The Danger of Virtuous Intentions

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It’s the New Year and New Year’s Day is the perfect depiction of how good intentions can have a corrupting influence.  I’ve long thought it a little insane to go out on New Year’s Eve and party so hardy that you wake up already on the wrong side of accomplishing your goals.  It’s the “I’m starting a diet tomorrow so I’m going to ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may,’ ‘make hay while the sun shines,’  ‘Carpe` Diem.’” No matter that the over-indulgence has made the proposed goal that much more difficult to achieve!  There is just something about knowing you’ll be good tomorrow (or so you tell yourself) that gives you moral license to discard virtue today.

I get it.  I do it, too. In fact, I didn’t realize how often I’ve sabotaged myself with the promise of future virtue.  In fact, I do it on a daily basis.  Daily.  Some days it may be skipping my exercise, other days it’s a food choice or a choice to waste time playing games or watching TV.  I justify why, in the moment, I can’t do what I said I was going to do, in part, by promising myself, for example, that I will get on the bike later that day.  I never do, or least rarely: today was one of the few days I did but I’m also paying attention today.

The truth is that invariably when I chose vice over virtue, it is because I am riding the coattails of virtuous intentions.  Sometimes it’s because I have exercised recent restraint.  I was really good when I had breakfast this morning so I can cheat a little this afternoon.  No wonder I tend to stay at the same weight plateau!  The mere notice that I have lost a pound excited my inner derelict, as if making progress towards achieving my goal is license to undermine them.

In the past few years, I have embraced such lapses as opportunities for self-forgiven, as a way of purging myself from a lifelong habit of feeling guilty.  One of my goals is greater self-acceptance and that includes letting go of feeling bad about my very human ways of repeatedly working against myself. The Manual for Teachers says, “That forgiveness is healing needs to be understood, if the teacher of God is to make progress.”  So I don’t think that’s necessarily a “bad” practice.  (Of course, “bad” is a judgment, and I am incapable of judging rightly. “I do not know what anything is for.”)

Anyway, even if my self-forgiveness practice is working against me, I still think it’s progress.  But it also doesn’t hurt to be aware of how frequently I borrow against the future or ride on the coattails of the past.

It is the New Year, after all.  And the game is still rigged, so we can’t really do it wrong.  But we can make it easier or harder depending on which voice we choose to listen to.  Clearly it’s ego to choose vice.

Namaste, my friends, Namaste.

 

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