A New Year?


It’s always just beginning. Everything is always just beginning.

—Jakusho Kwong


We’ve just begun a new year. I’ve been asking myself what real significance that has, if any. It does matter for taxes, and it can matter for other kinds of financial reporting, but I’m really not sure what else it matters for. It doesn’t correspond to a new year of human life, except for roughly 1/365th of the population. It doesn’t correspond with the change of seasons, or the phases of the moon, or a new cycle of the zodiac. It doesn’t correspond with the new years of a number of religious traditions, such as Judaism and Islam, or of many cultures, such as Chinese, Korean, Thai, certain Native American tribes, Ethiopian, Yoruba, and Zulu, to name just a few. That covers an awful lot of people, yet much of the world takes December 31/January 1 to be something special, closing schools and businesses, toasting the new year with champagne, and making merry with sparkly hats and noisemakers. And some people make new year’s resolutions. I myself have a long tradition of spending a couple of hours on December 31 reflecting on the past year, setting intentions for where I want to be or what I want to have accomplished by the end of the coming year, and feeling what the energy of the coming year is like. After doing that the first time many years ago and then rereading what I had written at the end of the next year, I discovered that I had gotten it mostly right. I had completely forgotten what I had written the year before, but I found that I had either realized the intentions I had set or made significant progress toward them, and I had sensed the overall energy of the coming year pretty accurately. That motivated me to keep doing that every year on New Year’s Eve day, and since then I’ve continued to be amazed at how powerful it feels to look back and see how able I have been to go inside, beneath my mind, and see what’s there.


So New Year’s is artificial, but we’ve invested it with meaning. [That being said, just after writing this sentence, I read a moving piece by Esau McCaulley, a Bible scholar and professor, about Watch Night—the tradition in Black churches in America of gathering on New Year’s Eve to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863. He relates that the night before it went into effect, Black congregants held vigils and prayed for the freedom of the enslaved people. Professor McCaulley describes the celebrations he attended as a child and explores some of the ways in which they are relevant today. Like with so much of the experience of Black people in America, I had no idea about this, and it certainly offers one very profound meaning to New Year’s Eve that I have been ignorant of my entire life. You can read the piece at https://nyti.ms/3qyHykf. With a qualification for this newfound awareness, I will go on with the rest of what I have planned to write.]


New Year’s is a fresh start. If the year ending has been difficult, we hope for an easier year to come; if easy and joyful, we hope for even greater ease and joy. A new year can feel full of possibilities, wide open. We may feel optimistic and excited for what’s to come. Of course some people at some times feel the opposite, and the new year for them may not feel bright. But however it feels, the turn of the year marks a beginning, even if it’s a made up one.


That made up quality fascinates me. On the one hand, New Year’s is arbitrary, and consequently it feels a bit silly to make a big fuss over it. But from another perspective, it’s kind of brilliant. What I see more and more clearly through my meditation and yoga practices is how not only every year, or every season, month, week, or day, or even every hour, minute, or second is a beginning, but in fact every moment is the start of something completely new. In every moment, we can choose who we want to be and what we want to do.


Of course our minds tell us differently. Our minds are storehouses of everything we’ve ever thought, said, or done, and everything that’s been done to us, and they create a sense of continuity that can make us feel that we know what comes next unless we act to change it. We do act to change things at times, but often we just go along with how things seem to be, sometimes with a sigh of “well, that’s life,” or “we do the best we can,” or “maybe next time.” We may know we have the right to choose to change how we experience life, but we don’t always feel we have the power to do so. While there certainly may be external resistance or actual hurdles to change, the most significant obstacle comes entirely from the mind. The more we dwell inside, in the breath, in the body, as opposed to in the mind, the less potent the obstacles become. The mind still tries to tell us how things have been, how things are, and how things will be, but we don’t have to believe it or be controlled by it. The sense of continuity to life remains, but without the sense that it determines the next moment. We become free to be whoever and whatever we want, as our wants evolve over time, and the illusion of inevitability dissolves. In a sense we can be continually reborn. It’s exciting, and it feels great!


I wrote about this a few weeks ago after I got my nose pierced. I related how both then, and when I came out many years ago, my mind had been telling me many things, and I had been letting it influence how I acted and the choices I made. At a certain point, I let all that go and let myself become aware of a deeper wisdom, in my body. Up to that point, my mind had dictated how things were and how they would be in the future if I acted one way or the other. There was little potential for a new beginning in that. But connecting to my true self—spontaneously when I came out, and deliberately when I considered piercing my nose—opened the door to a fresh start. And that’s a practice I have utilized many other times in my life, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, including when trying to decide whether to start Full Body Freedom, what to write each week in this blog, and even what guidance to offer when I teach meditation sessions. What seems known and predictable can give way to the new, the unexpected, and the authentic. And when it comes through that process, there are no doubts and no self-consciousness. In effect, it’s a new world, a new life, available to us at all times.


We can experience every moment as New Year’s Day, wide open with possibilities and promise. The somewhat artificial meaning many people invest New Year’s with can be a model for how we approach every day, every hour, every minute of our lives. So Happy New Year, and Happy New Moment!

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