Do you usually set resolutions at the beginning of the year? Do you consider your intentions for this new period of time that lies before you - just begging to be shaped by your actions? Do you come up with an affirmation or a word for the year that may support you through challenges or situations that distract you from your goals? Do you meditate on your Sankalpa? For many, a new calendar year represents a rupture with the past, a renewal of sorts. It is often a time for celebration. For many, it follows a joyful period of gift-giving and spending time with loved ones. For others, it is a sad time marked by loneliness or financial or emotional strain. Either way, the new year can feel like a turning point.
I remember spending a great deal of time each December reflecting on the year that was ending and where I wanted to be after yet another spin around the sun. For a few years, my kids, husband and I prepared a family vision board depicting our future plans and goals. January is also usually the time when I start to play around with various sessions of Yoga Nidra - the yogic sleep where one contemplates their true nature and desires. I don’t have a specific tradition for marking the new year but I always end up doing it in one way or another…until this year.
To say that New Year’s Day snuck up on me wouldn’t be entirely accurate. However, it certainly came and went without much fanfare. There were a few COVID cases at my kids’ school right before the break so both our girls were in isolation until early January. Our holidays were quiet. We had no visitors and weren’t guests at anyone’s home. We didn’t go to church or even drive through the neighbourhood to see the Christmas lights. We enjoyed a lovely, albeit very low-key holiday season.
Last week, someone asked me if I’d set any resolutions. That’s when I realized that the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I started to wonder why. Then it hit me. I didn’t spend any time reflecting on 2021 because it felt like as much of a disappointment as 2020 had been. I didn’t set any resolutions for 2022 because I didn’t have much hope that this new year would be any different than the last.
In the lead-up to the holidays, we knew COVID cases were on the rise again and that we’d soon be facing restrictions. We knew businesses would be closing. Yoga studios would have to shut down. I knew getting together with someone, in person, for a coffee would become impossible. I knew the weather would keep getting colder and felt as though the future wasn’t teeming with possibilities as it once was. But isn’t it though? How frivolous is it of me to pre-judge the future and to take its very existence for granted? That’s a disturbing thought.
I’ve been reading the book “In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. The author is a Buddhist Monk who left his monastery and the comforts of the only life he’d known to live on the streets for four years. He wanted to strip himself of his titles, his robes, his identity in order to deepen his understanding of himself and his practice. The story is crafted in a way that highlights impermanence. Every reflection or lesson is told from the standpoint of awareness of continuous change, rupture, death and rebirth. The author explains how everything - our breath, our physical body, our perception of our identity, how we experience our daily lives - is ever-changing and impermanent. What we cling to as representing our “self” is a construct that may be comforting at times but can be abandoned - or die - because it doesn’t truly exist. It is but a conceptualization of our own making.
Rest assured that the author does an exquisite job explaining this in a way that I cannot. I’m not even going to attempt it further. The point I most want to share from this book is that impermanence offers us this opportunity for death and rebirth. I’m not speaking of physical death of the body but of a rupture with the habitual and the beginning of something different. Impermanence offers us a chance to choose what comes next. It enables us to see each moment, each breath, as a chance to do away with the old - those behavioural patterns that no longer serve, our attachment to places, people or things that cause us grief - and to reinvent ourselves. The book offered me what I’d been sorely missing as of late. It offered a new perspective and hope.
I believe the Universe provides signs and lessons at the precise moment we need them. When we miss learning or understanding the lesson, it comes back again and again until we get it. Some may believe this comes from God, the Creator, Spirit, Source or Fate while others may completely disagree that there is a determining force at play at all. I’ve come to believe that, for some reason I cannot explain, opportunities present themselves when I am ready for them. I’ve felt sad, exhausted, deflated, overwhelmed but I’ve never felt helpless for too long. I have faith that what I go through holds a lesson that will layer itself atop other lessons and help me face challenges in the future. Therefore, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I received this book for Christmas and that I started reading it at a time when I needed a reminder that dwelling on regret and disappointment over what might have been in 2020 and 2021 is a waste of time and energy.
My wish for you is that you remember that circumstances may not be what we would like them to be yet those are rarely within our control. What is within our control is our own choice, our breath and our actions. We don’t need New Year’s Day to celebrate reinventing ourselves. The power is ours every single second. I, for one, do not plan on wasting any more of it.