Being Present in the New Year

A new year is here with the arrival of January, a month named for the Roman god Janus. Janus, who has no corollary in Greek mythology, is the god of thresholds and transitions, most often shown as a head with two faces: one looking backward and one looking forward. This is a threshold of a sorts in time, and we do traditionally spend some time looking back to the past and also forward to the future. Hence, the tradition of setting “New Year’s Resolutions”. Typical resolutions take the form of something like “Get in Shape”, “Lose 10 lbs”, or “Get the Budget Balanced”. For many of us, these well-intentioned plans to improve ourselves last for a few weeks and then we fall back into our old habits.

These sorts of resolutions are all about changing ourselves, and they fit in with our achievement and consumerist oriented society. I’m not opposed to a bit of self-improvement, but I think we may be overemphasizing that aspect. I’d like to suggest to you, instead, that you could look to this threshold time as a good time to ask yourself the question that poet Mary Oliver posed when she asked how will you spend your one wild and precious life? Instead of making a list of things to achieve, ask yourself how you would live to most truly enjoy the only time you truly have: Now?

There is an urban legend/parable about a businessman on vacation somewhere sunny and warm, who falls into conversation on the beach with a fisherman taking a break. The businessman starts to lay out ambitious plans for how the fisherman could make his business larger, get a bigger boat, hire more men to work, etc. The fisherman politely interrupts to ask why he would want to do all that, and after some thought the businessman says “well, so someday you’ll be rich and able to retire and live on a sunny beach.” At that, the fisherman laughs and says he already has those things, the way he lives now.

The two faces of Janus are missing something, with their focus on the past and the future. They are not looking at Right Now. Remember your past, and plan for your future, but in the meantime, are you living right now the way you want to live it? Can you be like the fisherman, content with your life as it is instead of working toward some future fulfillment?

This might be harder even than “lose 10 lbs”, but I challenge you to think about this deeper life resolution as you stand at this threshold of time.

Happy New Year!


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