Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A New Kind of Year

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, December 26, 2012 by Sara Mattinson.

We spend an entire month either a)considering other people and doing generous, thoughtful things for other people, or b) being forced to consider other people and do generous, thoughtful things for other people. Either way, December is a big month for thinking about each other and being nice to each other. 
The rest of the year, it tends to work on the “in theory” level. 
Here’s my challenge for the world at the start of 2013. Don’t let go of the other people stuff. Let’s just keep on considering other people and doing nice things for each other. We hear all about goodwill towards men in the lengthy build-up to Christmas but once we’re done with that, our culture instantly reverts to encouraging us to think about ourselves again. New Year’s resolutions are all about Me, particularly along the lines of “What’s wrong with me that needs to be fixed?” and “What is there about me that I want to change?” Me, me, bad me. 
Here’s a quote from a Buddhist scripture called the Sutta Nipata. This is usually the kind of phrase that fills Christmas cards but I encourage us to adopt it as a New Year’s resolution: “May our loving thoughts fill the whole world; above, below, across – without limit; a boundless goodwill toward the whole world, unrestricted, free of hatred and enmity.” 
(I wrote this column before December 14, before Newtown, Connecticut became the latest place devastated by violence. Sitting down to edit this column, I realized it didn’t need much rewriting in light of that terrible event.)
There’s so much going on already at Christmas – hope, joy, love, bite-sized chocolates – why not make New Year’s the time for peace, or at least the wishing of it? Peace in the world, peace in one’s little part of the world, peace in oneself.  
Peace starts with ourselves. If we can be happy with ourselves, happy with our lives, we can find peace in everything we do. If we’re not happy, it’s time to make changes. Not in the way that is dictated by our culture, by having more stuff and following more celebrities and watching more reality shows but in a way that is true to ourselves, no matter what anyone else thinks.
That is often harder than losing 25 pounds. 
Eleven years ago, a lovely and wise yoga instructor named Georgina held a class on New Year’s Eve and at the end, as we all lay on our mats for final relaxation, she gave us this advice: “Make this the year you go away from what makes you unhappy. Make this the year you go towards what makes you happy.”
Georgina’s advice meant the end of my marriage. Her advice meant leaving a house and a job and a husband on the west coast and starting over again on the east coast. (I know, I know: I should have come here in the first place.) Accepting how her advice applied to me took courage and strength, it involved a long journey both physically and spiritually, and there were some incredibly unhappy moments along the way. 
BUT: I found peace. I created a life of love, unrestricted, free of hatred. And in being so changed, I am more aware of being kinder, more loving, more accepting. I’m not always so, there are days when I get mad at myself, at my husband, at some foolish person in the world but being more aware gives me the control to say, “I don’t want to feel this way.”
After what happened just before Christmas in Newtown, we need more love, more kindness and more peace in our world. That’s all we need. For each other and for ourselves.
So make this the year your loving thoughts fill the whole world every day, directed toward everyone (remember: compassion is an expression of love) and see what happens when you resolve to go towards what makes you happy. It’s a journey worth taking. 

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