Friday, January 13, 2017

Reflection And Resolution

For many of us, New Year’s Eve is a festive time marked by (often too much) food, drink, and music in the company of someone special. If the prior year was an unsatisfying one, we celebrate its demise and departure in hopes that it will somehow exorcise itself from our memory bank. If it was one of satisfaction and benefit, we give thankful appreciation for the good in our life.

This festivity is followed on New Year’s Day by a more sobering day of rest, including a pause for the making of new resolutions for the forthcoming year. We make our resolutions to help us identify some aspect of our life we want to do differently, pay more attention to, or enhance in some manner. Often these center around our body – a  promise to  lose weight, to eat healthier, to exercise more. Sometimes we make more noble resolutions for ourselves: to be more thoughtful, kinder to others, or more engaged with our community.

Unfortunately, most of these resolutions fail, usually before the first month of the new year is done. They fail because we do the resolution part too easily, with little true commitment, confusing “wishing” with setting realistic goals, all built upon a weak drive of little Purpose. It is Purpose that gives our resolutions sustaining energy, and Purpose comes from a necessary investment in Reflection. Time spent in honest and genuine examination of our life, where we have been, and where we now are. That is why our first Resolution should always be to spend more time in Reflection.

In Judaism, this idea of Reflection leading to Resolution is formalized in the annual tradition of the High Holy Days around the Hebrew New Year. It is a time that honors the 40 days Moses spent with God on Mount Sinai receiving the replacement set of stone tablets. The first 30-days are spent in spiritual reflection, introspection, and prayer looking back over the past year. The High Holy Days then begin with Rosh Hashanah, the start of the New Year. Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the world, the day when God passes preliminary judgment on one’s life and determines his/her upcoming fate. Ten days (“Days of Awe”) are spent meditating on the meaning of the Holidays, identifying needed changes for one’s better behavior, and asking for forgiveness from those one has wronged. It ends with Yom Kippur, the holiest “Day of Atonement.” One’s judgement is thereby sealed based upon one’s atonement and repentance; for those who have atoned, the new year begins on a clean slate. 

These High Holy Days are performed within a specific structure of prayers, liturgies, readings, ritual and ceremony applicable to the Jewish tradition. But the intention and structure of these days can be borrowed and applied to one of any faith or belief system, adapted to one’s own personal structure and ceremony. It starts with creating deliberate intention and time to pursue one’s own period of Reflection, Atonement, and Resolution. Borrowing from the symbolism of Rosh Hashanah, we engage in this period not at the secular calendar New Year, but annually on our birthday – honoring our own “day of creation.” We question ourselves as to our life and how we are living it, not as oppressive judgment but in the spirit of atoning for our missteps, and changing our course towards fulfilling our better Self.

In meditation or in journaling, we pursue pertinent questions. For example:
1. What is my life about right now – my surroundings, my relationships?
2.  How has my life changed over this past year, and what were the significant events?
3.  Am I where, and am I doing, what I had expected at this point in my life?
4.  What is not going well, or has not turned out well, in my life thus far?
5.  What immediate concerns are pressing upon me?
6.  What is going well, or has turned out well, in my life thus far?
7.  What immediate positives are enveloping me?
8.  How often do I do something different than my usual daily routine?
9.  What am I secretly wishing I had time and opportunity to do for myself?
10. Who or what have I harmed, whether intentionally or unknowingly, and how could I have handled it better?
11. In what way, and how often, am I expressing the spiritual aspect of my life today?
12. RESOLUTION: What do I wish to emphasize in the forthcoming year, and in what manner, regarding my: family; friendships; job / career / work / vocation; personal well-being and development; sense of happiness and completeness; spiritual practice and connection to the Universe.

Out of these answers can come our Resolutions, now infused with insightful Purpose. Resolutions that can have a lasting effect on our lives. Resolutions that give real meaning to our birthday: a life renewed again. May you have happy birthdays and truly meaningful renewals on each anniversary of your creation. Your true New Year.

©   2017   Randy Bell