to another glass of wine.
it's that paradox that to stand on solid ground you have to shake things up a lot.

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks jillian!
there are many buddhist tools that help with building a sense of inner ease that leads to greater confidence in relating to others and challenging situations.
—in meditation, give awareness to the feelings behind your fears and insecurities; instead of being wrapped up by the stories they want to tell, just open to how fear and insecurity manifests physically, allowing the sensations to unfold without judgment. the more fear can arise and pass safely, the less sabotaging it will be in the rest of your life.
—a second approach is to write down everything fear has to say without editing, interrupting or debating it; often, after we finish, we'll see how distorted such thoughts are; we don't judge them as a result, simply see that they're not ideas we should empower by taking seriously
—reflecting on the times we've been virtuous (silanusati), our skillful accomplishments and helpful deeds (caganusati), all our friends (kalyanamittanusati)
—acts of service, helping others, making a difference in people's days, even if its just smiling and expressing gratitude wherever possible
metta, j

Cubist's picture

I want to get my wife meditating. I know how much it would help her. I have my 8 year old meditating. He has ADHD and it's calming him a lot, but he still gets frustrated easily, mostly because he's eight and doesn't know what to do with all of his energy.

I want to try and do a retreat this year, but not sure if I'll be able to afford and take the time off from my day job. I've incorporated Buddhist teachings into my writing blog and have had a lot of good responses. I've sat to meditate every day this year but 3 and those around me can tell the difference and they've been asking me a lot about meditation since I started talking about my son's meditation on Facebook.

I'm trying to enjoy everything more and live more for right now and not worry about the future or the past as much.

David Gould's picture

Thanks for the inspiration. Inspiration to work so positively with your son's ADHD. The discipline to sit daily. Seeing happiness in the here and now.

Joshkorda1's picture

indeed, focus on the present and cultivating gratitude are core tools for developping inner peace.
and yes, as we've experienced the value of meditation in reducing our stress, agitation and lack of focus while cultivating inner stability and calm, its natural that we want others to practice meditation, especially people we love who are stressed out or suffering. however, this can only be accomplished by attraction—being calm while others are caught up in life's storms and dramas—but not by promotion—telling people they "should" meditate. promoting meditation, ie actively suggesting to someone that they should meditate, generally backfires (those receiving the promotion can feel accosted, cornered, harangued), and it doesn't follow the buddha's example of refraining from proselytizing.
it may take longer for them to find meditation than we'd like, but the wait builds up our tolerance and patience, which are foundations of growth.
metta, j

modifythis's picture

practice more compassion towards myself

BlissfulDelight's picture

My resolution is to be more mindful of my speech. Especially at my job. It can be a challenge when you work with people you associate with that can start the hurtful words and you kind of jump in. So far I have had my slip ups but I am watching my tongue much more.
Blessings to All

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks for reminding everyone of how important it is to carry the precepts into every facet of life. we all struggle with the tendency to compartmentalize our virtue—allowing ourselves to become defensive or agressive at work when we wouldn't with friends or family, or vice versa. a precept is followed only when we make a commitment to sustain it in all directions, without limit.
metta! j

tchatchke's picture

Simplify. Listen. Really listen. Thank the difficult people in my life. Widen the circle. Laugh more, especially at myself. Short circuit the storyline machine (really need to work more on this one).

opayton2's picture

G'morn everyone. I would like to pay mind-full attention to Right Speech. To love rather than to dissect a situation. Just let it be and be happy>
Thanks for all the shares, it is awesome!

Joshkorda1's picture

thanks keri!
equanimity and mindfulness lie at the core of spiritual practice.
I feel its important to note that there are some unfortunate situations and relationships in life that become abusive or mutually harmful. work environments, for example, can become emotionally toxic, promoting ruthless competition or dodgy behavior. while these situations may not need great analytical dissection, they often require more than "allowing" or "letting it be," as sometimes we have to actively pull away and establish boundaries and space. this is what lies at the core of the Buddha's teaching on right livelihood, speech and action: not only do we refrain from causing harm, we also refrain from harmful situations that undermine our spiritual practice.
metta, j

matthazelrigg's picture

My resolution is to be mindful in everything i do.

mpoliver's picture

To keep mind more in the now.

shantit's picture

I have two resolutions both of which I've kept so far. 1. To be on time to things. I've been disrespectful to others by keeping them waiting with the excuse that I have a poor sense of time. 2. Not to interrupt while people are speaking, esp my husband. Another form of rudeness, which says what I have to say is more important than what you are saying.
Long ways to go.

Joshkorda1's picture

wonderful resolutions!
i find that truly listening is made easier if, when people are speaking, we scan the body for the physical stresses that arise when we want to speak, and breath in a way that relaxes these impulses. this works especially well when someone is expressing something with which we're not comfortable.
metta, j

sjursh's picture

my resolution is to be modest:)

patricia.annemac's picture

Deep gratitude, Josh for this opportunity to reflect and participate in a discussion on intentions. For me this new year began at the last winter solstice when I was unwell and life was slower as a result. I know my life is being led largely from unconscious reactions to patterns and tendencies. So I am drawn to make life more consciously available to me by allowing myself first thing in the morning space and time to be with more of who, really, I am. In this space I am enjoying what you called "a calm mind upon which a mindfulness that heals all wounds and opens the heart unfolds".
I liked what you said about important experiences are the ones that are timeless, unconditional and always avaiable to us. I receive this as a soothing balm upon my troubled mind.
I like your metaphor of juggling aspects of our lives as balls in the air, including practicing being calm mind. Very appreciative of the idea of perceiving the practice as the ground from which everything elset is made possible.
My intention is to show up regularly in this outer space I have created for myself so there is greater chance for calm and ease to unfold internally providing greater capacity, through connection to my true nature- unbounded, loving presence, to allow whatever arises to be embraced.
Reading your replies warms my heart as I feel your loving presence, deep listening to one and all, and last but not least, pragmatic reminders of practicing with what is unconditionally available to us.

Joshkorda1's picture

Hi Patricia
Gratitude for your kind remarks.
The metaphor of spiritual practice being the ground we stand on, giving us stability while we juggle all life's obligations and responsibilities, was something I heard the inspiring Than Geoff say, abbot of Wat Metta Monastery, whom I've had the great fortune to attend numerous dhamma study retreats with over the years.
The key to developing mindfulness that can allow everything to arise and pass with a calm compassionate awareness, is to develop an unconditionally available and easeful foundations for the mind to rest upon, a comfortable safe harbor that we can back into if what arises becomes to painful or overwhelming. Safe harbors can be the breath, body sensations, metta recitation , sounds and sensory contact, reflection on times of peace, and on. Develop at least three unconditional safe harbors for your awareness. These will be the ground you juggle the rest of life upon.
Metta, j

Eanne Spiotta's picture

Good evening, Josh. This is an interesting forum and I'm glad I found it!
I am a student with NYZCCC in the foundations year, planning to continue for my CPE credits this Fall. Will you be joining our classes at any point this year? How long does a "visiting teacher" visit? Many thanks.

Joshkorda1's picture

Hi Elizabethanne
NYZCCC is a brilliant, profound, run out of adjectives to describe my admiration, organization. I've known Chodo for decades now and consider him to be a spiritual giant from whom I've learned a great deal over the years. That he found a brilliant partner in Koshin only makes the organization more remarkable. I've been fortunate to send quite a few Dharmapunx to their training over the years.
As far as teaching there this year, I'd love to! I hope they'll do me the honor of allowing me to articulate, as I have for the last four years.
Metta, j

Syrena Tancerz's picture

First, thank you for being part of Tricycle. The online retreats have helped me so much in this last, very difficult year, and your talk on hungry ghosts really resonated with me.
In 2013 I would like to continue my resolution of seeing the world more clearly, as my preconceived notions, anxieties and tendency to denial have traditionally prevented me from being able to see past my own nose. And to experience things as they are, without feeling that it's my responsibility to get involved -- I'm often not the best person to do so, but often felt compelled to try to "help." I like what natmaia said about "Letting go and trying to embrace everything that comes." When I successfully do this, the world feels more full of possibility -- I would like to get to the point where I can fully embrace everything that arises without having to remind myself to do it.
What a great discussion! It's wonderful to be able to witness so many different aspirations.

Joshkorda1's picture

Much gratitude Elaine!
Letting go and embracing what arises is what the buddha referred to as "nekkhama" or the joy of renouncing that which doesn't work. The more we open to life, the flow of pleasant and unpleasant, the more tolerant we become, the less we have to intervene, which in turn makes us feel more peaceful.
...embracing everything rests upon keeping the body as relaxed and stress free as possible. regular body scans, noting where you keep anxiety and worry stored, noting how each thought affects the body, keeping the out breaths long and smooth, etc, create a calm, inner state. And a relaxed inner landscape is crucial, for carrying physical stress pushes us out of the body, towards the external world, making us more reactive.
metta, j

joleelacey's picture

Hi Josh
I have resolved to stop bailing my 28 year old son out financially. For the past 5 years I have lent him thousands of pounds and taken out bank loans to help him sort out his debts. I am still in debt and am not in a position (and never have been) to keep doing this. I have come to realise that I am so fearful of what might happen to him if he loses his flat as he gets very depressed and has a long standing dope habit and possibly uses cocaine. He is also a gay man who has found this difficult to cope with and is single and lonely.

I am beginning to understand that I cannot and am not responsible for his life and that he must stand on his own and sort out his issues, which I fear he never will (I have tried to get him help in the past). However I can not live a half life anymore, worried and fearful and broke.

Can you suggest anything that can help me to stop living in fear. I meditate everyday.


sifumanny56's picture

For what it's worth, Jo, I have had similar situations over the years with a couple of siblings and in-laws. It is difficult to know where compassionate help ends and enabling begins. I don't remember when I first encountered the concept of "idiot compassion," but it summed it up very well. Once I stopped automatically stepping up to offer financial help or a place to stay, the previously enabled found it necessary to stand on their own feet. Emergency help is always there for them, though I did not tell them so. And so far they've made it without me. Peace, Manny.

Joshkorda1's picture

Hi Jo,
Deep appreciation for your honesty and bravery. I can hear the powerlessness and sadness in your words.
A few thoughts follow.
Detaching with love means that we allow our loved ones to face the consequence of their actions. Once it's clear our rescuing strategies aren't working, we choose a strategy that works: allowing someone to face the outcomes of their actions. This is what's called seeing karma; its the ground from which growth and wisdom are built. We're not punishing someone by drawing the line on what's not working; we're redirecting each of us to act and relate differently.
Know that you're not alone; while each person's experience is unique in the details, the underlying emotional experience is certainly one that countless others experience. So many, in fact, that there are organizations, Al-Anon and Coda, that specialize in these types of relationships. Al-anon.org has information on electronic meetings if there's isn't a meeting near you, though my understanding is that they do have meetings in the UK.
I'd also suggest reading about the concept of co-dependency. There are many websites, online articles on the topic. There are suggested methods of dialogue between you and your son.
At the very least, if you feel compelled to get involved, before doing so make it a requirement that the topic be discussed in family counseling. Do some research into your community and see if there is low cost therapy available, or access to a good social worker.
I hope something in the above proves to be helpful.
Metta, j

David Gould's picture

Focusing on what really matters and understanding the transitory nature of all phenomena, including my own mental constructs. Simple loving-kindness, to my wife and children. Simple gratitude for life itself. Awareness of the profound need to help others who suffer. These are my 2013 aspirations.

Richard Fidler's picture

I've resolved to pay less attention to winning and losing. I cling to positive outcomes constantly: I drop something and I say, "Damn!" I get a red traffic light and I am frustrated. I forget something and I think my intelligence is declining. I get a spot on my clothing and I berate myself. The list goes on.

I resolve to take a more lighthearted attitude towards life, walking on without an emotional reaction whenever something good (or something bad) happens. It is certain I will continue to react to bad outcomes, but I can become aware of those reactions, not physically expressing my discomfort and upset. In time, within a few seconds I will recognize my habitual emotional reactions, moving on to the next thing without pausing. That is what I would like to accomplish this year.

Joshkorda1's picture

Very clear and expressed vividly.
As so many great teachers have taught me, being less reactive to life and it's continuous flow of pleasant & unpleasant events requires giving the mind something else, something worthwhile and safe, to focus on. I like to think of these as "safe harbors" for our attention; they involve developing a caring, interactive relationship with the breath and body sensations, keeping our inner experience as relaxed as possible; we can practice receiving sounds and external contact sensations without adding commentary or judgment; reciting calming phrases, such as those of Metta. The more we focus on what is unconditionally available, the less reactive we are to external conditions.

Richard Russeth's picture

So many amazing and wonderful resolutions!

"Do my best to do no harm" is my resolution for the year.


Joshkorda1's picture

Indeed. The Buddha taught that single aspiration summarizes the entire path.
Metta, j

guerreiro1959's picture

Josh, either from the Bowery or the forests of Thailand your teachings are always simple and profoundly inspiring! I follow them virtually from Quebec and wander whether you have ever considered paying a visit either to the Ottawa area or Montreal?

As for my intentions : as someone else said; continue to simplify, simplify, simplify and attend to what really matters which in itself allows me much more time for practice.

Maitri to you all!

Joshkorda1's picture

Metta and Gratitude Manuela!
Wonderful aspirations.
I would love to visit a Montreal insight center... I love the city and have travelled there on several occasions just for the vibe. I do believe Noah has taught there recently, enjoying it, and I've met wonderful folks visiting NYDPx from that area. And so many Canadian cities are appealing destinations. As I don't have the name recognition of the Buddhist teachers who can guarantee a turnout, so its unlikely I'll be able to visit in a teaching capacity, but I'm sure there are wonderful teachers making the rounds.
Again, thanks for your kind words.

tonyc827's picture

One of my goals for the year is to get more into the Dharma. My practice has been an evolution, bringing me closer to where I need to be. This year has been difficult due to my medical condition, however has brought me so much further in my spiritual practice. Between the 12 steps, meditation and the Dharma my understanding and gratitude has increased exponentially. I would like to find a teacher to really get into the nuts and bolts of it all. Tony

Joshkorda1's picture

Wonderful aspiration. While locating a teacher who resonates, if your medical condition imposes any limitations, i hope you take advantage of all the terrific resources that are now available via the web... There are sites like birken.ca, forestsanghapublications.org, audiodharma, accesstoinsight that offer vast databases of audio dhamma and free PDFs. Terrific teachers galore, like tarabrach.com, post each talk they give as mp3. Even as recently as the middle 1990s this wasn't the case... I remember the joy of locating a single audiocassette of a forest monk, and the disappointment of when the tape malfunctioned.
Metta, j