Monday, December 31, 2018

Year Out, New Year In

Yet another year comes to a close. Like all other years before it, this year has told its own unique story, filled with its own unique actors and actresses. Has there ever been before a year like this one? Our history books may say some yes, perhaps some better and some worse. But our minds remain doubtful; could anything like this experience have preceded us?

As we ruminate over this latest movement in time and our unique role in it, we do well to remember that this year that is ending is 2018. Meaning that there have been 2,018 years that have ended before this one, each with its own story to tell. But even “2018” oversimplifies that measurement, since it only  reflects the Western/Gregorian calendar used predominately in Western Europe and the Americas, thereby ignoring all the years, centuries, millennia and eons of the past.

Time and calendars usually seem to be concrete concepts around which our life is defined and structured. In reality, they are merely insubstantial man-made gimmicks to help us better understand some piece of that which is essentially unknowable. Our “western” calendar measures the length of an era that has been passing since the death of Jesus of Nazareth 2,018 years ago. The Chinese similarly measure their calendars based upon the beginnings of eras of various emperors, their multiple calendars starting in variable years as late as 2156BC or 2698BC. The Jewish calendar begins its new year 163 days after Passover, celebrating the creation of Adam and Eve; this upcoming fall will be the Jewish Year 5779. The Islamic calendar reflects a 12-month year of 354 days; August will begin the Islamic year 1440. What is inescapable is that our one year 2018 is but one pebble in a vast sea of stones. Time may be a reality, but our connection to time is entirely relative. Like many things in life, our measurement of time is not absolute, but simply a human construct, shaped and defined by how we choose to see it.

By whatever calendar we employ, the end of one year simultaneously gives rise to the beginning of another new year. A year that will ultimately be what we choose to put into it – singularly and collectively. For most people, those choices will be built on Hope. Hope for a better, more peaceful existence on this ever-shrinking planet of diverse humanity. Inherently, human beings are an optimistic species, even as their life faces continual attempts to shatter that optimism. While we should be cold-eyed in our understandings of life’s realities, it is Hope – the belief that life has the potential to be made better – that keeps us moving forward in spite of the grievances and disturbances that befall us. It is Optimism that moves Hope into action, our belief that much more can be achieved if we just continue to try. And Optimism leads us into Faith – which is Hope transmuted into Certainty.

Each new year offers us the opportunity to reflect on where we have been, where we now are, and where life is opening for us to go next. Our hope for a life made better, our optimism in its achievability, and our faith in the greater purpose within which we live, carries us into yet another new time of exploration, of doing. May your “doing” in this upcoming year bring you happiness, fulfillment, compassion, and new understandings beyond your wildest dreams. And may we be less judgmental and harsh, and instead be a positive force in bringing happiness, fulfillment, compassion, and new understandings to all.

©   2019   Randy Bell     

Thursday, December 6, 2018

I Am, I Do

“Who are you when you do not exist?
Who were you before you were born – and after you die?”
Thomas Merton, 20th century monastic and spiritual writer

When was the last time you updated your resume? I have often recommended to people to do this whether or not they are in an active job search. There, on one or two pages, is a succinct, outlined statement summarizing some key parts of our professional life. It documents what we have done; where; with whom; and when. It recounts what we learned, the skills we acquired, and what we contributed to the well-being of others. If done on a regular basis, it also points out the directions and changes in our life since the last writing. A resume can be a valuable insight into how our life has been unfolding.

Perhaps you have also incorporated personal, non-work aspects of your life into a more complete highlighting of the various outcomes of your life’s journey: decisions made, paths taken, the stepping stones of our spiritual travels, and the consequences thereof. Such a resume reflects the facts and chronology of our life, the basis of answers to a job interview, or the awkward first date, or the social interactions at the cocktail party. Yet if utilized openly and properly, it can also be a guide to assessing the growth and maturation of our life’s spiritual journey.

Over time, we add a lot of “stuff” onto our resume, some by conscious decision, some from “outside” consequences (often seemingly random occurrences). As a result, we have accumulated many layers of “being” stacked up over our lifetime. We have worn many hats representing the things we have done, the roles we have played, the relationships we have maintained: child, parent, sibling; student, worker, manager, leader; friend, confidante, lover; donor, civic contributor. Some of these hats were worn for a long duration; others were a mere blip in time. They all represent a ceaselessly busy, full life of “doing.” Collectively, we believe they make up and define “who we are.”

But do these specifics really constitute who we are? What if we reversed course, and read our resume backwards? What would happen if we began subtracting, rather than adding, each of these individual line items, taking off each one of those hats one by one? Who is left then?

Our resume shows us that all the roles and accomplishments of our life were merely transitory, temporary stops in our overall journey. After we strip away each singular thing of our life, who do we discover back at the beginning of that resume? Who were we there at “Step 1,” when we were spiritually naked, unadorned by the many costumes we accumulated later. What if we had made different choices at the many forks we encountered in the road traveled. Did our life choices change who we were at Step 1?

We spend much time and energy in pursuit of what we seek to be – our “becoming” – rather than simply our “being” who we truly are. The question we often grapple with – often unconsciously – is whether there is a fixed “I” that runs through all of the subsequent versions of “Me.” In the transitory versions of Me that play out in our life, is there one constant that was there at the beginning? And if so, has our life journey been consistent with that beginning I, fulfilling the promise and intention of that constant? Or have my successes of doings buried me within a patchwork, crazy-quilt version of Me unrecognizable and incompatible with my original I?

What we “do” is not really who we “are.” Doing is a picture we paint that overlays the original design sketched on our blank canvas. When we scrape away the many layers of our self-applied paint, what tracing do we see remaining underneath – that original I?

When we remove all of the labels we have sewn onto our spiritual vest like merit badges; when we take down the many billboards we have built proclaiming to all who (we think) we are; when we stand naked in the spiritual spotlight of our own True Self – who do we see? When we accept that what I do is not really Who I Am, it opens up a vast expanse of creative opportunity for Who I Am to explore.

©   2018   Randy Bell