Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Muse on life’s mysteries when considering resolutions

Photo Gallery: New Center Circle, birds and Camellias at Descanso Gardens
Joe Puglia visited Descanso Gardens on a recent day where he sat near a pond to pen his thoughts on New Year’s resolutions. Above, a green heron fishes at Descanso in January 2018.
(File Photo )

The waning days of 2019 are reflective moments, and I can’t think of a better place to spend such than early morning walks in Descanso Gardens, a Southern California treasure. Typically, I walk without purpose amid a dark green canopy ablaze with a palette of color: reds, whites, purples, yellows and greens. They beckon me to step deeper into a labyrinth of soul-scented ancient earth smells; an exquisite humus of leaves, needles, flowers and twigs made richer by recent rains.

I find a bench in my favorite meadow, near a quiet pond. The air carries a unique orchestration of chirps, reminding me the birds are going about their daily work. Descanso Gardens, in our collective backyard, has never been more radiant than this morning.

A visit to Descanso is a commune with nature, but my thoughts have a purpose. The advent of 2020 is a time for reflection.

I recall my first New Year’s resolution. I was 16 and resolved to win the bantamweight division of the Golden Gloves. A year later, Red Barsone TKO’d me in the final round. It’d be a while before I’d make another.


This transition from December to January is a time for measuring what one has learned, not just in the previous 12 months, but along the winding and unpredictable roads you’ve traveled. The Romans understood this when they decided to mark the evolution of the new year in a month named after their god, Janus.

Janus had two faces so he could look ahead toward the future and back in the past. This mythology tells us that as we rid ourselves of the old year, we look toward the new year and anticipate an enhanced self, as we recognize and correct the shortcomings of the past. Thus, the New Year’s resolution was born.

The earliest historical account of such musings evolved from the Babylonians, 2,000 years before the Romans. Aristotle believed it is inherent in all humanity to be more than what we are. The new year resolution is hardly a mere nicety.

Time has no divisions to mark its passage. New Year’s Eve is like any other night; there is no pause in the earth’s orbit or breathless moment of silence signaling the passage of another 12 months. However, none of us has quite the same thoughts this evening. There is indeed something unique about recognizing the potential of a new beginning.


Simply making a resolution is not the panacea. Often, the commitments we make to better ourselves last no more than three weeks. To find our vision of life takes more than a new year’s resolution. It takes a decision, then a commitment and finally a series of sustained actions.

Thoreau expressed it best: “We decide to lead the life that we envision, a life of deeper consciousness.”

We commit to one way of living versus another, either living deep meaningful lives or surface unconscious ones. The way we experience life is not just the way it is. It’s the choices we make. Through conscious decisions and conscious endeavors, Thoreau believes we can advance toward a life of more connection, meaning and fulfillment. In the process, we smell more roses. I think that’s the way it’s done.

If you seek the mysteries behind life you’ll always be improving and growing. So when you consider New Year’s resolutions keep in mind that the need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.

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