New Year has cultural significance: a fresh start or the anticipation of something different. We can take advantage of this cultural reset button to make some needed changes in our lives. But let’s not forget that we can reset our wise intention and wise effort in every moment of our lives. We are always in a pivotal moment!
If it doesn’t feel that way, it’s because we are caught up in what the Buddha called the Eight Worldly Winds. We feel tossed about by conditions we have no control over, like a ribbon in the wind. The ribbon flips from one side to the other just as our moods can flip from hope to despair, depending on what we anticipate in the future in our personal lives and the world.
But let’s look at this ribbon more closely. What is it tethered to? The future. Or, more accurately, our idea of a future. Whether we imagine the future to be bleak or bright, what we imagine writes the script of our lives and our moods. Tethered to our imagined future, we feel like victims of circumstance, helplessly tossed about. But we are not just the external events that happen to us. What matters is how we handle what arises and what skills we develop to meet challenges and greet blessings. If we are tethered to our imagined future like a ribbon flipping in the wind, we feel helpless. But if we live fully in the present, each moment is a gift tied up with a bow. Now that’s a better way to use ribbon!
Another visual image that can help us understand the true nature of being is shared in the Sigalovada Sutta. Picture this:
Each of us is at the center of a sphere of reciprocity. In all directions, we have relationships with family, friends, teachers, neighbors, etc. We take care of ourselves, cultivating compassionate awareness and strong ethical behavior. We treat each of our relations with kindness, respect, and generosity. We see the reciprocal nature of these relationships. A person treated well is much more likely to treat others well. For example, a pleasant exchange at the checkout counter benefits the checker and us and radiates out to benefit the next customer and the next. Goodwill or ill will ripples out in all directions. We are powerful beyond measure. And we always have a choice. If we choose to live fully in this moment as a gift, it keeps giving. If instead, our focus is on getting out of the store, off the phone, out of traffic, or out of a conversation, we create rippling misery.
Perhaps we feel our despair is justified, and maybe we are suffering. It might seem easier to get lost in the suffering, easier to give up to despair. But true joy doesn’t depend on hoping the future will be bright. It depends on us opening the gift of this moment, just as it is. And we might remember that there is no single point that is ‘the future’, just a constant state of flux where causes and conditions change.
So no, we are not ribbons tossing in the winds of fortune, always tethered to some imagined future. The choices we make in this moment matter more than any prediction we might hear. We are creating the future with each word and action.
So, sure, if it helps, use January first as a fresh beginning. But remind yourself again and again that every moment of every day is a fresh beginning. Every moment is a perfect opportunity to check in with the Eightfold Path and ask yourself:
- What is my intention here?
- Is my effort balanced?
- Am I being mindful?
- Am I anchored in wise view, recognizing the nature of impermanence, the intrinsic interconnection of all life, and how greed, aversion, and delusion cause suffering? (anatta, anicca, and dukkha — the Three Marks of Existence in Buddhism)
- Are my words true, timely, and kind?
- Are my actions beneficial for all beings?
If so, then the future is in good hands. Yours!