Happy new year

Category : General advice, Philosophy 1st January 2014

Inside Yoga 94 (1/1/2014)

A new day, a new year, a new dawn and that odd expression – a new beginning, will be heard all around today. And let me wish you a happy New Year too!

What is it however, that makes a new year so important? What is it that makes something a beginning? We have just passed through the darkest weeks of the year, when the winter equinox marks the shortest day of the year on December 21. It is similar to a death process, the dying of leaves, darkening of days, the end of the year.

And what follows is the freshness of a new year, a chance to make a change and a host of New Year’s resolutions for some of us; and of course the lengthening of the days each new dawn: a rebirth.

In Buddhism and other traditions which have reincarnation as a belief, it is written that nothing comes from nothing; something always comes from something. It is part of the teaching on inter-dependency which explains that everything is interconnected, for example, I need the ground to stand on – with no ground I cannot stand. Similarly, that is why the question in the zen koan asks, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

And in terms of a birthday or new year, there is no beginning, but a continuation, so there is not such a thing as a birthday. According to Zen master, Thich  Nhat Hanh, a birthday should really be called “continuation day”.

But that would be akin to Scrooge’s “bah humbug”, because we need celebrations, to honour, celebrate and remember something but also as a mark in time, which gives us a chance to pause, to take stock, and to adjust and revitalize our energy – both emotional and physical.

To make the comparison the way we mark New Year is similar to the Buddhist and Hindu belief in rebirth.  We have passed through a death process with winter setting in, sleeping more, and all the feasting (eating up all we have gathered in our life) so that when the new year comes we can enter it refreshed, re-awoken and revitalized with the enthusiasm to carry on with “a new life”.

This is where these moments in time can play its trick on us, because in reality, the new year will bring the same as the year before, in terms of routines, work, relationships (of course some of us make major changes) but the trick of the winter festive break and the new year celebrations is to make us think we have been reborn.

Though I might sound dismissive of this scenario, in relative terms we need these events in our lives because otherwise we will get bored, irritated by an apparent status quo, and prone to nihilistic thoughts.

In ultimate terms of the truth our existence one could say none of it matters, the New Year is not important, as moment to moment time just keeps on rolling forward, but that would be simply dull and puritanical.

The meditator learns that we enjoy the moment for what it is – a party and a celebration is enjoyed, the new year welcomed. In fact, why just focus on a new year or a birthday? Each moment is fresh and new, each moment is a new year, a new day and a new second. This is what is important to living a full life.

Waking up to every moment as it is a new one – it has never happened before. Like a child sees new things as wonderful and fascinating the point I am making is that we can choose if we want to celebrate every new moment or dread it – celebrate the New Year or hate it.

I say enjoy every moment as it is your first.

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