Every[one of us] should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first of January let every [person] gird [themselves] once more, with [...] face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.
Doesn't it sound like a great way to live? These are the words, spoken by Henry Ward Beecher, offer the possibility of moving into a new year without the burdens of the past - letting ourselves be fresh, new, and optimistic as we take on the bright new day.
And the future can be bright. Whatever else we may encounter, as long as we draw breath,
there is always the possibility of joy and delight,
there is always the possibility of growth,
there is always the possibility of connection,
there is always the possibility of love.
But we often carry around with us a fog of woe that prevents us from noticing the good around us. And it can be so hard to put aside that fog or to put down the burdens that so weigh upon us.
Once, two monks were making a pilgrimage to a holy site - a place where they knew they would be closer to the divine. During the course of their journey, they came to a river where they met a beautiful young woman. She was dressed in expensive finery and she was afraid of the current and afraid of ruining her lovely clothing, so she asked the brothers if they might carry her across the river.
The younger and more meticulous of the brothers was offended at the very idea. He turned away with an attitude of disgust. The older brother didn't hesitate, and quickly picked the woman up on his shoulders, carried her across the river, and set her down on the other side. She thanked him and went on her way, and the brother waded back through the waters.
The monks resumed their walk, the older one in perfect equanimity and enjoying the beautiful countryside, while the younger one grew more and more brooding and distracted, so much so that he could keep his silence no longer and suddenly burst out, "Brother, we are taught to avoid contact with women, and there you were, not just touching a woman, but carrying her on your shoulders!"
The older monk looked at the younger with a loving, pitiful smile and said, "Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river; you are still carrying her."
What are you carrying?
Many of us carry anger. We have been hurt by people or other circumstances. Even when they are gone and no longer a danger to us, the feeling can remain. Anger bubbles up at unexpected moments - it can erupt like lava and to keep people away and keep us from being harmed again. That anger, which can keep love away, can be very hard to put aside.
Many of us carry envy or jealousy. Why didn't our lives turn out better? We see people who seem to have what we want - the relationship, the house, the job, the looks, the talents... And holding onto this envy, we cannot see the wonderful blessings that our ours.
Many of are burdened by shame and guilt. Things we have done - or things we even imagine we have done - haunt us. We turn our anger inward and continue to punish ourselves over and over. We may think that we are unworthy of good things coming our way and so we may push them away.
Each of the burdens we carry weigh us down and keep us from finding what we truly want and need in each new day. The New Year is just a change in calendar, but we do need a special time to take stock of what we are carrying and what we might set aside. This is a time that we have marked and set aside so we can prepare for change and see things in a new way.
One of Tennyson's poems included this line: "Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, Whispering 'it will be happier'..." It is up to us to determine if this will be true.
If we want the new year to be different from the previous one - freer, more filled with joy - there are two things we must do: we must do all we can to let go of that which holds us back and we must in a very deliberate way, welcome and celebrate every good moment that comes our way.
We now enter into a time and a practice for preparation.
First, I'd ask you to take some time to think about what it is that you want to set aside in order to enter a new year open to the greatest of possibilities. What is keeping love away, making you feel unworthy, or preventing you from noticing all the good things that come your way?
When you are ready, please come forward. Take a stone for each burden you wish to set down. The new year begins in about 36 hours. Carry these stones until - one by one - you feel ready to set them down. It may be here - at home - or in your travels.
Finally, let me give you a gift of a joy jar - one for each household. Over the coming year, record on a slip of paper each time you encounter a new joy. At the end of the year, we can each open our jars and review the many reasons to celebrate the year.