It is 2019! I chose an exclamation mark because it looks positive. And now that full stop makes me sound sarcastic. Anyway - it is a new Gregorian year, a fresh new start, and I’ve been reflecting on just that. Our social world, real and virtual, is full of motivating quotes and cheering-ons to make this year ‘count’, to make it better, to make yourself better. And, on the whole, there seems to be genuine belief in new possibilities. Human beings crave progress and growth; they want to become; they seek fulfilment. And so the idea of a ‘blank canvas’ is both appealing and satisfying. Why shouldn’t we make resolutions to improve ourselves and learn new things?
But with all the encouragement and fiery determination in the world, it is no small feat to make immediate, lasting changes to one’s life - and literally overnight. This is aside from the fact that in many parts of the western world, the first day of the new year is a time of recovery after an indeterminate period of indulgence - involving excessive (delicious) food consumption, partying, and physical inactivity.
I was chatting to a friend the other day, and we realised something together. In the Baha’i calendar, the new year - Naw Ruz or ‘new day’- follows a period of nineteen days of fasting. So there is a whole month in the Baha’i calendar dedicated to fasting (abstaining from food and drink between sunrise and sunset) before the fresh start of a new year. But, as with all religions, this is not just a physical fast; it is a symbolic one, helping us to become more detached from the physical aspect of life, and from our own selves. The Baha’i Writings say that is a time ‘of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life’. So, when the new year begins there has actually been a period of preparation leading up to it. There has been self restraint, prayer, reflection and a physical and symbolic purification of one’s body and habits.
And it struck us that this is actually very important when we consider ‘new year’s resolutions’. How can seeds grow in soil that has not been carefully prepared, that doesn’t have the right nutrients or conditions? On January 1st we focus so much on the seeds and willing them to bloom into new aspects of ourselves, without reflecting more deeply on the quality of the ‘soil’ of our hearts and minds. We expect intention to be sufficient, without really preparing ourselves - to have clarity of mind, motivation, dedication and countess other qualities that help us to progress in life.
Everything takes time and effort in the physical world, including things like growing a baby, increasing fitness levels, and feeling better on a healthy diet. But ultimately it is our will and character that are needed to create change; and they take time and effort to develop too! So although a lot of things in today’s world pivot around instant gratification and short lived pleasures, we also recognise the value of process. And surely at the start of a new year our vision needs to extend beyond a day or two, or beyond fleeting fancies. We need time and space to reflect on where we’re at, what the next steps could be, and what we need to achieve them.
And while we’re thinking about process, why not try to do better each day, and not just once a year? All around the world there are different calendars, different ‘milestone’ beginnings - and a new start each morning too! Each one is not just a moment, but the start of a new phase. So maybe solid, regular efforts and a whole lot of patience is a healthier way forward this January; and maybe we shouldn’t expect too much instant change right away either ;)