Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Years Day: Holding on to what is Good

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of existence:
The bliss of growth,
the glory of action, the splendour of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.

words attributed to Kalidasa, a 3rd century Indian author.

New Years Day is a time for new beginnings, a time for hope of what might be and a time to reflect on what has been before us. And yet it is just a day, much like any other day really. The sun has risen, as it has always risen and in a few hours time it will set, as it has always set.

As we look out into the unknown future, it has become our custom, on this day, to resolve to do things differently than we have in the past. We make New Year’s resolutions and begin to practise them, on this day. The problem is of course that we rarely keep them up; we quickly slip back into those old habits.

I wonder if this will ever work. I suspect the reason it doesn’t is that we focus too much of our attention on the negative, on what is wrong. Perhaps what we ought to be doing is focusing on what is healthy and good and actually work and practise these habits. Maybe by focusing on what is wrong all that we end up doing is actually strengthening these weaknesses and give them more power.  Perhaps the problem is that we spend too much time living in our problems, as opposed to living in the solutions to our problems. By doing so are we actually strengthening the destructive aspects of ourselves as opposed to our compassionate sides? As I keep reminding myself - the wolf that wins is the one that we feed.

Life is constantly changing, nothing ever stays exactly the same, and no moment is like any other. Each of us experience these moments differently too; we each bring our pasts with us to each moment and this always impacts on the present. We cannot completely let go, nor should we. Yes we need to let go of what stops us living as best we can, but we also need to hold on to what is healthy, that which feeds and nurtures us. We need these lifelines to live happily and healthily.

But what is it that we need to develop? What should we hold on to? What do we need to nurture in order to live healthy and happy lives? And what are the lifelines that sustain us, when life seems really tough?

Paul of Tarsus, in the 13th Chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians names three truths that can hold us through any of the storms of life. These truths are secured, they are rock solid, they are eternal and they are of course universal. We can hold on and depend on these three, but only if we nurture and strengthen them. Something we will find difficult if we focus all are energy on what is wrong with us on what we must let go of. Actually we may well find that our troubles begin to disappear as we develop these three.

And what are these three? 

They are faith, hope and love.

And what do these three mean?

Faith is about trusting in life itself; it is about living as openly and honestly as possible; it is about accepting that there is pain in life, but that there is also so much joy; it is realising that the mere fact that we exist at all is life’s greatest gift. This allows us to sing the joy of living, in all its mystery. It is also about seeing that we are all in this together and that we need to connect as much as possible to the life in which we share. We need to ensure that this lifeline is secure and not worn or frayed at the edges. This is something we need to hold onto and not let go of. Why, you may well ask? Well because it sustains us through the vicissitudes of life. Life does not offer much certainty, but we need not despair at this. Again you may ask why? Well because from despair grows hope.

Hope is the second of those eternal, universal truths. Hope is rooted in despair; it grows from the same place. To live in hope is to believe that if we live with conviction and compassion that we can effect positive change in our world, even if we ourselves do not get to see its full fruition. Hope is about planting those seeds when and where ever we can. This is why I committed to leading the 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life Reading groups in the congregations I serve. It was an attempt to develop the connection to our compassionate natures and therefore improve our own lives and those around us.  I have faith in the hope that Confucius’s concentric circles of compassion can bear fruit in our age and that by developing our compassionate natures we can go out into our communities, our regions, our countries and even our world and be the change we want to see.

To live with hope is to live with the attitude that the future is genuinely open. The God of my understanding works with us and guides us but leaves life open, it is not pre-ordained. “The Lure of Divine Love” draws us out of ourselves, but it also allows life to develop freely. I accept that the past does have power, I have a strong sense of history, this is very important. That said I do not believe that the past defines the future, not everything is inevitable. The future is unwritten.

Life is definitely a journey worth taking, even during its toughest moments. Yes we all despair at times and we all live with uncertainty, but the beacon of hope is always there. This brings to mind a line in from "Proverbs" “Where there is no vision (no hope) the people perish.” Hope is a vital lifeline it both holds and sustains us. It is an eternal and universal principle and one that requires nurture. It is all about love.

But what is love? How can it sustain us? By the way I am not talking of romance here; I am talking of spiritual love, self giving love. Spiritual love is that power that connects us to our true selves, one another, the life we share and whatever it is that connects all life. What I myself call God; that power that is greater than all and yet present in each. Love is about caring deeply and passionately about life itself. This of course requires attention; it is a life line that requires nurture. Love reminds me that we do not live for ourselves alone or by ourselves alone. “no man is an island” or as Kurt Vonnegut once put it “one human being is no human being”. The universal and eternal truth is that we need the love, the care, the companionship of others in order to fully experience what it is to be alive. By ourselves we are never fully alive.

So my New Year’s message this year is not really about letting go, it’s actually about holding and developing those lifelines that sustain and nurture us. Instead of focusing on the problem, let’s focus on the solution. Remember the wolf that wins is the one that we feed. Therefore if we spend our time focusing on the problem we may well end up making it bigger than it actually is; where as if we simply feed and develop our compassionate sides, thereby feeding the solution, the problem will simply wither away and die.

Whatever this year brings us, let us resolve to develop lives of faith, hope and love and be the change that we want to see. The future truly is unwritten, no one knows what tomorrow will bring.

Lao Tzu once said:

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbours.
If there is to be peace between neighbours,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

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