Although it is in some senses an arbitrary date, created by the whims of Emperors and Popes, we are at the cusp of the old year and the new. In many senses it’s more meaningful to mark the winter solstice, and yet here we are. We are steeped in the culture that made us and so naturally tonight feels significant.
As well as celebration the New Year is a time for reflection and contemplation. What was the old year like? What will next year be like?
I know the pitfalls of making resolutions. We fix our minds to some goal, put great energy into changing and then at some point it all falls apart. My rule of thumb is that if it requires a small push it’s probably okay, but if it takes a big push we should be mindful that other parts of us will probably push back at some point…
Perhaps more useful than resolution is inquiry. I recommend the question, “What is at the centre of my life?”
The first thing I notice is the gap between what I would like to be at the centre and what is actually there. One way of finding this out is to ask, “How do I actually spend my time?” There are a limited number of days in the year, and hours in the day. What do I give them to?
The second thing I notice is that there is more than one answer. I do not circle a single significant thing but rather follow a path circumscribed by the weight of different things, like a comet following the path that gravity dictates around the planets of our solar system.
For Buddhists the most profound thing to have at the centre is the Buddha. Or perhaps the essence of Buddha. What is that? It is unconditional love —a natural springing up of love that wishes only for the wellbeing of all beings.
If we find ourselves excluding some individual or community of beings from that love, then the Buddha has slipped from the centre and something else has taken its place. This is how it is to be human. Sometimes we centre around love, sometimes around fear and sometimes around some mix of the two.
There is real value in finding out what is actually there at the centre. Sometimes when we see clearly what we are circling — worldly status, money, permanence and so on —we see the value in letting it go. There is real value in keeping an eye on the Buddha as well. As we begin to trust that love, naturally we begin to swing into its orbit.
Some Buddhist practices are about investigating what is really there. Some are about giving our attention to the Buddha, and some are about celebrating that the Buddha is always waiting for us.
So tonight and tomorrow I will spend some time investigating this. I encourage you to do the same.
In the meantime, best wishes and happy new year