As we prepare to enter a new year, let's take a moment to allow ourselves to release this past year. We can decide right now to let go of anything or anyone during this past year that we no longer wish to carry into the new year. A person with many burdens and problems once came to a minister from New York City named Raymond Charles Barker for advice. "What can I do to escape all these burdens?" he asked. Rev. Barker thought for a moment, and he said, "Just remember one thing— yesterday ended last night." Too often we carry too many of yesterday's hurts and pains around with us, beyond their time. We really don't have to drag last year's sorrows into the new year with us. Why not leave them behind and step into this new year fresh, innocent and open to new life? Let's let go of the old now and spring full-blown, newly alive, into a new year— we let the past be with the past as we open our hearts to this new year.
Someone once said, "Nothing is so over as Christmas." After all of our running around, doing all the things we do for the holidays, when they are over, we sometimes fell a kind of let-down— as if all the energy we had to galvanize to get through the holidays suddenly has no outlet. We may feel a sense of lack; the sense of purpose the holidays gives us has completed itself— what to do now? Thankfully, a new year is on the horizon. This is a good time to review the previous year and to begin to chart our course for the upcoming year. It's a good time to decide on our direction in life, to make plans and set goals, to reclarify our purpose— what are we here to accomplish? Are we fulfilling some great purpose; are we on track, moving ahead steadily with energy and momentum? Let's decide right now, on the verge of this new year, to experience new meaning in our lives by rededicating ourselves to a fulfilling purpose.
Albert Camus, the French existentialist, once wrote a story about an artist who left a huge blank canvas as the ultimate statement of his life work. Right in the middle of this blank canvas was one word scrawled so tiny that it could hardly be made out. The word was either 'solitary' or 'solidary.' This represents our situation in life. Sometimes we seem to need solitude, to be alone to do our work in this life. Yet no matter how deeply alone we are at times, whatever creative action we take always relates us to the whole of humanity. We exist in relationship; even though we also exist as solitary beings. Whatever we give expression to has meaning and value within the whole of life itself. When we raise our arm, we alter the pattern of atoms throughout the universe. Let's not deny our place and our inherent value in this life. We are not only part of the creative process of this earth, we are that creative process in expression.
How much are we worth?— Not measured in dollars and cents or in property or possessions or even in our educational degrees or vocational achievements, but how much do we value who we are and what we do in this life? Do we feel that we are important in the eyes of this universe? A friend once said to the 19th century American painter, James Whistler, "There are only two great painters: you and Velasquez." Whistler responded, "Why drag in Velasquez?" We don't have to be a great artist to feel that our life is meaningful and fulfilling. We can have a very simple job and yet feel that who we are and what we do has real and lasting value for this earth. We can give supreme importance to our life right now. We don't have to apologize for our jobs or ourselves. We can affirm ourselves and our intrinsic value to this universe. How could the universe possibly get along without us today? Let's keep in mind that each of us is here because we are of value to this life.
Heart work is work that entrances us; it captures our hearts. It is the work that our hearts burn to do. It is the artist Giacometti crying out in the midst of a painting, "If I don't capture this image, I will surely die." It is the great writer or poet or musician who feels the wellsprings of life course through his veins in the instant of creation. There is a story of a Chinese pianist who was imprisoned for seven years. During this time, he was not allowed the use of a piano. Yet when the pianist was released, his level of performance was found to exceed anything he previously achieved. An amazed friend asked him, "How could your playing have improved when you were not permitted to practice in the prison?" "But I practiced everyday," replied the pianist. "I went through every note in every musical score I knew everyday in my imagination." We work from the heart when we work from the center of who we are, and joy is our reward.
I think that real courage always comes through compassion. We can be courageous towards others, as we can let our hearts be open and compassionate towards them. There's a point when we stop complaining about the people and situations in our life, and we begin to see them with eyes of compassion and love. This is a kind of courage because we are no longer fighting, and we are no longer afraid. We fight and we are afraid as long as we see people and situations as threatening, as somehow different from us. Yet we're all here together in this global village—why not stop the differences and see each other as part of each other? Real courage is to let go of all the differences, so that we can see each other through the eyes of the heart. None of us is separate from the allness of this life— so why not make our peace?
This year let's get on fire with the spirit of Christmas. We don't have to postpone our joy until a better time— this is the time to let ourselves feel an inner quickening, a new sense of being alive as if this were the first holiday we ever experienced. Too often we think back to other Christmases instead of focusing on all the good in our lives this Christmas. This is the time to affirm the great blessing of this life— the big secret that we are one with God, that we can manifest peace on earth and goodwill to all, that we are just getting started in our spiritual enfoldment in this universe, that we are young, fresh, alive and bursting at the seams with radiant, joyous, new energy. We can let go and be captured by the fullness of joy flooding our lives now.
With all the rushing around we are doing right now, with all the preparations we are making, in the middle of all our last minute shopping for gifts, along with all of our travel or party plans, let's take a moment to remember the inner meaning of this holiday season. We are celebrating the birth of a new understanding of the spiritual aspect of our lives. Christmas is not just a historical event; it's a state of mind that gives birth to a new way of being in this life. Christmas begins in each of our hearts as we take time to be a little gentler and friendlier with each other and with ourselves. A mystic once wrote, "Through Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born / if not in us, then we are all forlorn." Let's not be all forlorn in our rushing around this Christmas; let's remember to allow our hearts to be open to the spiritual dimension of this season.
In the midst of all our concerns to do everything we need to do for the holidays, let's remember the spiritual significance of this time of year. We celebrate the coming of peace and goodwill to all people. We recognize our oneness with God and each other. We release past mistakes and accept a new birth of joyous innocence and love within our hearts and our lives. We surrender our separation and know our oneness with all life everywhere. What do we really want at this time of the year— beyond the gifts, the lights, the music, the celebrations— but to feel God's sweetness and fire in every cell of our being. Let's let this be the season of our spiritual awakening; the time when each of us truly comes into our own as conscious children of God. This Christmas, we let our whole being be lifted into the light and peace and wonder and joy of self-realization. What better time to come into our Divine Inheritance of union with God, cosmic consciousness, the realization of the oneness of our life. Let's allow ourselves to be overflowing with joyous, contagious spiritual energy this Christmas.
This is the season for shopping for gifts and buying trees and decorating homes and offices. It's a time of festive parties and celebrations, a time to be absorbed in the crowds in stores, shopping malls and the streets of our city. In the midst of all the outer sounds and sights, let's remember to pause a moment, relax, let go of all our agendas, rest in our hearts and let ourselves feel the Peace at the center of our being. This Peace at the center is the Peace of God; it is always here. We can return to this Peace again and again during this time of busy, joyous activity.
A town called Yellowknife was recently voted the friendliest and most likeable city in Canada. What's interesting is that Yellowknife is one of the most northern and therefore coldest cities in Canada. Yet people feel that it is a very nice and hospitable place to live. The reason is that because of the extremely cold weather, people tend to support each other out of a sense of mutual survival. In this community, it is very clear that people need each other's help. If someone's car stalls out in the below-zero weather, there is always someone there to offer assistance. The spirit of cooperation and community is always there when it's to everyone's advantage. As we go through our own cold winter months, let's keep in mind that we too are here to help each other and to receive help when we need it. Our winters are probably not as severe as Yellowknife's, but we too are part of a caring community. So let's keep our hearts open to each other during these winter months.
This time of year, we sometimes feel as if we are in the financial doldrums. As someone once said, "There's nothing like the holidays to put a bounce in your checks." And someone else said, "Anyone who doesn't think Christmas doesn't last all year doesn't use credit cards or charge accounts." So we may find ourselves right now experiencing a financial shortfall. But worrying doesn't make things any better. Worry creates tension, and tension tends to block us from seeing the way to solve our problem. So the first thing to do when we find ourselves upset and worried about our financial situation is to relax, release the worry, the fear, the anxiety. And then we can open our minds and hearts to the right solution to our situation. In every situation there is always, always a solution, if we are but open enough to find it.
Don't shop until you drop: relax, release, let go. Right now we may be pushing too hard, rushing too fast, trying to do too much. "Easy does it" is a good motto for December. There is always an underlying contour or pattern connected to how we are feeling about ourselves. We may feel rushed or pressured or frustrated. We may feel inadequate to the tasks at hand. Or we may just be feeling stuck and perhaps a little sorry for ourselves. Yet we can always choose deep inside of ourselves, where it counts, to feel a self-gentleness, a calm at the center of our being. Even though we have much to do over the holidays, we can choose to do it from the perspective of inner peace and self-nurturing. We can take time every day to remember ourselves: that we are happy and lucky to be here, doing what we are doing, regardless of how fast the days are rolling by, regardless of how much there is left to do. We can choose the way of peace and ease and let everything work together for our good.
Too often, we feel pressures in our daily lives. We may feel that there is too little of everything; too little time, too little money to accomplish all that we need to do. At these times, we need to relax and discover that calm, collected center within ourselves that knows how to function in a harmonious, appropriate and unhurried way. This can be a season of great gladness of heart when we relax into ourselves and let go to our deepest intuition to guide and direct us, moment by moment, to be at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. Let's let this be a season of enoughness; enough time, enough money, enough peace and clarity to do and to be all that is necessary— and to enjoy it.
The winner of a contest in England that asked the question, "What is the fastest way to get to London from Liverpool?"— answered, "With good company." Einstein was once asked to explain the theory of relativity in simple terms. He said that one hour with a person to whom you are attracted is like one minute, and one minute sitting on a hot stove is like one hour— that, he said, is relativity. When we are engaged in some activity we really enjoy (perhaps browsing through a bookstore or walking in nature or listening to music or reading or dancing) time seems to whiz by. Yet when we are working at some laborious task, time seems unending. Perhaps success in life is to more and more do things that we so enjoy that we realize what a precious gift time is for us. Bob Hope was once asked for the secret to his long and fruitful life. He said, "I never do what I don't want to do." Perhaps each of us can be more and more open to doing what we really do want to do, and then we will see time as a friend that beckons us to our joy.
Carl Jung once said that "freedom is the willingness to do gladly that which I must do." We all have obligations and responsibilities in this life. Sometimes we tend to resent the things that we must do on a daily basis in this world. We may do them, but only grudgingly, with our hearts bitter with complaint. We hear our own inner voice saying, "Why do I have to do this; why do I have to do that?"— and we long for an escape into an imaginary freedom from our duties and responsibilities. We say, sighing, "If only... if only I could win the sweepstakes; if only someone would take me to Hawaii or Tahiti; if only I could run away from it all." Yet as Jung says, "Freedom is the willingness to do gladly that which I must do." For us, as human beings, real freedom comes as we fulfill with gladness of heart that which we have been given to do. Our responsibilities, our jobs, our family obligations are all opportunities for liberation and spiritual realization. It is through gladly fulfilling our tasks and roles in this life that we experience our true freedom.
Let's turn within for a moment and feel happy for just being alive. Life is a great gift each of us has been given. Perhaps we're here on this earth at this time to simply learn to accept and to love the gift of this life, the gift of ourselves. Albert Camus said that we don't need a grander life; we need to love this life right now. This is the life we're here to live; we are the persons to live it. Right where we are, right now, is where we can really begin to come alive in a new and exciting and joyous way. We discover who we really are, as we let ourselves be it.
Sometimes we think of relationship as holding on to the people in our life. We say to ourselves deep down inside, "I couldn't live without so-and-so being in my life." It's almost as if we think of the people in our lives who are very close to us as if they are our possessions. Yet we really can't own another human being. The people in our lives are free— they are with us by their choice, as well as ours. We feel a tremendous sense of relief when we are willing to set everyone in our life free to be themselves. Then we quit carrying the burden of our worry and fear about them: Do they really care for us? Will they stay with us?— and on and on and on— until we come to a point where we see that releasing is healing and freeing. When we free people from the pressures of our expectations, our relationships automatically become more harmonious and joyous. We can release everyone in our life right now and feel a deep sense of peace and well-being about all of our relationships.
O.P.'s are other people. Alan Watts said, "A grain of sand once attained enlightenment; it looked around and said, What's all this sand doing here?" It's easy to divide life up into pieces and to think of people we don't know at all as different or alien or foreign. We say, "Oh, those people; they're so different; they're strange; they're not like us." It's interesting to think that if we were on another planet all by ourself and we ran into another earthling, how overjoyed we would be to find someone from back home; someone we could relate to. Then if the two of us saw, say, a three-headed being, we could say, "There goes those O.P.'s— they're different; they're strange." Perhaps our most important job on this earth now is to forgive everyone and to release all the walls and barriers that separate us from each other—until there are no longer any 0.P.'s, and we are all one.
This is a good month to remember to put peace first in our family situations. This is a very emotional time for many of us; card-sending and gift-giving, decorating, parties, family get-togethers and visits from friends— all the hodge-podge of sensations that make up the holiday season can cause unexpected stresses and pressures in our closest relationships. While we want to do everything and share all the good times of this season with our families, it is also important, as Kahlil Gibran says, to "let there be spaces in your togetherness." We need to remember to give our loved ones breathing room, especially at this time of year. Everyone has more to do than he seems to have time for. We can relax our mental and emotional hold on our family members, giving them space to unfold without pressure from us. We can set everyone free from the pressure of our conscious or unconscious, spoken or unspoken, demands or expectations And for us and for them, the holidays will truly be holy-days, filled with joy and love.