This was adapted from my teaching in honor of New Year’s Eve 2022.
The issues are relevant all year round.
When you turn the calendar from the Old Year to the New,
or even from one month to the next,
what does that mean to you?
Maria Popova, who curates a lovely website called The Marginalian,
shares her thoughts about the transition we call New Year’s.
“What is it about the human animal that impels us
to interrupt the elemental elegance
and perpetual incompleteness of a perfect ellipse
with an arbitrary point we call a beginning?
And yet here we are, once every three hundred and sixty-some days,
marking the start of a new year as gravity —
a force outside time and outside space,
acting instantaneously on each body across limitless distances,
holding the universe together —
goes on dragging our planet around an orbit with no beginning and no end.
Here we are, childlike in our yearning for a fresh start,
a thing with feathers perching on that arbitrary point in the ellipse.”
This idea that an old year is ending and a new one beginning is an example of how we humans assign some arbitrary point to an orbital ellipse that actually has no end and no beginning.
We do this to control what’s out of our control.
To take what’s unpredictable and make us feel that it’s within our orbit, in other words, more predictable.
Do you sometimes yearn for order, for predictability, for safety, for things to make sense?
I know I do.
We can’t control outer space, but we can work with our inner space.
And that’s what practicing mindfulness helps us do:
We can calm the chaos.
We can sooth the uncertainty.
When you focus firmly and gently on something,
you’re developing confidence about living with the often-unpredictable,
even chaotic, orbits of our lives.
You might be focusing with pinpoint awareness on one thing, such as breath, the cucumber you’re slicing, the story someone’s telling you, an article you’re reading.
Or you might open your awareness to encompass the ebb and flow of the entire universe of experience, i.e. breath, emotions, sensations, sounds, thinking, images.
Either way, you get to watch your attention wandering – and yes, it will wander–
And yes, you can get it back on track.
Doing this over and over trains your awareness,
And develops attitudes like curiosity, openness, flexibility, open-heartedness.
It also develops your confidence and resilience.
You learn not to identify with any experience that may impinge on you.
You are not your thoughts.
You are not your emotions.
You are not your sensations.
Realizing that is what ultimately sets you free.
Now, back to New Year’s:
Whether you flip the calender at the New Year, or the New Month, or the New Day – recognize that it’s an arbitrary point that we’ve assigned to the never-ending orbital ellipse.
But we still mark those transition points.
So, no matter when in the calendar year you read this, take a moment and reflect:
What has this past unit of time (year, month, or day) meant to you?
Is there one thing that you particularly want to remember,
to bring with you into the next unit of time?
And finally, take a moment to wish yourself, and all beings, well.
May we all be safe, and protected, from inner and outer harm.
May we all be happy,
May we let ourselves rest from that often relentless pressure to be bigger, better, more more more, and be content…
May we all love ourselves, flaws and all,
May we all be healthy – physically, emotionally, mentally – and heal from any afflictions.
May we all be free from suffering,
May we all be peaceful, and at ease.
And may each of us radiate all that goodness out into the world,
for the good of all beings, in all forms, everywhere.