~This is the darkest hour of the dark ages. Disease, famine and warfare are raging like the fierce north wind…The various schools of the sangha are fighting amongst themselves with sectarian bitterness; and although the Buddha’s teaching was perfectly expounded and there have been many reliable teachings since then from other great gurus, yet they pursue intellectual speculations…the yogis of tantra are losing the insight of meditation.They spend their whole time going through villages and performing little ceremonies for material gain. – The Sadhana of Mahamudra, by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: a generational mission; a compelling moral purpose; a shared cause; and the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge. ~ Al Gore.
~It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. ~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
The Winter Solstice is the darkest, shortest day of the year. It also marks the return of the light that makes all life possible. Soon, it will be 2014. We only have a few, precious, fun, hard years to live. Let’s live with integrity, let’s make the tough choices, let’s do the right thing.
New Year’s Eve is always a night for a big party, when the famous old (new) LED-lit ball in Times Square drops, everyone blows kazoos and smooches (or, if they’re lucky, they get lucky). And mixed in the reverie is sadness, and loneliness, and darkness—not bad darkness, but a remembrance that life is finite.
And another year has drained out of the hourglass: this short, singular, precious human life: 2014 represents a chance to make a few changes so that we might better benefit others, and our planet.
Half-empty: 2014 is upon us…and our world, scientifically-speaking, is going to hell in a handbasket. Our world is, like a whirlpool, encircling upon itself in ever-faster, tighter downward (upward?) spirals.
Half-full: 2014 is upon us…and never before have we had connection so easy, Beethoven and the Beatles just a click away…never before can we travel the world with ease, access the ancient traditions of yoga and Buddhism with genuine, thoroughly trained teachers…never before has media been so democratized—just a free blog away, personal slash mass communication is at our fingertips.
As yoga teacher Richard Freeman said when I interviewed him with Rose Taylor at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House 11 years ago, just after I’d started what became, briefly, a national magazine, and now a web site, it’s a horrible, challenging era—and he wouldn’t trade it for any other epoch in human history.
It’s a time for ordinary heroes, for good parents and community activists, for those concerned not only with their own family but with leaving the world just a little bit better for the next seven generations.
So what can you do, if you’re concerned 1) about being truly happy inside and 2) helping everyone else and the outside world to be truly happy and healthy?
Here’s my (off the) Top (of my head) 10 Mindful New Year’s Resolutions list—submitted at your feet for consideration among any other New Year’s resolutions (please submit your own, below).
1. Meditate Two Minutes every morning: Or more. Meditation, no matter your religion, is simply mind training: helping you to be in the present moment, helping you not to get caught up in your own bullshit, complaining, storylines, or hopes and fears. So whether it connects you more closely to God, Allah or just the good ol’fashioned present moment, it’s gym for the mind and heart.
2. Don’t fill the Gaps: gaps between activities allow our minds to reopen, expand and have original, often time-and-effort-saving big ideas. So don’t walk with your head down, lost in thought. Don’t just text and call folks when you’re driving or waiting. Don’t read your dumbphone when you’re on the can. Allow a little space in your life. Doing nothing, as a great Buddhist teacher once said, is the foundation for doing anything—and it’s one thing we Americans are really, really bad at. So let go of one or two minutes of entertainment a day—and look out upon this life and world.
3. Own your Karma—it’s fun, God knows why. Think about everything you do, and the effect (positive and or negative) it has. Take responsibility for it. That’s why the Green movement, personally speaking, is less a fad than a way of life for me—as a Buddhist, I’ve sworn to try and take responsibility for being of some benefit to others, and our planet (all sentient beings, is how we put it)—and if I’m mindful of what I’m doing each day and minute, I’ll naturally want to support local businesses, buy fair-trade, buy organics, recycle, turn lights off, compost, ride my bike…and have a good time doing so. It’s not about being perfect, pure, or righteous: it’s about caring.
4. Exercise: physical movement for at least half an hour a day, every day, is not only good for your health (duh) it’s good for your mind, your heart, your emotions…it gets everything going and flowing, and gets your mind off of work or family or whatever it’s become unhelpfully stuck upon. The key to continuity? Do something you enjoy. I enjoy bball, climbing, yoga, biking, the occasional visit to the gym (and their hot tub and sauna). In the last few months I stopped exercising almost entirely, however, and found it hard to get myself to do any of the above. So how’d I get myself back on the tracks? Got a few friends to join me.
5. Pets. If you’re going to get a pet in 2014, get a rescue. Why? Right now, in the US, we’re perpetuating an animal Holocaust every year…we kill 8 million dogs and cats in the US alone because so many folks choose to buy from breeders or pet stores. Fact is, you can find almost any breed if you look on petfinder.com…as for training and temperament issues, just watch the Dog Whisperer and you’ll realize that purepreed or mutt, 99% of the situation is your problem—meaning you can solve just about anything once you know how to.
6. Eat Meat only occasionally—and when you do, know where it comes from and how it was treated while it was alive (fed antibiotics? Free-range? Or factory farm?). Make like Michael Pollan and eat plants, mostly. You don’t gotta be an overbearing, righteous hippie zealot—it’s simply better for you, esp now that fish is so full of mercury it’s now a no-no in all 50 states for pregnant ladies. So not only will you be sparing the occasional life, and taking a load off your health, but you’ll be really, really enjoying the meat and fish you do eat, instead of just casually enjoying it /slash/ taking it for granted.
7. Green clean your home. The average American home’s air is more polluted than the outside air, even in metropolitan areas. That’s largely due to your undersink areas having more chemicals than the average laboratory pre WWII, when, subsequently, chemical warfare companies turned their attention to the domestic market (Agent Orange fertilizer, anyone?). So go eco—there’s lots of mostly far cheaper solutions, some of them time-tested (vinegar, baking soda, hot water), some of them brand spankin’ new, that’ll do the toughest jobs without leaving behind lots of toxic, cancer-related chemicals in your home and our waterways and air.
8. Make your next shower curtain non-PVC (I bought affordable organic hemp, cotton or linen curtain off ebay). PVC is connected with cancer—it’s all bad, through and through. Keep it away from children (many rubber duckies and other toys are made of PVC!) and out of bathrooms, where heat and water make a toxic combination, at the least.
9. Right livelihood. Whether your job is of boring, local benefit (plumbing) or glamorous, far-reaching benefit (ecofashion) doesn’t matter. Just try and synch your morals and what you spend 8 hours a day, or more, doing. This isn’t obvious as it sounds—if it were, we’d all be doing something we believed in. Life is short: make 2014 the year when you want to jump out of bed in the morning.
10. Call your mom and dad and work out any nagging issues. Personally speaking, I haven’t historically been around my dad too much, and while I love him we do some funny history. My mom, on the other hand, was a huge hero for me back in the day…but I don’t call or visit her enough now that I’m all growns up. So I’ll continue to look to rectify both of those situations this year—because, again, as New Year’s reminds us, life is short.
All that’s off the top of my head. If you search at elephantjournal.com, you’ll find articles relating to most of the above. Tie a mindful one on for me tonight—I’ll either be hosting the BMOCA New Year’s Eve party again, or off on a much-needed meditation retreat. Either way, Happy New Year’s!
Oh, if you comment with better suggestions, I might just ixnay one or two of the above and put yours in.
Above image via The Onion (in case you didn’t guess).
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