Monday, December 30, 2013

The New Year will soon be upon us and it is time to pay attention to that time honored tradition—New Year’s Resolutions. Or is it? For many years, a greater potion of my life, I dutifully made New Year’s resolutions that I didn’t keep. Some times those resolutions were merely mental notes I made to myself. Other times they were quite elaborate, written out in great detail and on occasion burned in ritualistic ceremony or conversely put away in safekeeping so that they could be taken out and referred to periodically—that to keep them fresh and, supposedly, maintain my diligence in keeping them. Nothing worked. Sooner or later all of them were broken. Shattered. Trashed. I became a failure—to my resolutions and to myself. That situation caused me a great deal of anxiety. Could I never be true to my good intentions?

Then, quite a few years ago I got wise. Finally I made a resolution that I could keep and I have kept that resolution for many, many years. I made a resolution to never, ever make another New Year’s resolution. That has worked. Through New Years of storm and New Years of tranquil plenty I have remained faithful. I have never, since that successful New Year, made another resolution. It’s not that I have ceased improving—at least I hope not—it’s that I have stopped trying to do it under synthetic conditions. I have made my improvements when I felt I needed to and when I was ready. For instance, about twenty-five or so years ago I quit smoking, but that occurred, as I recall, in June or July. I was sitting in the kitchen one day talking with friends and the pipe I was smoking started to taste bad. I put it up on a convenient shelf and never again lit it. Would I have been better off to wait until New Years and try to quit then?

I have since talked to people that have tried unsuccessfully for years to quit smoking—including using the time-honored New Years resolution method. I don’t think I am special having been able to quit so easily. I think that people are simply better to make changes in themselves when they really feel that it is time for them to do so, in other words when they truly want to. Moreover, the pressure of the New Year’s resolution has just the opposite effect. A person feels obligated to make some improvement, picks something he thinks he or she should do, then, because he or she doesn’t really want to, is not successful. The result is not only no improvement made but an additional feeling of guilt because of having failed. Probably that makes the next try at improving oneself harder.

So the New Year is here and the push is on to make resolutions. If you really feel you should, go right ahead. But it’s best to make sure they concern things you’re seriously ready to change. If not, then wait until you’re ready. If you’re serious about yourself, the time will come. Maybe some time in June or July will be better. And you’ll be better off for having waited.

Friday, December 20, 2013

We are entering into the Season of Peace. Every year at this time there are pronouncements of joy, harmony and good will and of the brotherhood of all mankind. Every year we hear these wishes of good cheer and every year we are left with disappointments. News bulletins of political strife, social ailments, disagreements and war continue to appear on a daily basis. How, we ask, are we ever going to achieve this peace for which we long and for which we seem to look in vain?

But is that peace so elusive? So it seems, if we confine ourselves to the news reports in the popular media or to the belligerent actions of our society’s leaders and those of other nations. But the good news is that peace is much more common in the world than we realize. Dig deeper, below the surface of the attention-getting articles and video clips that are normal fare in our media, and we can find instances of peace that exist now—even blueprints of how to achieve it. There are cultures in this world that live in peace, some that have done so for centuries and some that have consciously elected to do so only recently. There are those that have chosen and now possess an existence based on peace after having lived a warlike way of life for hundreds of years.

Many such peace cultures are small groups of people that are essentially hunter-gatherers and seem far removed from the complex existence of our modern world. But in these basic cultures can be found the patterns of behavior that lead to and are even necessary for a peaceful existence. By taking note and following these it is possible to structure any society along peaceful lines. And the fact that it is possible for a modern nation to follow the ways of peace is exhibited by the nations that have elected to do so. They exist. And as philosopher, sociologist and poet Kenneth Boulding said, “Anything that exists is possible.”

It is possible, but are we willing to live according to the principles of peace? Are we willing to learn new ways of living? Are we willing to learn new definitions of words and new ways of dealing with concepts such as right, wrong, competition, punishment, cooperation? We have been taught for so long that ours is the most advanced society in history, can we accept the fact that we have something to learn from others—especially from societies we think of as being inferior to ours. Do we really want peace that much?

Yet I believe that over and above all of this, comes the hardest lesson of all and that is the simple fact that peace does not come from “out there.” It does not come some ethereal plane, miraculously appearing at a certain season or at any other time to bless us. It does not come from some authority or prominent individual in our midst. The truth is that it does not come from outside of us at all. It comes from within and starts with a genuine desire to have peace and a willingness to do whatever is required to achieve it.

Peace comes from within and from there radiates out into the world. It is up to us to transfer it from our own beings into that physical world. The Season of Peace is always with us, always ready to be actualized. It is simply up to us—each of us—to see that that occurs.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Holiday Season has come—or snuck up on me—again. Sometimes I feel that way. Perhaps one of the reasons for that is the fact that since I no longer drive I don’t get out into the stores as often as I used to. For that reason I am not as exposed to the holiday advertising as I once was. I am not informed of its presence sufficiently early so that I can anticipate its coming for two or three months.

Still, I set up and decorated my little Christmas tree on December 1st, which, I feel, is early enough for the holiday.  I did that for the first time in my life last year. Prior to that, my custom was to decorate for the holidays on Christmas Eve and keep the decorations up only for the twelve nights of Christmas. I changed my custom simply because I felt like it and I’ve been very satisfied with that change. I had fun accomplishing the set-up of the tree this year and it’s pleasant having the glow of the colorful tree lights and the candles in the window every night. It’s nice to be able to enjoy them for a whole month.

Perhaps what really snuck up on me was the holiday spirit. I was aware of that holiday spirit last year when I decorated the tree early, but had no explanation for it. I simply enjoyed it. I had the distinct feeling of anticipation and good will that one is supposed to feel during the holiday season but so seldom does. At the same time I was able to ignore all the mundane commercialism that is such a prominent part of the season. It’s the same this year so I suppose this might be a permanent part of me from now on. Where it came from I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s a memory of a simpler time superimposed on our present-day headlong dash for enjoyment. Then again, it may be a blessing of the season, a variation of the Christmas, Past, Future and Present to introduce the fact that there is a great deal that is worth while in the season that does not depend on the commercial hype we attach to it. It may be a reward for clinging to the belief that something of the kind does exist, a little taste of what should and could be.

Whatever it is, I’m not going to worry too much about it. I’ll just enjoy it, be thankful for it and hope that it will continue to be a part of my life for the holiday season and, if possible, extend into the rest of the year as much as it can.