New Year, New You

by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati (one of my beloved mentors from India)

At this time of the New Year inevitably people make resolutions, vows, promises and goals to become “new” in some way. We are always looking for some pill, some book or some practice we can use to become “newer and better.” These days there is talk everywhere about the “Secret to Youth.” Advertisements, commercials, billboards and magazines coax us to purchase their products, subscribe to their services or attend their retreats in order to attain the elusive Fountain of Youth. It is not merely wrinkle-free skin and shiny black hair people are looking for. Rather it is that feeling of youth, that inner experience, embodied by the young and young at heart, of being carefree and unfettered. Most people look back upon their childhood and remember with longing and nostalgia, what it was like not to feel so burdened all the time.

However, it is not the actual responsibilities that age us. It is not the jobs we do, the homes we build, the families we create or the passing years. What actually ages us, what actually is the difference between those who are seventy “years young” and those who are thirty “years old” is the ability to let go. The more we hold on, tenaciously and unrelentingly, to our own conceptions, our own expectations, our own egos, the more stuck we become. A rule of nature is that that which stops flowing stagnates and putrefies. That’s what happens in our own lives. When we stop being able to shed the old in favor of the new, we become old. We stagnate. Look at children – they shed their teeth, their out-grown shoes, last year’s clothes, their attachment to their homeroom teacher — on a regular basis. Day by day life is changing — their preferences, their understanding, their friends — and they are able to flow dynamically with those changes.

The nature of the universe changes on a minute to minute and moment to moment basis. The sky tonight may look identical to the sky of last night; however, any astronomer can point out innumerable differences. The more we are able to align our own nature with the nature of the universe the more our lives will be peaceful, rich, fulfilling, content and divinely joyful. The more rigid and unyielding we are, the more we hold on to our ideas of yesterday, our grudges of last week, our pain from last year, the more we will suffer, face obstacles and feel old and tired.

It is much harder for us to embody the same freedom within our selves, the same ability to adjust and adapt to the changing nature of the universal Plan. Our habits become rigid and old; but we call it discipline. Our beliefs and ideas are rooted in the reality of yesterday, not today; but we call it virtue. Emotionally we respond not to what we hear, see and receive today but to how it reminds us of what we heard, saw and received yesterday, the day before and 30 years ago. Erroneously, we call it truth. We are so busy complaining about the damp chill of winter that we don’t notice the bright rays of the spring sun peaking through the clouds. This is not the way to live. Like the tree who gladly gives her green leaves of spring to the Divine Painter to turn red and yellow in Autumn, and then lets them fall to the ground as the winter frost sets in, similarly, in order to stay ever-young, ever-free and ever-joyful we need to be able to let go.

Computers have a very clever device called a “screen saver” which comes on after the screen has been idle for a certain number of minutes. Rivers, flowers or even flying saucers move across the monitor in order to prevent the idle screen from literally imprinting permanently upon the fibers of the monitor. If we didn’t have screen savers, our screens would be rendered useless quite quickly because wherever we stop for too long, it would permanently fix upon the monitor. The same is true in our lives. If we get stuck with a desire, an expectation, a grudge, a fear, a misconception, it imprints upon our consciousness, preventing us from seeing that which is new with clear, pure vision.

At this divine time of the New Year there is a great emphasis on newness. We close accounts of last year and maybe even start a new checkbook. We throw out last year’s calendar and start a new one. We clean out our homes and offices to make them feel “new”. But this emphasis on new doesn’t mean that now newness simply should be dumped on top of oldness. No. It means that the Divine Light should burn through the darkness of that which is old, that which is stale, and that which is thwarting our progress, clearing the way for new birth. Like a naturally occurring forest fire turns the old, dry branches and brush into fertile soil for new growth, similarly, the Divine Fire should blaze through us, burning away that which is old and permitting the birth of new thoughts, new visions, new ideas and ideals. When we allow ourselves to be truly renewed in this way day by day, then we be truly forever young regardless of the suppleness of our skin or the color of our hair.

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