It is upon us, the passing of the old year, the beginning of one new. There is beauty and renewal in the ceremony of beginning a new passage of time. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
And now let us believe in
a long year that is given to us,
new, untouched, full
of things that have never been.
For me, the power of a new year is in this feeling of possibility, of there being so much new and untouched that is spread out before me. I believe in the power of a reset and the new year gives us just such an opportunity.
For me the new year is among a number of time markers in the year that allow me to take stock of my life and my practice. These markers have become a time in which I pause to ask questions like, Am I living in a way that feels honest? Am I making choices that honor my truest self? Am I making choices that will serve to strengthen me and my world? This isn’t a much different practice than when I scrambled each new year for resolutions to perform new tasks; to change old habits for new ones. Now, though, I force myself to listen honestly to the answers. While I would love to believe that I have lived every moment of the previous year as a socially responsible and compassionate individual, in honest recall I am forced to also acknowledge the moments I’ve not acted as lovingly or have been as fully aware as I’d like; to look at choices I have made that have weakened me in some way.
What seems to be the defining part of this process, the questioning or the resolution making, is the pause. Recently my teacher, Kim Manfredi, said that every yoga practice should begin with the act of listening. For me, this sort of listening requires a stillness, a pause, that enables me to hear what is genuinely going on in my body, my mind, my life, as well as the willingness to welcome whatever comes up, even if it feels negative. In allowing myself the space to listen deeply, I uncover the truth of what really is. So by this, I am not creating resolutions that will make me a different person at all. I am asking questions meant to uncover parts of myself that have become hidden, dimensions that when discovered enable me to be more fully who I already am–a socially adroit and compassionate, love-filled person.
It is difficult in our world to create this kind of pause, and ever more difficult to create the space that makes deep listening possible. Hopefully, the practice on the mat or that of meditation makes this more available. However, even during these times we are often so imbued with the voices and desires of others, the tasks that must be accomplished, the exhaustion that is like a sickness, that it is difficult to tune inward. The practice of making internal space is essential to uncovering our best self. Attending to stillness in the mind, to using the breath to help create this pause within us, and continuing to ask questions of ourselves must be practices to which we dedicate ourselves. Patanjali explains in the Yoga Sutras, verse I.14 that “practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” This is not a path of ease; rather, it is one that requires supreme dedication and devotion.
And so this vast expanse of a new year is now before us. What we make of all that is new and untouched, of that which has not yet been, is up to us. We have the choice to make promises in January that we forget by March. Or we have the choice to learn the art of the pause, a devotion to practicing listening. And in this space, there lives the opportunity to listen for a new kind of awareness that can facilitate lasting change. Not to say that just because we devote ourselves to practicing and finding stillness will we have a “perfect” year free of challenges and foibles. What we may create, though, is the space to notice when things arise, to welcome these visitors as guests that come to teach us something new; as persistent visitors who perhaps enable us to touch a previously untouched part of our self.